First Year Teacher Reflections: Jessica Mangano

Stephanie Huie

Manhattan Lower School Language Arts Teacher

This speech was given at The Windward School’s Faculty and Staff Orientation at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year.

Good morning everyone, and welcome to Windward! My name is Jessica Mangano, and I am in my second year at the Manhattan campus. I am extremely excited to have been asked to contribute to your orientation as you embark on your Windward journey. Before I begin with a reflection on my first- year experience, I would like to give you a brief summary of my background.

From a young age, I knew I wanted to work with children, and more specifically, children with learning issues. Growing up, I witnessed my twin sister struggle with a language-based learning disability. Each day, she would come home, sit down to do her homework, and after four to five hours of stress on both her and my parents, her homework would be barely done, or more often, not fully completed. Thanks to various tutors, teachers, and support, my sister was able to succeed and attend an excellent college. Through my sister, I learned that despite a variety of language barriers, she was able to grasp the concept of language arts through specialized communication and unwavering support.

My journey continued as I graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in hearing and speech sciences. However, I didn’t believe speech pathology was my true calling. While I enjoyed my time working with early intervention-aged children in one-on-one speech therapy sessions, I saw my true self in a classroom setting. When my college friend, and now colleague, told me about The Windward School, a school for children with language- based learning disabilities, I felt that it would be the perfect fit. Not only did my studies provide me with a great deal of knowledge about language, I also had the life lesson of growing up with a sibling who has a similar profile to Windward students. Like my sister, our students are smart, but they need an academic program and trained teachers who will help them reach their potential. Windward afforded me the opportunity to learn how to effectively teach students who require a more specific approach, and I am now preparing to go forward to earn a master’s degree at Hunter College in general and special education with a specification in learning disabilities and behavior disorders.

Even though my background had been working with younger children, I was assigned to the sixth-grade team. I was initially terrified, intimidated, and I wasn’t sure if all of my students would be taller than me or just some. Yet as soon as the first day of school was over, none of that mattered. I saw how much the students at Windward treasured us as teachers, and I saw that it was here that they could feel safe and learn to succeed both inside and outside of the classroom. Although I was the teacher, I was also the learner. I learned the Windward Way, the importance of patience, and how having an open mind toward new experiences isn’t just necessary, it is vital!

While I loved working with my sixth- grade students tremendously, I still missed working with younger children. Through the support from the assistant teacher staff developer and the administration, we were able to come up with an ideal plan for this upcoming year. I will be an assistant in a third-grade language arts group, and I will also be a lead math teacher for many of my previous students who are now in the seventh grade!

Throughout the year you will experience challenges, but there will be multiple people to guide you and offer you support. Working at Windward is a commitment to being part of a community that exists to empower each of its members to stretch themselves intellectually. If you aren’t already, you will be amazed by the passion, dedication, and skill each person brings to this school. I have never worked in a place where I was so valued for my individual strengths and supported through my individual weaknesses. Windward challenges me to become a forever learner and reminds me to model that mindset for my students.

I have also gotten to have the unique experience of getting to know students from every grade. The time I elect to spend with the students outside of the classroom allows me to appreciate them as individuals. This year, I volunteered for various optional field trips and spent every Friday afternoon playing tennis at Randall’s Island with students of all ages. Nothing made my week more complete than playing against my sixth- grade students. This opportunity enabled me to be a teacher, a confidante, a coach, and a mentor. It reminded me that our students must never be defined by their struggles and that part of our job is to remind them that they are, in fact, so much more!

This year you will work hard, laugh, learn, and grow. You will be reminded to be open-minded to trying new experiences, and you will come to see that Windward is more than just a school; it’s a family. Each of the faculty standing before you today, along with those who you will soon meet, are confident that you bring something unique to the Windward community, and more importantly, to the lives of our students. I wish each and every one of you a wonderful school year and great success. Welcome to Windward!