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Staff Spotlight: Debra Gadson-Holiday and Karen Engels

Staff Spotlight: Debra Gadson-Holiday and Karen Engels
Posted on 05/14/2018

Debra Gadson-Holiday

What do you teach at G&P?
I teach a General Education Grade 1-2 looping classroom at Graham & Parks.

How long have you been at G&P?
I have been teaching in Cambridge for 24 years. This is my 21st year teaching at G&P.

Where are you from?
Where I come from and where I grew up are two different places. I grew up just one town over in Watertown. I graduated from Watertown High school in 1987. At that time I was the only African American student in the entire school. Where I come from is an array of people and places. I come from the spirit and soul of the spirituals sung in my church. I come from family reunions, cookouts and Friday Fish Fries. I come from Martin and Malcolm. From the poetry of Maya Angelou. I come from all of the wonderful black women in my life who have encouraged me to be proud of who I am.

What are three things every teacher should own?
Every Teacher should have plenty of post it notes, sharpies in every color and a copy of "Oh the Places You'll Go!" by Dr. Seuss.

If you could have anyone as principal, who would it be and why?
If I could have anyone be the principal of my school it would be Michelle Obama. She is an amazing woman and such an inspiring figure to me.

What is the greatest misconception about teachers?
The biggest misconceptions about teachers is that they do nothing all summer. I know teachers who work and take classes during most of the summer. I spend about 2-4 weeks of the summer reading, walking, traveling and enjoying my family. Then I start planning for the next school year. Teachers work hard all year long!

Karen Engels

What do you do at G&P?
I teach General Education third and fourth grade in a looping classroom.

How long have you been at G&P?
I’ve been at G&P for eight years. Before that I taught at an Expeditionary Learning middle school in Boston Public Schools and did some teacher-coaching for schools in other parts of Massachusetts.

Where are you from?
I’m from a small town in Rhode Island. It was a weird place to grow up because there were only a tiny number of Jewish families and my father was the rabbi of one of the only synagogues in the state.

Teaching Motto or favorite education quote?
One of my favorite quotes is, “It’s better to be kind than to be right.” This reminds me that the most important thing for us to learn is how to treat each other! This matters to me much more than whether we can find the area of a rectangular carpet or explain the difference between wave-length and amplitude. And I feel grateful to teach in a school where kindness is such an important value.

Describe your all-time favorite lesson/unit activity.
Wow -- it’s hard to choose! My favorite lessons are usually in history because I love exploring the stories of our past. One of my favorites is when some fifth grade alumni tricked the third graders by convincing them that we had a new tax on paper at Graham and Parks. This helped the third graders to imagine what it felt like to experience the Stamp Act of 1763 when England imposed a tax on the colonies. I also love learning about people in history who fought for justice, whether it’s Barbancito who advocated for the Navajo during the 1860’s, or Frederick Douglas who spent his life fighting to abolish slavery, or the workers in the Lowell Mills who organized a strike to demand better working conditions, or Joan Baez who got her start right here in Cambridge during the 1960’s and is still fighting against racism and inequality today. And of course, my favorite thing of all is when we sing, dance, or act out what we’ve been learning!

How did you know you wanted to be a teacher?
For a long time I thought that I didn’t want to be a teacher because when I was growing up my mom was a teacher and I saw how hard she worked without getting paid very much. But then, when I was in college in New York City, I began to tutor children in Harlem and Washington Heights, and I saw so much inequity and it made me angry. Seeing the effect of unpleasant schools on the children I worked with while I was in college had a big impact on me. I knew that I wanted to play a role in making school an exciting place for all children to learn, feel loved, and be successful.

What do you love about G&P?
My favorite thing about G&P is getting to spend two years with each class, because it gives us enough time to really connect with each other and form a community of learners. And of course all of the exciting projects we get to do to demonstrate our learning in creative ways.