This month the Leading the Way profile is about Cynthia Davey. She has been an educator for decades, working with learners of all ages.
Tell us a little bit about your background…
I was born in Westport, Connecticut, the youngest of five children. I spent the first 13 years of my life in Connecticut. I loved the East coast and the four seasons. I was a good student, loved my teachers and fell in love with reading at a young age. I could get lost in books! From an early age I decided I wanted to be a teacher. In the 7th grade we moved to Arizona where I would continue to play tennis, swim, and join the track team. In high school, I was a cheerleader/Pom Girl until I graduated. I went on to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson as an Elementary Education student. I was fortunate enough to travel to London, England for a semester during my junior year at UA and had a blast and learned so much! I graduated from UA in four years. Later in life, when my children were young, I worked on and received my Master of Education degree as a Reading Specialist. My love of reading and passing on that love on to young readers became a passion and still is to this day!
Describe the work you do with families and children…
I have been a public education elementary teacher since 1986 with three years “off” when I had my third child. In 2002, I left the public schools to be a part of the faculty at SKC in the Education Dept. That was a great experience working with adult students who wanted to become part of the elementary teaching career. It was so rewarding to watch young educators become excited about teaching someday and even more exciting to be a small part in helping Native American educators enter classrooms as teachers. After 12 years at SKC, I returned to elementary teaching in a small rural school outside of Polson. It is a K-6 school with 34 students total. I love what I do, I feel like I am making a difference with the students and I feel as if I enjoy teaching again!My focus is on reading and the English/Language Arts. I’m teaching what I love and I feel blessed to be able to focus on those areas alone.
What do you think people misunderstand about the work being done with children age 0-5?
I think people misunderstand how vital their input and example is during these years. I truly believe that from a young age, children never stop watching and soaking in what the adults in their life are doing and saying. I can tell when a child comes into my classroom at an early age and has been read to from a young age. It is evident when children have books in their home, not on a high shelf, but somewhere that they can reach. Children see you reading, children watch you valuing books and education. They understand if it’s important to get to school each day, or to read 15 minutes a night. They respect, what you respect, and love as you do. Children from 0-5 learn what should be cherished and they want to be cherished themselves. I believe that teachers have so much on their plates now besides curriculum, even at the preschool ages. I know that most educators hope that people understand that the work being done with children of all ages is a labor of love and that they want education to be valued and respected.
How would you describe the most important work that needs to happen for young children?
As stated above, I believe that children need to be nurtured, valued, and cherished. I believe children need to be exposed to those activities which will serve them throughout their young years and into adulthood. Such as listening, speaking, ways of communicating, sharing, compassion, and those skills needed to be a literate human. Communicating their wants, needs, and feelings is vital, as well as being able to question without being judged.
If you could change one social factor impacting families and young children what would it be and why?
I believe poverty would be one social factor that I would like to help relieve. I believe poverty affects so much more than just the physical aspect of everyday life. Poverty breaks down communication which in turn creates distance in families and communities. Poverty can affect a family’s ability to nurture one another and affect motivation to stay the course. It can diminish one’s pride and force people to choose paths that might be unhealthy or seemingly easier.
The work has many rewards-what are some of the challenges and how do you deal with them?
Some of the challenges in education are curriculum expectations, behavioral issues, and parental involvement. I have been teaching in some capacity for 30+ years now and I have seen a lot of changes. Teachers are expected to teach differently now with more duties and to “perform” well on standardized tests. The day isn’t any longer but more and more demands are added to the day. It can be very frustrating to fit it all in. Another part of education that has always been there are behavioral issues. I have found that when children misbehave it is difficult to find support outside of the classroom from administration, as well as parents. Often it seems that the finger is pointed to outside influences (other kids, teacher, administration) rather than having the child take accountability. Behavior issues can take a big chunk out of your day – one that already has so many demands. Finally, parental involvement. This is a hard one because I understand the dilemma here, having 5 children of my own and having a career! Many homes have both parents with a career outside of the home. It has been somewhat difficult to connect with parents and involve them in the classroom. While there are so many benefits for a child to have parents who value their career, it is a fine balance between being involved in the daily or weekly school activities and working outside the home.
What do you feel you personally get from working with families and children?
Compassion and joy. My capacity to have compassion for others has grown exponentially. As an experienced teacher (older!), I get it. I watch these families and kids doing what I did all those years and I get it! It’s hard, and it’s tiring, and some days you just want to throw in the towel but you finish another day and breathe a sigh of relief! I feel compassion for the families and children that are struggling and can’t communicate their fears and hardships. Most of the time, I feel joy from working with families and children. I feel so rewarded that I get the opportunity to support these kids and families. I personally get joy when the school year ends and I see how far a child has come. I don’t think I can list all that I get from teaching but I can say that most of it has been good, some discouraging and hard, but most good and my career has changed me for the better.