Gaetano Perilli is an exceptional student education (ESE) specialist at Bonita Springs Preparatory and Fitness Academy in Naples, Fla. He holds an undergraduate degree in organizational communication and a master's degree in education and is currently pursuing a master's degree in public administration.
What motivated you to become a teacher?
I always had a love for teaching and working with kids. So after almost a decade in law enforcement, I took a big leap and headed back to school to pursue my true passion. I always found something special about children of all ages, a natural innocence that makes you believe in possibility. And also, the opportunity to learn from each and every student. Every morning I don't feel like I am getting up to head into "work," I feel like I get to go have fun.
What have you learned about yourself since you started teaching?
Every day is a learning experience. You learn how to have a tremendous amount of patience, understanding, compassion, and empathy for your students' livelihood, their families, and their upbringing. The kids I work with have to overcome so many challenges and obstacles each day just to meet their basic needs. Oftentimes, unfortunately, academics are secondary in comparison to having enough food to eat and shelter. It truly is a humbling experience. Especially in the special education aspect, where I am dealing with kids who have their own exceptionalities that they have to overcome and work through.
What do you find most rewarding as a teacher?
The most rewarding aspect of my job is to see the growth of a child, especially in the environment in which I teach. In my current position as a special education teacher, I have the opportunity to see a student grow from kindergarten through eighth grade. Just to see the maturation process, not only academically but as an individual, is incredible, including their maturity level and social skills. Oftentimes I work with students who don't have the ability to interact effectively with their classmates and it really exiles them from their peers. To see that maturation process is rewarding every single day.
What advice do you have for someone who is considering teaching as a profession?
The advice I give everyone who is considering teaching as a profession: make sure that this is something you want to do, that this is your calling, that this is your passion. I get a little apprehensive when people say that they use the education field as a "fallback" career. Explaining to me that if all else fails, they will teach. I disagree with that. My model is, those who can do should teach. Teachers today are so much more than facilitators who read out of a textbook and hand out standardized tests. We wear many hats as teachers. We are the secondary parent who helps students learn social skills and life lessons. I try to encourage potential teachers to reflect if this profession is something they will give 110% effort at, because students can spot mediocrity right away. They are intuitive and know if you really care and want to be there with them.
There is nothing more exhilarating than seeing that new teacher come in with a passion and energy and the kids feed off that. You just know when someone has made the right choice.
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