Given its progressive, inquiry-based bent, it’s no surprise that The New Century School attracts some very special educators, as we have seen over the years. The 2019–2020 school year boasts several new faces, all of whom will be profiled by Immersed. Today’s post, though, is all about Loretta Lee, who has a 2nd- and 3rd-grade homeroom and teaches English Language Arts (ELA) and Global Studies to the 2nd- through 4th-grade cohort.
Right off the bat, Ms. Lee identifies herself as an educator. This avocation seems to be central to who she is (although it’s not the only way she sees herself). “I have been teaching since the late 1970s,” she said. “One of the reasons I’ve stayed in the profession as long as I have is that I consider myself a lifelong learner. I enjoy learning new ways to teach and new techniques, and I’ve been give the opportunity in most schools that I’ve worked in to be able to grow in all sorts of different ways, like sitting on hiring committees, running book clubs, and so on.”
She also explains that she has seen education trends come and go and has clear notions of what works and what doesn’t:
I’ve seen a full gamut of what’s going on in education. One of the things I’ve chosen to be here at TNCS is the progressive nature of the school and the ability to meet kids where they are. That’s not true in all schools, and that’s one of the things that definitely drew me here. I’ve been in places that really embrace that, and I’ve been at schools that really don’t.
She earned an undergraduate degree in early childhood education in Boston and went on to obtain a graduate degree at University of Wisconsin in Madison, where her major was Educational Law and Policy Studies. In support of these studies, she testified at senate assembly meetings as well as served as an intern on a committee for how monies were spent in public schools. She also created curricula for incarcerated youth. “Oftentimes what happens to those poor kids is that their education stops as soon as they get incarcerated,” she explained. “We put together a curriculum so that when they came back out, at least one thing was in place for them.”
Ms. Lee brings a rich background of experience to her classroom, and this becomes a valuable asset not just to her lucky students but to her as a teacher as well, as she explains. “One of the benefits that comes with age is knowing yourself well enough to know what fits. I don’t think you know that when you’re very young and just starting out. So this is where my career journey has led me.”
Although she now lives in northern Baltimore County on a 3 1/2-acre piece of property, she and her family have lived all over the country. Her husband is also a career educator, and they have taught in Connecticut, where they met; on the West Coast; and for 15 years in Texas before relocating here in 2014. They decided to come back to be near their parents, one set in Florida, the other in New Jersey. The Lees are now right in the middle! They also really like where they live: “There’s a donkey next door,” said Ms. Lee, “and roosters everywhere. We have horses and two large dogs we wanted to give the ability to be outside and stretch their legs. It’s very beautiful and quiet. I only wish it was about 15 miles south because the commute isn’t great,” she joked. Besides her four-legged babies, she has two sons. The oldest is 27 and still lives in Dallas. The younger one (age 19) is here with them and doing a “gap year” between graduating high school and starting college, explained Ms. Lee.
Before coming to TNCS, she taught at Krieger Schechter Day School in Pikesville. But now that she’s at TNCS, she finds it refreshing, she says. “It’s really a fit, even with trying to get used to the nuances of a new school and its culture. The kids have been great, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know them. My colleagues have been very sweet, and I know I’m probably the oldest, but I always say I’m young at heart.”
As for how she wound up teaching ELA, she explains that this is the first time in a long time that she is not teaching math but has always been interested in ELA.
I went to a parochial school for many years and I knew that’s not the way I wanted to teach, and it’s not the way I learn best either. So, I wanted to open up my mind to other ways of getting the same information. There’s not one way—there are many, many ways, and I just wanted to allow for that. Visually, aurally, it doesn’t take you long to realize strengths and weaknesses when you’re presenting in multiple ways. Where are they picking it up the best? That’s half the battle. Where do I put this information in so that it actually goes in and stays somewhere? Once you learn those aspects of teaching, it makes it very easy to move on and keep making progress.
And I like ELA! It comprises not only the reading element but also the writing and the spelling, and it really has all the individual nuances for the English. I want the students to make connections; I want them to see that it works together. I think so often we segment things out and then you expect the children to make the connections. I think if you connect everything together to begin with, then it really makes sense for them.
Ms. Lee has familiarized herself with the Singapore math curriculum as and appreciates seeing that same approach used in math as well—making real-world connections to numbers. Math for this cohort of 33 total students, by the way, is taught by Ms. Klusewitz as is science.
As mentioned, although Ms. Lee is a veteran educator and teaching is very important to her, she has other sides and has many interests. “I guess the one thing that parents should know about me is that I am a parent, and I have been there, done that. But I have many facets. I really enjoy design work and color and art pieces, so that’s a love of mine as well. I also enjoy being on the water, especially the ocean. It’s my place to regroup and recharge.”
She spends much of each summer in Maine, where she bakes cheddar biscuits, blueberry crisp, and the like for her best friend’s retail shop. “I’m the comedy relief,” says Ms. Lee. “When I arrive, everyone goes, ‘she’s baaaack’!”When it’s time for her “to come back to reality,” she enjoys cooking in her spare time and has a to-die-for tequila lime shrimp. Let’s hope she makes an appearance at a TNCS pot luck!
With or without your blueberry crisp in tow, Ms. Lee, welcome to the TNCS community!