After 21 years of teaching kindergarten students at Broadmeadow Elementary School, Monica Staley will be retiring at the end of this school year.
Staley didn’t always know she wanted to be a teacher. It wasn’t until her own children were going through school that she was inspired to go back herself. She was in her 40s when, taking one class at a time at night for five years, she earned her master’s degree in education. Since 2002, Staley has taught hundreds of 5- and 6-year-olds and has interacted with their families. Her memory for faces and names is remarkable, and is testament to her deep involvement with her students. This year she is teaching her final class.
Staley said she takes a page out of New York Times columnist David Brooks’ book “How to Know a Person,” in which he writes that some people are “… illuminators. And they are people who are just curious about you, and they make you feel lit up.” She said her job is to make all of her students feel accepted, so that they shine. She displays the flags of 11 countries that represent her students’ heritage on the windows of her classroom. These include Cape Verde, Ireland, Canada, Greece, Italy, Ecuador, Vietnam, India, Jamaica, China and Israel.
When asked to take the long view of education over the past 20 years, Staley is very aware of post-pandemic losses. She said students have become much more screen-oriented, and parents report feeling overwhelmed by long-distance learning. Academic skills, she believes, have obviously been affected. She said a book that she would read to students in one sitting now has to be split into two sessions because the children get restless and need to move.
Staley believes our brains have changed over time. Reading and writing are now kindergarten skills. Parents who choose to buy a home in Needham expect academic excellence in their schools. Yet Staley continues to believe that the main task of a kindergarten teacher is to help her students love school and feel seen and accepted. She ends each day with “free choice” for her students. They have the option to build, write, draw, or play as they wish.
As teachers are leaving the profession in record numbers, Staley said she understands the pressures facing young educators. Her typical day is 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and more than one parent has noticed her still at Broadmeadow in the evening. She knows how hard every teacher in her school works to educate Needham’s children.