My Story - How did I get here?
“You can’t be serious”, “Are you kidding me?”, “Oh my goodness!” these are just a few of the reactions from my former classmates at my last high school reunion. You see, the greatest achievements of my early academic endeavors were making people laugh and getting kicked out of class. I did, however, manage to attain the highly distinguished honors of being “Class clown” and Class Devil. During the entire time I was achieving these time-honored superlatives, not much learning was going on. In fact, I would dare to say, there wasn’t much teaching going on as well.
Before the restructuring of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), special education classes were small classrooms for outcasts (like me). Typically situated away from the “normal” classrooms as to not contaminate the masses. Although, I didn’t want to admit it, I believed that I belonged there. I just wasn’t as smart as my counterparts. It wasn’t until the age of twenty-one that I discovered that I had a fully functional and quite capable brain. I just wish somebody had told me about it earlier!
Fifteen years ago, I was at a crossroads in my life. The office in which I had been working for over ten years was closing. I was offered an upper level manager position at the World Trade Center working with VIPs from top fortune 500 companies. However, the truth was, that I wasn’t very happy with what we call “Corporate America”. My very close cousin (who also teaches in Perth Amboy), who was a special education teacher, urged me to go into this “enormously rewarding and fulfilling career”. He believed that students could benefit from my school and life experiences. Right then and there something clicked. There were kids out there, sitting in small classrooms and thinking that they are just not smart. Moreover, they may believe that their disability or behavior inhibits high levels of learning and academic achievement.
While pursuing my teaching certification, a very wise supervisor took a chance on an older teacher who was in the midst of changing careers. I’ve been at McGinnis ever since, it is my home and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m a teacher working with a huge family who has my back every day! I teach incredible kids and yes I also have “Gerry Notino” like students too. Without this endeavor we call teaching, I would have never known that my academic failures and frustrating school years would be an arsenal of inspiration for my students.
Students like me, will always exist for a number of reasons. However, once I explain that I was just like them and that they can be just as intelligent as they want to be, they often look amazed. I love to see their expressions and reactions when I tell my outrageous and sometimes funny childhood stories (most times a parallel to their own experiences). There is a connection that I make with my students that no huge corporate deal could ever compete with.
Gerry Notino, MA, received his Bachelors of Science degree in Business from Kean University. He then earned his Master of Arts degree in Special Education from New Jersey City University. Gerry went on to complete the LDT/C special services endorsement program at Stockton University and is now also certified as a Learning Disabled Teaching Consultant.