Johanna E. Rodriguez earned her Masters of Science in Special Education from Nyack College in December of 2012. She currently is an Education Coordinator at the PROMISE Program at Columbia University Medical Center, working with parents and caregivers, as well as schools, to help advocate for interventions and support to help school children. Before joining PROMISE, she was an Independent Provider of Special Education Teacher Support Services (SETSS) contracted by the New York City Department of Education for 3 years. Prior to that, she was an elementary teacher at a Christian private school called Manhattan Christian Academy (MCA) for 6 years. Over the past ten years and in all three positions, she has served in the Inwood, Washington Heights section of Manhattan, which is an urban area with predominantly Spanish speaking families.
Johanna was gracious enough to be interviewed for our 50th anniversary celebrations, sharing some of the ways in which Nyack has shaped her life and career.
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While Johanna said that there are many things she is grateful for regarding her time at Nyack, she believes that the devotion to God and the importance placed on prayer was the most significant in her life.
[I am most grateful for] Dr. Looney and fellow professors who always prayed before every class session. It would bring me back to why I would run like a “crazy person” from teaching a class of 20 plus students every day to then sit for a 3 hours class twice a week. Those prayers of my professors and my fellow classmates also got me through the craziest time in my life of not only being a full-time teacher and Grad student but also dealing with my mom who was facing kidney failure at the time. Without them, I could not have completed my degree.
One valuable lesson that Johanna learned with regards to the SALT model is that it shouldn’t only be used with regards to her professional life and workplace, but that those same principles should be applied to her entire life. She said, “I am to use my knowledge of education and advocacy not only for my workplace, but for children I come in contact any place I go, whether it’s the children I serve at my church, family members, or friends.
Johanna said that what makes her proud to be a teacher is the fact that she “may be the only person in a families life to really listen to their journey and help navigate them through what their child needs.” Johanna cares about each case and knows that even if she never meets the child in person, she knows she came alongside their family and helped guide them in the right direction.
Johanna also shared a proud moment in her teaching career:
There was one time during a SETSS session with a student that I will never forget. One day during a session I was working on math word problems with a student. I had tried every strategy “in the book” for this student to understand how to solve word problems, but nothing was working. After a while, the student grew very frustrated. The student ended up on the carpeted floor playing with math manipulatives we had used earlier. After a while, when I noticed the student had calmed down, I asked if we could try the word problems again, and the student agreed and asked if they could stay on the floor. I said if it would make them feel more comfortable, then it was ok. The student then proceeded to lay on the floor and spread out the math manipulatives on the floor and yelled, “I’m ready!” I then told the student that I would read the problem out loud and they would have to use the different color manipulatives to visualize what was happening in the problem as I read it. We got through the whole word problem worksheet by using this strategy. This is one of my favorite memories because that session reminded me that students are all individuals and each learns there own way and it’s important to listen to them through their frustration.
To Christian teachers, Johanna said:
I once read in a YouVersion devotional that, “Daily acknowledging God’s direction gives purpose to your present that is worthy of His highest commendation: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over the little, and He will set you over much.” This small devotional kept me going on the days where I would grow frustrated with things that were out of my control. . . 1 Peter 4:10-11 – “God has given each of us a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another…Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ…” All in all my career choice is really my God-given gift and purpose to use for His glory and not my own.