A thoughtful journey: Teaching in the City

“Sometimes you have to show them tough love,” that’s what twenty-eight year old Cathy Livigni told me as she started to explain her life as a special education teacher. Cathy has been teaching students with disabilities for 4 years. She is currently teaching at World Journalism Preparatory School in Bayside, Queens. She has been with the same group of kids for the past two years, and has developed a close relationship with her students and their parents. Teaching medium to low functioning level students, she counsels them while teaching;” I put myself in their shoes,” says Cathy. She began to tell me about a letter that a student wrote, Thank you so much for being the best advisor ever for all these years I really mean it! I’m truly thankful and I’ll miss you so much! I’m sort of happy to be leaving this hellhole of a school. I wish I can bring you with me to there! Thank you so much again and I hope you love the chocolates! Have a wonderful life and remember me always.
Oddly enough in 2002 when Cathy graduated from C.W. Post, she did not receive her degree in special education. She was a marketing major with a minor in fashion merchandising. Realizing it was difficult to find a job in the marketing field, she decided to join AmeriCorps. What is AmeriCorps you ask? AmeriCorps is an opportunity to make a big difference in your life and in the lives of those around you. It’s a chance to apply your skills and ideals toward helping others and meeting critical needs in the community. As she continued to talk it became clear why decided to go into teaching student with special needs. While she was with AmeriCorps, she heard about Teaching Fellows from a friend and decided to apply. Teaching Fellows are people like you – accountants, nurses, recent graduates, chief executives, secretaries, artists, reporters, and retirees – who have decided to use their diverse experiences, knowledge and achievements to positively affect the lives of students. Cathy’s teaching style maybe similar to other teachers but she explained while teaching, I try explain life to them.

She lives very modestly and tries to be open-minded about all things as much as she possibly can. Raised in Flushing, Queens she lived with her mother and brother for most of her adult life. In 2002, her brother passed away at the age of 19 and as Cathy put it, “I was abnormally numb.” We discussed her brothers passing very briefly as I am aware that the passing of a love one can be very difficult to talk about. She became the caregiver soon after her brothers passing; making sure everyone was fine; that was the turning point in her life. She began to tell me a story about a student that reminded her of her brother, “I had a student who had a speech and language disorder—he stuttered. Sometimes it took him so long to say a sentence and I would just look at him and wait for the word to come out. He hated school but was very artistic. He had almost zero attention span. I always had patience with him because (it’s my job) but also because my brother did not speak until he was 5 years old and then stuttered all through elementary, middle and high school. I sometimes see my brother in my students, which was also a big part of my grad thesis, which is probably unimportant to you! But anyways…”

Six years later, Cathy is living in Elmont, LI with her boyfriend of 2 years. She has been to 15 different countries such as Italy, France, Ireland, Spain, Ecuador, Germany, Mexico, and the list goes on. “I love to traveling and learning about different cultures” she said as she talks about her experiences visiting these countries. Her tone has we discussed her life as a teacher and traveling the world, she seemed to be content for all that she has experience whether good or bad.

Martine E. Antoine