Joy of learning sparkles in COM grad's classroom
Laughter and music fill Tonita Tucker’s classes. Describing herself as “a kid at heart,” the teacher at the private elementary Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School in Hitchcock delights in making music and physical education exciting for prekindergarten through sixth grade students.
“They all learn differently,” Tucker reflected. “They are all individuals. Certain students who don’t excel academically excel in my classes. They remember every instrument.”
Always ready to tackle something new, Tucker revels in incorporating surprises into her classroom from balloon volleyball in P.E. to impromptu dancing in music. Sometimes she imitates British or other accents to snag a class’ attention.
Working at a private school with children in many grade levels allows her to view students’ maturing through the years.
“Watching them grow up, I get misty-eyed,” said Tucker. “They’re all kind of like my babies.”
Occasionally a student who has graduated will stop by and solicit impromptu advice, such as the seventh grader who tearfully related being teased at her new school.
“We had a little pow-wow. I said, ‘Don’t focus on them. Just smile at them and know who you are,” said Tucker, adding that the student found her niche in theater and recently performed in a production of “Grease.”
It’s all in a day’s work for Tucker, who landed her first job in education at her son’s daycare after being laid off from her office job. There, Tucker found her passion: working with children.
“It just seemed so right. This is why I was put on this earth, to help children,” she reflected. “It’s very rewarding.”
She just lacked one thing to advance in the field: a degree. She came to the hands-on COM Child Development Program, where she learned about education through volunteering, textbooks and observing teachers in all types of classrooms from prekindergarten through high school.
“I really liked (observing) because you see different teaching styles,” she explained. “The COM program was perfect for me. It was able to fit my schedule as a mom.”
With three children at home, she tackled the challenges in returning to school head-on.
“I had to learn to balance. There were times I was doing math homework up to 2 a.m.,” she remembered. “The COM Math Lab saved me because there was always tutoring. Being able to help my children afterward with their math homework was good.”
Her professors also helped her navigate rough patches.
“Ms. (Susan) Napoli was thorough,” said Tucker. “If you had a question about anything, she was always available to talk. She still is.”
Propelled by her determination to set an example for her children, Tucker graduated with an associate degree in 2010. Her daughter also graduated with an associate degree from COM Collegiate High School.
“I had a goal. I was focused,” Tucker explained. “It was a big deal to show my kids if you work hard you can do anything.”
While teaching provides continual challenges, it also offers unsurpassed rewards.
“I’m happy to go to work everyday,” she said. “If students are having a bad day, I try to make them smile. They listen because they know I really care.”