When you walk into the kindergarten classroom of Judy Huddleston you are immediately overwhelmed by the creativity her students are being enveloped in and are cultivating on a daily basis.
Their artwork is proudly displayed on the wall, and there are books provided both by the school and those she and her husband check out from the library every two weeks. She has been teaching for eighteen years, the past sixteen of which have been kindergarten. Judy decided to go back to school to become a teacher after many years of volunteer work and being a stay at home mom.
“I decided to go back to school when one kid was in college and the other was in high school,” she said when asked about how she became a teacher. “And I was concerned I might not be able to learn because I was getting old, and so I took one class that was available free, including the books, and I found out it was still possible to learn, just took a lot longer, and then one day I realized that if I continued to take classes part time I was going to be eighty-two years old when I graduated. I switched to full time, so I was only fifty when I graduated.”
When asked what drove her to pursue teaching she says, “I was strongly influenced by my volunteer experiences when I was a volunteer, then became the volunteer coordinator in my children’s elementary school. I was able to work closely with the teachers and administrator there and one of my son’s teachers really strongly encouraged me to get my teaching license.”
Her advice for others aspiring, as she was, to be a teacher is to communicate with those who are teachers, and to consider how complex the job of teaching is. “I think it’s important to talk to people who are teachers and to try to find those who really are living what they want to live and those who are frustrated, maybe some who have made the decision and didn’t have an opportunity to change their mind afterward. It’s important to really understand the challenges, and that there’s so much more to teaching than academics.”
Her son, Jamie Huddleston, remembers her volunteer work from when he was a child. “She was a Sunday school teacher for many, many years; she volunteered with social services in town working with an individual with a mental illness for social services; and she also volunteered with the American Cancer Society. Volunteering with the American Cancer Society Included education in the schools, wearing a giant green aardvark costume,” he says, smiling at the memory. “So she would come to schools as Arnie the Aardvark, and teach about smoking prevention.”
He later describes what it was like for him to grow up with her as his mom, “She was always very patient, and she was very supportive of any interests that we had as kids and was willing to help us explore anything that we thought was interesting, that we wanted to try, or to do, or to learn more about. She was always very positive. I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better mom.”
“Respecting children,” is Judy's simple answer for what quality is most important for a teacher to possess, and it is clear that she does have immense respect for them in the way she speaks to them, the way treats them, and in the way she expects them to treat each other. “Waking up in the morning and knowing that I have an amazing place to go to and I’m going to be with kids who have learned to respect each other and who will help each other in really positive ways.”
I have been lucky enough to grow up with this wonderful woman as my grandmother, and a constant positive light throughout my lifetime. I don’t think I could have asked for a better grandmother.
Grace Huddleston, an 8th grader at Willow Creek Middle School, is the 1st place winner of the 2017 Next Generation Storytellers contest, presented by Bolder Options Rochester and the Med City Beat.
Read submissions from all the finalists.