Magazine article Working Mother

This Is How She Does It

Magazine article Working Mother

This Is How She Does It

Article excerpt

ELIZABETH WARREN

32, ninth-grade English teacher, West Haven High School, West Haven, CT; mom of two

Most of us, if we're lucky, have had that one remarkable teacher- the one who nurtured us, pushed us, listened to us and taught us lessons that went beyond the boundaries of the classroom. This teacher took the time to notice what was unique about each student, so that they all knew, even those who felt like outcasts most of the time, that at least in this one class, in this one place, they were as valuable as everyone else. For many students at West Haven High School in West Haven, CT, Elizabeth Warren, 32, is that teacher. When she talks enthusiastically about her kids, which she does often, she could just as well be referring to her two sons, 6-year-old Darren and 3-year-old Maxwell, as to one of her 125 high school freshmen. As a mom, she makes sure she spends time each day playing in the backyard with her boys or snuggling with them on the couch. And as a teacher, she listens, not just to her students' questions about literature but also to stories about their turbulent homes and their angst.

I love Ms. Warren," says 16-year-old Precious Bryant, one of Elizabeth's students. "She's like a mother to me. I can tell her things I can't tell anyone else, and because of what she's done for me, I feel I'm a better person."

West Haven High School is Elizabeth's alma mater, so she can easily relate to her students because she has walked the path they're traveling. She can especially identify with those who come from troubled homes, having come from one herself. "We have kids who have great families, but we also have a large population of kids who don't," says Elizabeth. "In high school, I felt a little lost. For me, the best part of being a teacher is getting close to my students and working with them so they can figure out who they are earlier than I did."

RAISING HERSELF

Elizabeth always knew she wanted to help people, but she didn't realize teaching would be the way until she entered college. In high school, she had other things on her mind. Her mother was only 17 when she had Elizabeth and her twin brother, Arthur. Raising them was a struggle. When Elizabeth and Arthur were 6 years old, she married a man Elizabeth describes as an abusive alcoholic, who made the home environment unbearable. "When I was in high school, I was smart," says Elizabeth, "but I didn't apply myself because we moved around a lot and there were other things that I was worried about."

At 15, Elizabeth left home; her brother remained with her mother, who had moved to Maine. Though close to her mom today, Elizabeth still has difficulty talking about her troubled childhood and her mom's struggles. "My mother did the best she could," she says. "I try to teach my students to see that about people who might not have been there for them and to be very forgiving. My mother was a single mom and grew up in a broken home. She didn't make a lot of money, but she tried to support us in the best way she knew how."

Newly independent, Elizabeth soon found herself essentially homeless. She moved in with her birthfather and stepmother, who lived in Connecticut. But once her stepmother decided she didn't want her there, Elizabeth spent her high school years living with friends from her cheerleading squad, bouncing from house to house and living out of a couple of bags. Despite her difficult circumstances, Elizabeth persevered. "Liz has always been so strong. You would never know that she basically raised herself," says Michelle Tafuto, one of the friends Elizabeth lived with in high school. "Liz has always had a huge heart. At an age when most girls are trying to figure themselves out, she was concerned about her mother and her brother. She always puts other people first."

A WHOLE NEW LIFE

Once Elizabeth graduated and went on to Southern Connecticut State University, the stability that came with having a permanent residence - the college dormitory- allowed her to live, as she puts it, "a whole new life. …

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