by Erika Tellier-Angley

When asked to write about motherhood, a million and one thoughts came to mind. Do I write about the circus act of being a working mom? Do I write about being a working  mother of a child on the autism spectrum? Or do I write about the anxieties and exhaustion that seem to accompany motherhood?

In exploring and settling on a topic, I came across a quote on motherhood by Lisa Alther that succinctly describes my experience:

“Any mother could perform the jobs of several air traffic controllers with ease.”


Dad Edward with Connor and Liam.

Fast forward to June 2009. I had just gotten off the phone with my brother who announced that they were happily expecting their second child. “They’re out of their mind! Brody just turned one in March… don’t they want to sleep?!?!” I thought.

The next day though, which was Father’s Day, I found myself in the bathroom, staring at two pink lines on a home pregnancy test in utter and complete disbelief. I called to my husband, who was blissfully feeding Connor cheerios.

“Edward, lines don’t lie, right?” He rushed in, and peered at the stick on the counter:

“Shut up. Shut. Up.”

“Happy First Father’s Day, babe.”

And so my training began….

My pregnancy  with  Liam  was  the  complete  opposite  with that of Connor. I was never uncomfortable when Connor was in utero, and it seemed that Liam was bent on letting me know that I was the “alien host.” Liam would roll and dive in the womb non-stop.

I was back at work while pregnant with Liam and during a lecture on Geoffrey  Chaucer’s  The Canterbury Tales,  a  student  raised  his  hand cautiously, “Mrs. A? Did you make your stomach do that just now?” Liam had chosen that exact moment to do a somersault and stretch out as far as he could. I shook my head ‘no’ and the student’s girlfriend looked him dead in the eye, “You are NOT going to do THAT to me. EVER.”

Liam spent eight days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit following his birth,  hooked  up  to more  machines  than  I  could  count,  due  to  his underdeveloped lungs. The back and forth between home and the hospital, all while managing a 15-month old and trying to recuperate, brought me to the realization that I had to juggle all the parts of this life now.

I knew that I could always count on my husband and parents to help, however, they weren’t always going to be right by my side on a day in, day out, basis.


Edward and Erika on their wedding day.

My nickname is now “the glue” and as one can infer, I keep everything together. I manage  the  chaos  to  an organized state.

I’ve become the master of the calendar, enforcer of day in and day out routines and structure down to the minute, all while being flexible and sacrificing my own needs for my boys. I handle blips on my radar, big and  small,  in the  same manner, as to not upset the flow of my house.

Although there have been some desperate moments, there haven’t been any crash landings on my shift.

Liam will be five years old on January 13th, and I am in awe of how I manage to keep my house running smoothly. Connor and Liam are the best of friends, and although part of my job responsibilities now includes being a toy hostage negotiator, I wouldn’t give up my sons’ snuggles or kisses for anything. Their personalities are starting to emerge, and the “one-liners” that they utter are hilarious.

Time spent at the breakfast and dinner table has become a time to practice their “comedy routine.” The most recent iteration had to do with a TV  commercial  they  saw  while  watching a  program  on Disney Junior:

“Hey Mommy! You know what you should get yourself for Christmas? The Magical Flying Tinker Bell! She even has fairy dust!”

How did they know that’s exactly what I want?


Edward and Erika with sons Connor and Liam.

Erika is a National Board Certified teacher and a very dear friend. Yes, I nicknamed her “the glue” because I am in awe with how she manages with ease all the “traffic” of being a working mother in New York City. She takes care of her lovely family so well, teaches like a champion to students in Harlem, and still finds time to support her struggling colleagues in any way possible. She has the softest heart ever and manages to always look beautiful, whether at home or at work.

Of Mothers and Air Traffic Controllers

A Student’s Christmas Gift to Her AP Statistics Teacher

The student wrote the essay in October, as part of her application to the Stanford University Summer College (Residential-Domestic) program. The prompt was: ‘Write a 500 – 700  word  essay  on the best advice you have received.’ 

My Stanford University Essay on “The Best Advice I Have Received” 

by Lissette Barretto 

Dr. Marietta Geraldino, my Algebra 2 and AP Statistics teacher, has taught me much more than formulas and rules for math. In fact, she has continuously taught me the value  of striving for excellence. In our fast-paced 8th period class, Ms. G, as she is fondly called, would still find a couple  of  moments  to  share  a  few  words  of  wisdom  that  have remained with me ever since.

She shared with us that none of her accomplishments would have been possible without confidence, constant motivation, and a strong support system.  Then,  to  emphasize  this philosophy,  Ms.  G  loves  to  say, “Your classmates are NOT your competition. Your only competition is yourself.”

Now after hearing that same phrase constantly, I began to think about her words and slowly decipher their meaning. Then, in turn, what I learned from Ms. G inspired me to be a better student and person.

Firstly, Ms. G’s comment made  me realize how vital it is for me to truly believe in myself and to continuously strive to be better. As a freshman in her honors Trigonometry class, I felt unprepared and overwhelmed going into the course. In a class of 18 students, most being juniors and seniors, I was one of the  only  five  freshmen in  class.  Ms. G  had  high expectations for me, but in reality I was pretty baffled by the content.

Only later did I discover that the only thing I really had to fear was fear itself. After spending hours reviewing my class notes and doing self study, I slowly began to grasp the material and dared myself to do well. Without the confidence that I developed throughout the year, I wouldn’t have excelled in all my classes. Whenever I tend to doubt my abilities or second guess my role in the class, I would remind myself of all the progress I had already made as proof that I could succeed in this class.

Secondly, her mantra also taught me the value of motivation. I choose to focus on her as my role model because of the consistent drive and determination she displays everyday. I don’t see her solely as a math teacher but as a successful and admirable woman. I told myself that I should strive to be more like her, and that all the advice she gave me I would practice daily. Ms. G never lacks confidence and motivation. She believes that any student could achieve anything if we put our heart into it. I now understand that in order for me to reach my dreams and aspirations, I have to constantly work for it. When she said that our only competition is ourselves, I told myself that I shouldn’t fear anyone. I shouldn’t be intimidated by others, rather, I should challenge my self to constantly improve.

Thirdly, Ms. G’s motto made me realize the value that my classmates have in my academics . When I was placed in the Trigonometry class, I wasn’t the only freshman; there were four of us. It wasn’t until after Ms. G told us that they weren’t competition did I realize that they could be so helpful. I became such close friends with Aimee, Miranda, Jonathan, and Christopher. We helped each other in class, reviewed in lunch,  stayed after school together and most importantly motivated each other. Thus, after these observations, I’ve realized that skills alone are not enough. Motivation is equally, if not as more important, and I know it will be a key aspect of achieving my dreams.

It was also in these moments that I would reflect on  all the times my classmates and I would compete about who had the highest grade on the test.  Such kind of pettiness only held us back and was a waste of time and energy that could have been used so much more effectively. I learned that a peer’s achievements would not in any way diminish my contribution or worth.  In fact, I’ve found out that we were able to do so much more as a collective whole or when we all coöperated as a class. Therefore, as I continue to pursue my academic career, I want to help foster the kind of intellectual community where everyone treats each other and supports one another as equals.

Thus, from Ms. G’s brief words, I have learned valuable lessons about myself and the world that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I now feel inspired to pursue my academic passions wholeheartedly, help those around me, and challenge  myself  to  be a better person than before.

Lissette B.Lissette emailed me the essay today as “my way of thanking you this Christmas,” she said. This is a gift I will always treasure as an educator.

FDA II Students’ Oil Painting Gallery

Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.~ Plutarch

Courtesy of Mr. Peter Lopez’s After-School Painting Class

This gallery contains oil paintings and water color portraits by the students of Mr. Peter Lopez’s after school painting class at Frederick Douglass Academy II.

The painters include: John Jolivette, Joel Monroy, Kevin Chaney, Michael Montero, Elfrey Marte, Derrick Carver, Nylah Headley, Denise Phillips, and Peter Lopez.

God is Raining on You, Son!

by Peter Lopez

Four years ago I started this new career in teaching. Four years ago I was beautiful. I had not one grey hair on my face. I didn’t have these bags under my eyes or this line across my forehead.

I know. You are looking at me and you are asking: “What happened, man?”

I tell you what happened: Katisha happened. Tiana happened. John, Joel, Ariana, Kine, Arielle, Raziya, Anthony, Whitney, Shawnell, and Jaquan happened. And yes, Dennis! Dennis! Dennis!

A decade ago, before I started thinking about teaching, I was happy. I was content. I had a job that paid the bills and then some. I knew the love of family and friends and lovers… a lot.

But after four years of teaching children, I can honestly say that I never knew what it meant to truly love, before I met them. And it is because love, true love, comes from giving without expectations of getting. And if you are a teacher, you are giving. And if you are a good teacher, you are giving everything you got.

I gave my students everything I had over the course of those four years. But I can’t say that I didn’t get anything back in return. Within those four years, my students have given me respect, honor, joy, and meaning.


“Roaring Tiger” by John Jolivette. This is a sample of student paintings in Peter’s after-school Oil Painting Class.

Let me share with you an anecdote.

I’m not a religious man. My students  can tell you that. But one day this June, while I was standing at the corner of West 116th Street waiting for my  gyro, I  noticed  this elderly gentleman eyeing me. I didn’t know why he looked at me intently. He was also there waiting for his food.

Suddenly, two students playfully crashed into me. We then started talking and joking, before they proceeded to school to attend a Regents Prep in Chemistry.

“You… a teacher?” The old man asked. “Yes sir, I am.”

“You teach around the corner there?” The old man persisted.

“Yes sir, I do.” I replied.

“Mmmmm, ” he continued, “That must be tough!” “No. Not really,” I told him. He pointed to my arm and said, “That’s because you rough ‘em up a bit.”

I laughed and said,  “No! It’s because I like them. You show them love and they’ll do what you need them to do, most of the time. After all, they’re just kids. And kids want to be loved.”

“You got that absolutely right!!!” The old man exclaimed, as though he were testing me the entire time.

“But,” he continued, “You got one thing wrong.”

He looked at me intently and continued, “They’re not kids. When you show them love and they love you back, the way those two students just showed love to you, they’re not kids. They’re God’s children. And when you show them love, they’re God’s rain. God is raining down on you, son.”

I absolutely adore my students. And they will all – both individually and collectively – be a part of who I am as a teacher, as a person, and as a man.

“God is raining on you, son.” It still gives me chill up to now.

1794613_709469845759404_1081287381_nPeter Lopez is an excellent teacher, who I always run to for a tip on student engagement when I need to coach a new teacher a specific classroom management strategy. I have observed, over four years, that he is able to inspire and engage in learning all his students, even those who seem to give the other classes a hard time. The students adore him and seek the calm of his art gallery-like classroom when they seem lost or need an academic support.

He teaches AP Literature in a school in Harlem and runs an after-school Oil Painting class, like a pro. His painting class is always a sight to behold. On Fridays, while everybody is hurrying home, you’ll find his classroom buzzing with activity and laughter as the student painters bring out their inner creativity, one brush-stroke at a time.

He is a highly respected teacher leader and beloved colleague.