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UFT.org Home > What I do: Tami Hernandez-Rosenberg, guidance counselor
Starting out as a special education teacher in 1993, Hernandez-Rosenberg became a guidance counselor in 2001 and works at IS 285 in the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn.
What made you want to change your career from teaching to counseling?
Special ed is my heart; that’s where I grew up as an educator — in the classroom with those kids. But there were so many issues in the classroom that I was doing more counseling than teaching. That let me know I needed a counseling degree.
What are your days like now?
I see my mandated students. I teach lessons in the classroom on the high school application process and do crisis and family counseling. I teach life skills to all my kids: I’m in charge of the 6th, 7th and 8th grades at the school’s Phoenix Academy and am in charge of the entire 8th grade in all three academies, so that includes Falcon and Eagle. That’s part of what I do.
What else are you responsible for?
I’m responsible for the students in temporary housing, and I’m the building liaison for ASC, Administration for Children’s Services, or CPS, as some people call it, Child Protective Services, depending on the age of the child. I do all the paperwork when a teacher reports child abuse.
What are some of the difficulties your students face?
Some of the kids don’t know who their father is. Some kids have a father in jail or a mother who is a junkie. Parents who don’t fall into those categories have to work two jobs just to pay for their apartment. Kids are alone. Some students are the children of undocumented immigrants who are afraid of exposure so it puts pressure on the kids to take responsibility for the parents. I refer those families to outside agencies that do immigration issues so they won’t be so afraid.
All of that must be hard on you.
Yes. Because the street wins a lot. Good one-to-one kids get on the street and that’s it. I can’t fight the street. I can’t fight poverty. That’s their life.
What motivates you to keep on?
I was a very problemed child, nobody gave up on me, and I won’t give up on them. I love my kids because they’re sweet and very misunderstood. I come to work and I’m mommy. They have so many issues, and a teacher can’t take all those issues into consideration when she has 30 kids sitting in front of her.
You must have to learn detachment.
Oh yes. I will give my kids 150 percent while I’m here, but when I go home I do have to detach because I have a family. When I was in my 20s, I could run all over the place, meet parents at a diner whenever. I could also see then. I lost my sight in 2004. I had brain surgery and went to sleep seeing and woke up blind. That was not fun.
How did going blind affect your life and work?
Work and my daughter were the two things that got me out of bed in the morning. I broke my back to learn the skills I needed to come back to work. The partial paralysis on my left side from the surgery meant learning how to type with one hand. I had to learn to depend on an assistant for my paperwork, had to learn computer programs for the blind, learn how to walk with a cane and not fall down stairs. I had to give up my driver’s license — that was rough. I had to learn to work with a guide dog.
How do the kids react to your blindness and to your having a dog in school?
There are immature kids who bark when I’m walking with the dog. But most kids yell at those kids. They take the rules seriously from the list I got from the Guide Dog Foundation. Generally, though, children are more accepting than adults, more open to differences. The kids are amazing.
Does your situation create a ‘no excuses’ atmosphere for kids with disabilities?
You know, some kids will try to get over because I’m disabled, whether they’re disabled or not, special ed or not, and I give them a piece of chocolate and tell them to cut the garbage and get themselves back to class now. I tell them if I can get up every day and do what I do, then they can get into that classroom and learn. I don’t accept “can’t” from anybody, ever.
If your cane became a magic wand, what would you wish for your kids?
A better world than I have. Health, happiness, good family, prosperity. Look at the world around us now. Look at what we’re dealing with. I wish for them a better world, and that they are the ones who will make it happen.