Colette Jobin was working 12½-hour shifts as a nurse in the NICU and raising three young children as a single mom when she realized – this is not going to work! She was working on patients’ charts thinking, “I am going to have to give this up!” when a fellow nurse named Colleen, out of the blue, said, “Colette, have you ever thought of teaching?” Colette immediately replied, “No!” Colleen continued, “You would be so amazing at teaching!” To which Colette replied, “Um..I have a career.” But the seed had been planted.
Colette went home that morning, having worked all night, and was up with her children all day. That pattern repeated day after day. Work all night, stay up with the kids all day and sleep for a little while before returning to work. She thought “How am I going to keep this up long term – without sleeping?” The seed Colleen planted began to grow.
Colette looked at her three little ones, ages 5, 3 and 1, and thought, “I’ve got to make some big changes. And as a Jewish woman, I am Sephardic, I have been raised knowing that women can completely reinvent themselves when needed. Women have that ability to completely turn everything over. That’s the way we’re raised. I could hear my parents, who had been long gone, in my head, reminding me that I was strong, I was Sephardic, I was able to turn this around at every step of the way – because Sephardic women could. So I did.”
Colette is fluent in Spanish, French, English, Hebrew and a language called Ladino, essentially a combination of Hebrew and Spanish. Her ancestors fled the Catholic king and queen in the 1400s to the Pyrenees Mountains and hid among the foothills of both sides of Spain and France. “They created their own language to protect the culture, their Jewish identity, the religion; you name it. It was a way to survive. That’s where my family comes from, so I am completely fluent in Ladino,” Colette explains.
She has a master’s in nursing, a bachelor’s in Spanish, French and English literature and interpretation. She went to the Scottsdale Unified School District office and said, “I speak all these languages and I’m fluent, I taught my own kids, could you use someone like me?” The answer was yes. She started teaching for SUSD before she had her license because there was such a huge need for language teachers. They created a special contract with her so she could teach without a certificate. She took online courses and received the proper certification within a year.
She began her career at a Title 1 school (a school that has a high number or high percentage of students from low-income families) called Ingleside Middle School. She tripled their language programs for French and Spanish. “I loved that community,” says Colette fondly. “I would definitely still be teaching there if travel had not been an issue.” She is referring to when the Loop 101 freeway was under construction and the commute became too much.
She relocated to Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale and that is where she teaches today. Her two remaining children at home (she has one in college) attend school there as well. They are all enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program at Desert Mountain. The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a non-profit educational foundation offering four highly respected programs of international education that develop the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills needed to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world.
“Honestly, it’s been a phenomenal program. I teach the IB program, too! I see how hard we [as teachers] work together as a team in the IB program; we make sure that all of our courses are intertwined and that we have a lot of commonalities. I teach French and Spanish and Latin, we still get together and make sure that we have novels in common, or history pieces in common, so that the knowledge builds. More importantly, we’re building bridges for the kids so that they can really embrace the entire world.” She believes that kids today understand how interconnected we all are on a global level.
Empowering these students is part of teaching them, whether she has them two, three or four years and she believes that creating a bond with the children makes them want to learn more. “I think that’s a huge disconnect right now in the American system. Kids don’t have that bond with their teacher. They don’t have that trust. They don’t have that personal relationship, and I think that’s a huge tragedy right now in the American system.” She explains further, “It’s not on the heads of teachers, especially here in Arizona; we are poorly paid, we have 40-plus kids in every single classroom, we work through the day without a break, no lunch. We’re supposed to be superhuman. What gets sacrificed is that personal bond. To me, there is nothing better than the personal bond, connecting with a kid. That helps them realize that there’s something so much bigger out there and they need to discover it.”
Teaching is a challenging profession, between the lack of support for the educational system from elected officials to standardized testing that puts so much emphasis on a single test. “I do not understand the system that shoves a final or high-stakes exam underneath kids nose’s that the kids have not had a chance to practice.” She believes that the children in her AP and IB classes do very well on their tests because of the consistency in her teaching practices and making sure that the kids are prepared.
But with all its flaws, Colette still believes strongly in public education as it has opened a lot of doors for her, even though she did not receive her education in this country. “My parents were the epitome of poverty. I was given opportunities to grow and educate myself, and as long as I made a [certain] GPA, my student loans were written off.” She went to the University of Madrid and Carleton University in Canada. “Technically, I should not be where I am! My own three children are living with a single mom, who is an immigrant and whose first language is not English. They should not be going to university. All the statistics say no, no how, no way!” Colette’s oldest child is attending college at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
With her strong belief that these children are our future, she approaches teaching her own way. “It’s about the kids, what they know, and how to help them achieve. It’s about them, it’s not about me, or my ego, or the school district, or the state, or the country. It’s not about anything but those kids that are in my class. I’ve made the conscious choice to close my door and focus on my babies in my class, in front of me, and keep the rest of it out.”
Colette’s passion for teaching and her Jewish heritage are intertwined, “Part of my social responsibility as a Sephardi, I just want to get this message out there,” says Colette. “This is what I feel my life purpose is all about. I love my [own] kids and I love my kids in my classroom, and I believe with everything I am that they are capable, smart and have something [of value] to add. I want to empower them at every step of the way.”