Photo of Valerie Negri

PHOTO/CAPTION: Valerie Negri

Teacher Overcomes Obstacles

by Lisa Beilfuss

From the Editor: The kindest word I could apply to my high school biology course would be "undistinguished." The book was large and uninteresting, and the experiments were boring and smelly. Despite these disadvantages, biology seemed the least demanding alternative when I had to choose a course to fulfill my college science requirement. Imagine my astonishment, then, when I discovered that biology was rivetingly interesting. Swept away in the enthusiasm of this discovery, I actually declared a biology major. Eventually I began to consider what I might do with the major. I recognized that I did not possess the burning passion that would carry me through graduate school, research, and the endless battles for the right to compete in the field. That seemed to leave high school teaching. With dismay I recollected Mosshead Manson, who had put us all to sleep my sophomore year of high school and changed my major to English. But the entire experience left me with a deep respect for anyone willing and able to make a success of teaching high school biology.

Valerie Negri is a member of the Kankakee Heartland Chapter of the NFB of Illinois and was a 1989 NFB Scholarship Winner. She is also a high school biology teacher who obviously loves her work. The following article appeared in the March, 1998, issue of Inscape, the newsletter of Mother McAuley High School. Here it is:

Biology may seem impossible under any circumstances, but try studying organisms and plant cells under a microscope without the help of your eyes. Sight may be something people take for granted, but it is one sense that Ms. Val Negri, Mrs. Mary Ellen Clifford's temporary replacement, has learned to succeed without.

The newest addition to the science faculty is an alum of Marian Catholic High School and a biology major/chemistry minor grad of Xavier University. Although she received avid criticism from teachers and peers who called her unrealistic, her dream of becoming a teacher proved unwavering: "I always liked young people. I always wanted to work with them and influence their lives," said Ms. Negri. While studying anatomy in college, she used cadavers and models to substitute for the pictures and diagrams her classmates used. All material was left to memorization; she was even responsible for the unseen physical descriptions of what was placed under the microscope.

The three biology classes she presently teaches are Ms. Negri's first experience operating her own classroom. However, she previously served as a teaching assistant for students with learning disabilities and for abused children and babies born with crack addictions. Working at the Cultural Arts Center at Xavier also provided her with valuable teaching experience.

Teaching biology, Ms. Negri feels, is her greatest accomplishment. Although she finds many parallels between her own teaching style and that of other teachers, Ms. Negri feels the main difference in her classroom has to do with the girls she teaches. She believes they learn to become more responsible, self-sufficient, and independent. Ms. Negri knows that, besides absorbing her extensive knowledge of science, her students are learning a valuable lesson in life: "My students learn about cooperation and teamwork and have experience with someone who is different." McAuley has made some accommodations in order for Ms. Negri to teach. For instance, senior students help proctor tests and assist with other activities. When asked what she likes best about McAuley, Ms. Negri replied without hesitation, "the kids!"