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Where Laughter is Always Allowed to Interrupt the Day

This May, in her twentieth year as an Associate Teacher for Kindergarten, Deborah McDermott received the 2017-18 Parent Association Excellence in Teaching Award. Before she became an early childhood educator, Deb worked at Swiss Bank Corporation, where she was vice president in charge of foreign exchange operations.   

You were a banker for 17 years. Tell us about the transition from that world to Kindergarten.

While I enjoyed my time in banking, I wanted to be closer to home when raising our two sons. Little did I know that, soon after, I would be working at Packer, a school I consider home.The transition was an easy one. I’d spent several years designing and implementing a new operations system and then training a very talented staff. This experience helped me appreciate process and reminded me of the benefits of trial and error. Working with children became an extension of my experience in banking in that my students’ curiosity often seeks immediate resolution. It’s our job to guide them towards the benefits of discovery through their own exploration.

You and your husband chose Packer for your sons, Devin ’05 and Brendin ’07. What drew your family to the School?

Packer’s approach to teaching, the talented, dedicated educators and staff, and of course the wonderful Garden, made for an easy decision. We were confident our sons would become lifelong learners and caring citizens at Packer. Their experiences not only allowed them to exceed even our best hopes for their futures but also gave them the opportunity to form diverse, enduring friendships. 

What is the most important thing that you try to impart to your students?

I hope to impart to my students that they are valued members of our community whose opinions matter and deserve attention. My teaching partner and I establish a loving and caring classroom that belongs to everyone equally. We begin each day with a mindfulness practice in which we take a moment to be present. We come together as a curious and playful group where laughter is always allowed to interrupt the day and where creativity is safe, fun, and welcome. I want our children to realize that learning can be a shared surprise and that each puzzle we try to solve (or not) is an exploration. I want them to feel comfortable problem-solving alone and together. Accomplishment is always a celebrated part of our learning, but my hope is that they realize that problem-solving, sharing, joy, and friendship are the most important parts of their school day.

What do your students teach you?

Every single day my students affirm the value of patience and exhibit constant examples of empathy and compassion. I have become much more flexible and forgiving of my own mistakes — since that is what I hope for for my students. My students are always helping me find joy and opportunity in unplanned situations, which awaken our curiosity and give us new puzzles to solve together.

What went through your mind when you received the Excellence in Teaching Award?

It’s hard to put the emotion of that moment into words. It’s such a privilege to be chosen for this award while doing what I love. I am surrounded by so many excellent teachers, amazing students, and wonderful families every day, and I feel so lucky to have made Packer my home for the past 25 years.

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