Tuesday, March 16, 2021

My Monthly Column – March 2021

Ed techs punch above their weight

By Xavier Botana

Educational technicians – better known as ed techs – are the glue that holds schools together. I speak from experience: I started my career as an ed tech.

Principals and teachers rely on ed techs. The Portland Public Schools has 235 ed techs – almost one in five of our employees. Their titles give a sense of the range of work they do. We have regular classroom ed techs and also media/library, special education, functional life skills, computer, PATHS, and ELL ed techs, as well as med techs. In general, ed techs help students reach academic and behavioral goals, provide supervision, establish vital one-on-one relationships with students and collaborate closely with staff and parents. 

In short, ed techs punch well above their weight – and often don’t get enough recognition. That’s why this month, as part of an ongoing series about our outstanding PPS staff, I’m highlighting one of these exemplary employees: Roberto Keith. An ed tech at East End Community School and King Middle School, Roberto joined our district 24 years ago as an ed tech at Reiche Community School.

Like former PPS ed techs Suellyn Santiago, now principal of Lincoln Middle School, and Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed, now Deering High School co-principal, Roberto is interested in moving up the educational ladder. He’s pursuing his teaching degree at the University of Southern Maine and plans on earning a master’s in education.

How did you get into this line of work?

I was born in Colombia and didn’t speak English when an American couple adopted me at age 7. I grew up in Boston and went to Johnson & Wales University to learn to be a chef. Even though I worked in wonderful restaurants under great chefs, the food you create – the customers eat it and it’s gone. I needed more recognition for what I can create, and when I started working with children in a Head Start program, I found my passion. 

Tell us about your job before COVID.

I work a lot with our Spanish-speaking students, interpreting, translating and reaching out to their families. I would begin with East End’s Rise and Shine before-school program. I did a lot of activities with kids: soccer, lacrosse, even sledding in the winter. I want kids to understand how wonderful it is to get outside. Then I went into the classroom and checked in with students and helped them to understand what they needed to learn to adjust to school.

How has COVID changed your job?

On the days the kids come to school, I want them to feel electrified and that they belong. I celebrate them showing up for school. Because of masks and social distancing, it’s a little harder. When I talk to a kid about a math problem or a book, I want to be right next to them. But I feel the same compassion and enthusiasm as before. With remote, some of my families don’t have a good understanding of technology. I feel so happy when we connect and I can see them on the computer camera. My families can call me 24 hours a day to answer their questions.

What inspires you about your job?

It’s great to get to see these kids go on to college and make a good career. I just talked to one who now has his own business and he told me, “Mr. Keith, do you know why I’m doing so good in life? It’s because people like you taught me to respect myself and never give up and how important it is to go to college.”