By Gabe Guo
The East Side News sat down with Social Studies teacher Mrs. Bailey. This profile is written in interview format, indicated by the italicized question and then her response.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up on a farm in rural Niagara County. Even though I had chores before and after school, I loved living there. Before school every day, I had to get up and let the chickens, ducks, and geese out of their pens and give them water. After that, I would walk a quarter of a mile down the road to put the horses out to the pasture and give them hay and water. Then, I would take a shower and go to school. This was really early in the morning.
You once told our class that there was a ten year gap between your high school graduation and enrollment at UB. What did you pursue in those ten years?
I worked a lot. As soon as I got out of high school, I was lost, because I planned to go to college, but wasn’t able to do so immediately. So instead, I worked as a lifeguard, cashier, water safety instructor at the local YMCA, and at the country farm store. This was a real farm store, unlike Spoth’s. At our store, people bought crops directly from the source.
Eventually, I got married and had kids. When my kids started school, I knew it was time for me to get my degree. That was when I looked into UB. My choice of major was with the recognition that when I read to the kids and for my personal pleasure, there were often historical references that I didn’t understand. For this reason, I chose a history major.
What was it like going to college as a mother of two children?
It was a little bit crazy! This was before online registration, so I had to call to schedule classes. I would sit at the dining room table and map out my schedule based on the kids’ schedule. All of my class picks were not based on sequence or major or theme, but rather on what classes were available in certain time slots. It was a matter of convenience. I took courses in Asian, Greek, Russian, European, Colonial American, and more types of history. Eventually, I ended up with a dual concentration in modern European history and colonial American history.
I was taking semesters of 21 credit hours, which is significantly more than the 12 required credit hours for a full-time status. Because of this, I took three and a half years plus one course during a summer total for my undergraduate and master’s degrees combined.
In a typical day, I would get in my studying whenever I could. I read textbooks to my kids instead of traditional bedtime stories. So, instead of hearing Cat in the Hat, my two kids would hear Georg Iggers’s “European Historiography”. I would also read while cooking and giving my kids baths. I would go to night classes after Robert came home. I would routinely go to sleep around 2:30AM.
Robert was a huge help during this time. I would not have earned my degree without his support.
Was there a special moment that made you decide to pursue teaching?
There were a couple of times where child care failed and I took my son Jeremy with me to classes. Because of this, my professors came to discover that I was a thirty-year-old mother of two kids. At some point, Professor John Naylor asked me what I would do with my life. At the time, I wanted to do historical research. He gave me a frank answer: this is Buffalo, and there is very little historical research here. He advised me to go get a teaching minor, which was competitive. So, I went down to the Education building, and as soon as I told them that Professor Naylor referenced me, I got accepted into the minor.
Later on, I was planning to get a PhD. I was accepted into the PhD program, and my advisor was Professor Naylor. Early in the program, he sat me down and asked my age. I replied that I was 31 years old. He asked, “What will you do with the rest of your life?” I replied again that I would do research. He told me that a PhD would take me from my children, because of all the on-site research. I remember that he said, “You’ll graduate when they graduate!” Although that had me laughing out loud, I heeded his advice. I dropped out of the PhD program into the Master’s program.
Although it would have benefitted his career to have more graduate students for unpaid labor, Professor Naylor truly had my best interests in heart. He was like a second father to me. He was a true human and historian.
How did you end up at East?
So East High School is actually 26 miles away from where I live. It was interesting, because my children went to Amherst Pediatrics, so I would drive by North High School every time they had to see the doctor. I thought to myself that it would be funny if I worked there, but I didn’t think that I would actually end up working there.
After I graduated, I sent resumes out. It was somewhat discouraging, as these job interviews were far away from my house. I realized that if I wanted any of these jobs, I would probably have to move. Luckily, I got a job in Lockport, at DeSales Catholic school, which is about 20 minutes from my home.
Then, one day, I came back from work and checked my answering machine. I had a message from Williamsville asking to call them back. I called back, and South High School asked me if I could come in for an interview. Long story short, I got hired by Williamsville in 2002. This was funny, because the version of my resume they had was outdated by two years. I worked at all three Williamsville high schools until 2004, until I landed at East full time in 2005.
You teach Global IIR and AP Psych. How did you get to teach these two courses?
I started by teaching Global I and Global II, with Mr. Nogowski as my mentor teacher. We shared resources and created tests together. Shortly thereafter, I began to co-teach Global II with Mrs. Lederman. Our teaching styles work well together. She has definitely made me a better teacher.
As for AP Psych, I was the one who brought the class to East. I previously taught Psych as an elective at South. When I came to East, Ms. Smith was the Psych teacher, and since seniority rules, she wouldn’t let anybody else teach her class. So instead, I went to Mr. Miller, the principal at the time, and got him to approve my new AP Psych class in 2007.
What is most rewarding about being a teacher?
It’s you guys. Honestly, it’s you guys. I couldn’t do this without you, because the administrative stuff drives me crazy. It is fulfilling when I can teach kids lessons that go beyond these walls. I love seeing their “aha” moments. Recently, I got an email from a former student thanking me for teaching him. That was a perfect example of the rewards of being a teacher.
Your husband Robert is obviously a special person in your life, as your AP Psych students can attest. What was the courtship between you and Robert like?
He was my first kiss and my last first kiss. There were actually six years in between those two kisses. Our first kiss was at a high school dance. I was friends with his sister, and his family knew mine because of the farming community. I actually had a huge crush on him, even though we didn’t really talk and he was two years older than me. He said that there was something about me that caught his attention, so we stopped and talked. Then, spontaneously, we kissed. Later that year, when he wrote in my yearbook that we were friends, I was destroyed, because I had such a huge crush on him. We didn’t talk for five years after that.
Eventually, he graduated, and I dated another guy. I went back to work at the farmer market, where Robert was foreman of the fields. That’s where we reunited. We broke off our previous long-term relationships, and this year, we celebrated our 27th anniversary.
With Robert, you have two children, Brittany and Jeremy. Tell us more about them.
Brittany graduated from Oswego State University with a biochemistry degree. Three weeks after graduation, she began to work for the state of Wyoming. Full disclosure: she makes more than I do. That being said, she does have to wear a hazmat suit for her job. But Wyoming is gorgeous, and she just got married. She is doing phenomenal.
As for my son Jeremy, he graduated from UB with an environmental science degree, with a focus in water management. Unlike Brittany, he turned down state jobs to pursue his own interests. He is looking into creating his own company. On the side, he modifies Jeeps for off-roading. He even fitted our Jeep with a snorkel. He can manage his time well, and he has good business management skills.
You once mentioned that you never go to restaurants. Instead, you grow and cook all your own food. What is it like to be self-sufficient in that regard?
I do sometimes eat in restaurants! But, according to my kids, my food is better than restaurant food; that being said, they did grow up with it. I’d say that my food tastes better because I don’t overload it with salt and butter, and I prepare everything fresh. I feel like my cooking is more authentic.
What’s your farm like?
My farm is simple. It’s not such a big farm, and it’s very manageable. I can see the stars, and the mornings are gorgeous. I can hear the sounds of nature and surrounding wildlife.
As for Wi-Fi, we do have it, but it is much slower than it is in Williamsville.
What’s your favorite thing to bake?
My favorite thing to bake is bread, because you can beat the hell out of the dough. It is a great stress reliever. I was taught how to make bread when I was a teenager by Mrs. Stodloka who lived down the road. She told me to beat the dough as hard as I could, which was good, because it helped me deal with my teenage anger.
Another one of your hobbies is racing cars. How did you get into that?
I started driving field cars when I was twelve. A lot of kids in Niagara County did field car races, so I was exposed to the skills and mechanics of driving at a young age. My dad taught me how to rip engines apart, so by the time I was thirteen, I was fixing other peoples’ engines for money. When I was fifteen, I learned how to rig the engines to get more horsepower, and I started racing. I used a friend’s car, so we split the money when I won. At the age of sixteen, I built my own car. My trick was that I put aluminum instead of chrome on my car’s engine. This was in the early 80’s, when people chroming their engines was really popular, but the thing is, chrome is heavy on cars and slows them down. My engine wasn’t pretty, but she was fast.
What’s the funniest or craziest thing you’ve done?
While I did jump off a bridge in my youth, the most fun I have is often with Robert on our motorcycles. I have a Suzuki GSX-R600. Robert has a GSX-R750. We take the bikes for rides all over to enjoy the sights of New York and Pennsylvania.
Is there any life advice you would like to give to the students of our school?
Grades don’t define you. Do what you love to do for the love of doing it. Learn to love yourself and love what you do. Unfortunately, this school has not allowed this with all the competition that takes place. That is why it is good that they are eliminating class rank. You should have time to enjoy being young!