Tell us a little about yourself, Maria.
I am Maria Green and I live in Cookeville, Tennessee. I was born and raised here. I’m the youngest of four children, one brother, and two step-sisters. I’m married to James Green and I have three wonderful children and one son-in-law. My oldest, Patrick is 25. My daughter is 21, Emily and her husband, Robert, are 26. And my youngest, John-Luke is 19.
What makes Cookeville special?
Even though we’re growing, I think we still have that small-town feel and you can still go pretty much anywhere and somebody’s going to know you or your family, even though neither of my parents were born here, but since they were professors at Tech, somebody is going to be like, “Oh, I had your mom, I had your dad.” So it’s kind of that small-town feel still.
What is it that you do for work, Maria?
I am a pre-K teacher, but I’m lucky enough to be part of the volunteer pre-K program that Tennessee has. So, I get to be in Putnam County elementary schools and I get to work with children who are at risk somehow. I get to be their first experience in school, so it’s a pretty neat program. Some students are economically disadvantaged. Some are being raised by a single parent or a grandparent. They could have a speech impairment or are being displaced by the tornado or something like that. They wouldn’t necessarily be a special needs student, but maybe just someone that needs a little extra help.
Where do you spend the majority of your time teaching?
I’ve been at Cane Creek Elementary for the last eight years. We have a great family environment. It was built in 1995 and it has a few of the original people still there, but I think what makes us special right now is a lot of our families were affected by the tornado. We lost one of our students and we had several people lose their homes. But we’ve all rallied together, and it’s made us a little bit stronger. Just that sense of community where everybody comes together and does what needs to be done to help the families. It’s a special place.
We had days where the children of the families who were affected by the tornados needed to come to school, and so we were all there, even though we weren’t having school, but they could come and have a safe place. The parents could go take care of things and we’d stay with the kids. You do what needs to be done for your people. And it’s not an imposition for anybody, it’s just a really nice family environment.
But I think that could be said about just about any school in Putnam County. I mean, it’s a pretty good place to work. That’s not a sales pitch. It just really happens to be true.
How did you get into teaching?
I think I’m kind of naturally bossy…that’s part of it. Both of my parents were professors at Tennessee Tech, so, it’s kind of a family tradition. Also, I was that problem child in elementary school and there were some teachers who took the time to make me mind without being mean about it, and that had a big influence. I mean, there were some in elementary, junior high, and high school, and I think I wanted to be that for other people, for those squirrely kids. You don’t have to be mean to get them to do the right thing.
How has the pandemic changed your daily operations for work?
We definitely have more technology and teaching little people and their parents about technology has been a new experience for me. My students are not required to wear a mask, but they are starting in kindergarten. So, teaching them about why you would wear a mask and why it’s a health issue and not something you play with…that’s an adventure. We go ahead and do that in pre-K, even though they’re not required, so they can wear it if they want to and they know why people wear it in the store and it’s not a scary thing.
Also, cleaning guidelines are more strenuous, now. And instead of teaching everybody to be together and sharing all the time, we’re teaching that we’re going to still share, it’s just going to look different because we have this thing called social distancing now. So that’s a little different for everybody, no matter what age they are.
Why is it so important for you to continue your work?
I think no matter what age group somebody teaches, building those relationships with children is so important right now. They need to know that people care and that they can have that safety and that connection with people. I think that’s the most important thing that educators do.
What is it about your work that makes you the most proud?
Making those honest connections. I’ve kept in touch with families and students from just about every year I’ve taught. That means the world to me, that people take the time to see me and to send me a message on Facebook or a text or a picture. When they say, “I wanted to show you, Ms. Green…” or, “I’m working here. I graduated college, I’m getting married. I’m having a baby.” When you have somebody at three or four and they still remember you when they’re going to college, that’s huge to me. That touches my heart like nothing else.
What advice would you give to people right now?
Just keep doing the best you can and be kind to people, give them grace. It’s hard for everybody. I find myself getting grumpy and it’s not okay. You’ve just got to be nice and keep on.
Finally, if you could have one superhero power, what would it be?
I would love to fly. It would make it so much easier to visit people that you can’t see on a regular basis. You could escape for a minute and come back. Just zoom and zoom back really quick and nobody would even notice!
We already consider you a superhero, Maria. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. Stay safe and stay healthy.
For her time and cooperation, we’re proud to award Maria with the Hardin’s Heroes Certificate and $500 to the charity of her choice, Rising Above Ministries.