Faculty Spotlight: Leslie Calabrese

Instructor of Professional Practice and GSE-CSPN Partnership Leader Leslie Calabrese recently joined the GSE faculty. In her undergraduate studies, Calabrese studied journalism and sociology, pursuing her passion to write and to study people. She was a student at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information and, at the time, wanted to be a reporter. However, experience that she gained working for Johnson & Johnson’s Child Development Center influenced her decision to change her career path and to instead become a teacher. Johnson & Johnson created Calabrese’s alternate route to becoming a teacher and she applied to the state to become a teacher once she got her B.A. from Rutgers.

After gaining some experience teaching, Calabrese quickly realized that she had a natural talent for educating others. Some of the most difficult students in school, including many special education students, seemed to do particularly well under her instruction. She decided to go back to school to study special education because she felt she needed more knowledge about how to better educate her students, how to help them succeed, and how to provide them a quality education. “I wanted to be the best teacher for my kids and having the formal training and knowledge to do so made that possible” said Calabrese. She went on to get her master’s degree in Special Education from New Jersey City University (formerly known as Jersey City State).

In her experience teaching, Calabrese has also been able to work with students from urban districts and with students who have been marginalized or disadvantaged in some way. “It’s so important that when students from an affluent school district and my students that I teach go into a job interview that my students have an equal chance, an equal opportunity to succeed. I want my students to be the competition,” said Calabrese. The only way to achieve that, she said, was through a quality education and providing them with supportive relationships that would motivate students to stay in school and to graduate. Calabrese urges the students she has placed in Neptune to go to all of the events that their schools offer: whether it be a literacy night, a football game, or a school dance. “Becoming a part of their [students’] communities is how you keep kids in school. Once you have your diploma or your degree, no one can take that from you. No one can take away your education,” said Calabrese.

Calabrese has a wide range of experiences with teaching and has taught students from kindergarten to college level. Wanting to add to those experiences, Calabrese went on to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, a BCBA, which allows her to add a different dimension when working with students of all levels. Ultimately, her array of experiences led her back to the GSE last summer and she was hired as a District Partnership Leader in Neptune for the GSE’s Community School Partnership Network (GSE-CSPN). As a District Partnership Leader, Calabrese is responsible for placing Rutgers pre-service teachers into positions in Neptune, and then following their progress with supervisory visits and evaluations. However, Calabrese says that Rutgers GSE provides more than just supervision and evaluation. “We use their evaluations as a starting point to figure out how we can create better teachers. Students need really good, really dedicated teachers. My goal in this position is to train the pre-service teachers so that they will be able to provide exactly what their students need.” On top of her work as a District Partnership Leader, Calabrese also teaches classes at Rutgers. This spring she is excited to teach a class on Inclusive Teaching in Education in the Special Education Department. In the past, she has taught Introduction to Special Education. One of the most important things to remember, says Calabrese, is that “As teachers, we have their [students’] future in our hands… So the better we get at preparing our teachers to be proficient at their craft, the better the future is for the children we work with every day.”

Since she has arrived at the GSE, Calabrese has been making such a positive mark on its mission of Advancing Excellence and Equity in Education. Her dedication to providing a quality education to all students is so evident in the work she does each day as a Rutgers professor and as a GSE-CSPN Partnership Leader. In the future, Calabrese hopes to continue to further her own education and get her Ed.D. in Special Education.