Pam Solomon only started working as a teacher at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Greater Baltimore three years ago, but she’s already made huge strides in the field of education. She’s the latest recipient of the Michael S. Saxon Award for Educational Vision, a JCC-created award that honors an exceptional staff member at the Stoler Early Learning Center (ELC).
In a personal blog she wrote for the JCC’s website, Solomon describes her becoming a teacher as bashert — the Hebrew word for “meant to be” or “destiny.” Teaching was not the path she had expected to take in life, but at 56, she feels she has finally found her place.
Solomon, a resident of Owings Mills, was a stay-at-home mom for seven years, living with her husband and kids. When her children were grown, she returned to the career she’d had prior: retail work. By the end of 2019, she had spent 30 years working in the retail field, offering her services to companies such as Macy’s and Pandora.
Teaching, especially at a Jewish preschool, was far from her mind until a streak of bad luck caused her to reconsider her career path.
“When I first started [working retail in Maryland], I worked in Macy’s Hunt Valley,” she related. “They went out of business, and I got laid off. I got a job at Saks Fifth Avenue in Owings Mills Mall, which I loved, but then they went out of business, and I got laid off. My mother-in-law begged me not to work for Nordstrom because she was afraid they would go out of business.” Following her seven-year hiatus from retail work, “I was working at Stebbins for her in Kenilworth in Towson, and I was managing their boutique. And they also closed, and I got laid off. I felt like I had done it all in retail, and the thought of starting with a new store or company didn’t appeal to me.”
At the same time, her daughter was in her fourth year of teaching for Baltimore County Schools and was experiencing much success in the field. A simple suggestion from her changed Solomon’s whole career path.
“I saw her passion for teaching and how much she loved it, and what a difference she was making in children’s lives,” said Solomon. “And she said to me, ‘you would probably love it,’ and I thought, ‘I don’t know.’ ”
But she had little time to contemplate her decision. Shortly after that conversation, she saw a Facebook post from Kim Davidson, the assistant director at the Stoler Early Learning Center, seeking new teachers for the JCC.
“[Kim] got so excited. She remembered I had been PTA president when our kids were little at Timber Grove Elementary, and she knew how involved I was with my kids,” said Solomon. “And she was like, ‘I think you’ll love it.’ ”
‘Here’s the story behind it’
What followed was Solomon discovering that she held a deep passion for learning and teaching. She completed her 90-hour certification online. But trouble was looming on the horizon for the JCC; it was early 2020, at the very beginning of the pandemic.
But the move to virtual learning proved to be a boon for Solomon, as the JCC decided to offer kindergarten to accommodate children who had graduated from pre-k while schools were closed. Davidson took on the role of kindergarten teacher, choosing Solomon as her assistant.
“I have so much respect for how the JCC handled it and opened up their doors, and made a safe and loving environment for these kids who otherwise would have been home,” she said.
Her class consisted of 15 children who, due to the threat of infection, were isolated from other classes. Solomon said that isolation actually helped her to familiarize herself with the students and immerse herself in the school environment.
Last year, Solomon took over as the ELC’s lead pre-k teacher, though she credits much of her success to the time she spent working in the kindergarten program.
One of her fondest memories from her time teaching is when she started a reading campaign for her pre-k class based on a book they had read together. The end goal: If they managed to read 100 books in February, the principal and ELC director, Danielle Frye, would kiss a pig.
“She got a pig to come to that school, and she kissed it right in front of everybody!” she recalled, laughing.
Above all else, Solomon believes that the most important part of her teaching is instilling positive morals and Jewish values into her students, such as tikkun olam; standing up for what is right; and being kind to others. And she wants to support the parents of her students as much as she supports their kids.
“I want to be there for every parent who has the insecurity” about teaching their children Jewish values, “whether they’re Jewish or not, and especially if they’re not, to say, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it,’ ” said Solomon. “It’s just wonderful values; here’s the story behind it. This is why we’re teaching it, and if I can help somebody else feel good and comfortable, that’s one of my favorite parts of my job.”