by Stephanie Petrovick
As a paraeducator for fifteen years, Betty McMahon has been involved in many aspects of our school.
One of the most notable things that she has been involved in is gaining recognition for the paraeducators of the school and working in the Paraeducators’ Union, for which she has been the treasurer.
“I think the biggest thing is by being in the union, paras are recognized as people, as important people in the building, in the school district. We were considered nothing before, when I first started. We were just people. And I feel that the teachers and the administrators do respect us a lot more, as time has gone on,” McMahon said.
But education was not McMahon’s first career choice. She started out as a legal secretary and had gone to Mass Bay for two years, but she decided not to transfer to a different school to become a teacher.
“I volunteered a lot at the elementary school, and when somebody was like ‘Oh, we’re going to need a para,’ it was like, I was meant for this. I didn’t even have to interview because I had been so involved in the school. I just went up to him [the principal] and said, ‘I want to work in Jean’s room,’ and he just said ‘Okay,’ because he knew me so well. And when I started working for the school system in Mulready with intensive needs children, and some of them were in wheelchairs, some of them couldn’t talk, but I found that I could communicate, no matter what. We would take the kids out of wheelchairs, and we would do somersaults with them, and it just made me feel good,” McMahon said.
McMahon’s interest in working with disabled children started before then, and it only increased as she worked at the elementary school.
“It was something that goes back many many years,” she explained. “One of my neighbors had a sister, a girl my age, who was in a wheelchair. I don’t even remember what she had – probably cerebral palsy or something. And she couldn’t talk or anything. She would just grunt and groan, and I would watch her brothers and sisters and parents carry on conversations with her. And I always thought, ‘Whoa, that is so cool.'”
In her time at Hudson High School, McMahon has helped the teachers and students alike to succeed when she has worked in the English, chemistry, ELL, and physics classes. She tries to help the students and show them that adults do not know everything, and it is all right to ask for help.
“I think when I’ve had an ‘Ah-ha!’ moment, and I am willing to say, ‘Oh, now I get it!’ out loud. I think the kids realize, no matter how old you are, if you’re in a new class or something you’re not going to get it all. I really feel that they understand that we’re human too, and we don’t have all the answers and stuff. And if I knew kids were struggling with a concept, I’d raise my hand and go, ‘Could you explain that again because I don’t think I got it all,’ even if I did get it all,” McMahon said.
McMahon has also made friends with the teachers that she has worked with, such as ELL teacher Emily Smyth.
“I don’t know what next year will be like without her,” Smyth said. “She has a positive energy and a great attitude, and whenever I ask her for something she’s like, ‘Done! Already done!’ It’s always, ‘Yes, I can help, just let me know what to do.’ She’s used to anything we throw at her from our English Language Learning department.”
In the ELL classes, she has helped students write essays or memorize parts for plays, and she has helped with any other assignment they might have. One year a student had to perform a skit but her partner was absent, so McMahon took her out into the hall and learned the part in ten minutes to help the student.
“She also helps us with our ELL ceremony. Every year she sits in about the second row, and she has a huge smile on her face. As the students are at the podium speaking, many of them in English and for many of them it’s their first time in front of a huge crowd speaking English, [but] she’s there to comfort them and to give them the support they need. She’s brought in clothes for some of the students that might need fancier clothes for the ceremony; anything we need she’s not afraid to jump in and do it for us, and we appreciate her for that,” Smyth said.
English teacher Susan Menanson also appreciates McMahon in the classroom because she anticipates what Menanson needs and takes very good notes that she will distribute to any student who needs it, not only the kids on her caseload. But McMahon also knows when she needs to be strict with the kids.
“She’s very strict with the kids, and she can speak to them as a parent, where I can’t. I have to speak to them as a teacher. But she can put herself in parental mode, and the kids don’t resent that. If I tried to do that, they would resent that,” Menanson said. “You know, I can understand why she wants to go. I mean when we’re at that certain age, we all want to retire, but I feel sad because I’ll miss her a lot. She’s been a very valuable person to work with, and I’ll miss that.”
Outside of the classroom, one of the most notable things she has done is run two blood drives every year. She collects at least 30 pints of blood, which means that up to 90 people have been given the blood they need.
“As a person who had to receive blood once when she wasn’t expecting it, in one of my hip operations, I just feel like I’m giving back now, to somebody who gave me blood,” McMahon said.
After retiring, she plans to volunteer at the Worcester hospital to cuddle and help take care of babies who are premature or are addicted to drugs. She also plans to work on her house.
“I’ve never been home with my husband for any length of time because if he worked in the summer, I worked in the summer doing Sunshine Camp, and when you think about it, that only leaves you a few weeks during the year where you’re together all the time. And it’s like, ‘Hmmm…Are we going to drive each other crazy? Maybe.’ And I’m going to clean my house. All those boxes I put away years ago, and I’m sure most of them I don’t need what’s in there because I haven’t looked at them in years, gone! Gone! I’ll have an empty house soon,” McMahon said.