Lessons learned yesterday, applied today
Aferdita Osmani named Teacher of the Year by Albanian Women’s Group
For Aferdita Osmani, being a student was challenging, especially when it came to learning English.
The daughter of Albanian immigrants from Kosovo, Ms. Osmani learned her parents native language while also trying to learn English as a child growing up in Tarrytown, Ossining and Pleasantville. Her family would enjoy extended summer vacations in Kosovo, and she would return from these trips having forgotten the little English she had learned.
“I was miserable. I hated school,” she said. “So many times I wanted to give up.”
At night she’d spend hours doing her homework only to end up in tears and with what she called “a crushed spirit.”
Two things turned her attitude around.
“None of my teachers ever gave up on me,” Ms. Osmani said of the first thing.
The second was that she was also tested, and it was discovered she was dyslexic.
Her diagnosis, which came when she was entering the fourth grade, enabled her to get the help and support needed to thrive. Suddenly going to school was no longer a horrible experience.
In seventh grade, while taking a standardized test, she had to write an essay about what she wanted to be when she grew up. She knew exactly what to write about — she was going to be a teacher.
In January Ms. Osmani was selected by the Albanian American Women’s Organization as the 2019 Teacher of the Year.
“I was definitely not expecting it,” Ms. Osmani said. She found out when she received a call from the organization after having been nominated by her brother.
“I sat in my car and started to cry,” she said when she learned of the honor.
“I had come full circle. I was the kid who struggled in school, was not likely to go to college and I went to college, graduate school. I felt validated.”
For the past 8 years she has been teaching Special Education and English at Port Chester High School, co-teaching with her good friend Estrella Marziani.
She said her teaching style is one of an open book. She shares her early education experience with her students and her dyslexia. She hopes it helps them feel safe enough to take chances.
In 2007 Ms. Osmani took a chance of her own. She visited Kosovo following the completion of a leave replacement position in a school district where she had been teaching. She had not found a permanent position, that is until one opened up for her at the private American School of Kosovo.
She taught English with classes of 12-14 students in grades 5th to 9th.
She said the students there “knew how lucky they were to be there,” having had family who endured the violent wars of the 1990s that plagued the region.
Ms. Osmani was in Kosovo in Feb. 2008 when it celebrated its Independence Day.
“That was amazing,” she said. “There was so much pride to be there for that day.”
Throughout her tenure in Kosovo Ms. Osmani worked to build a classroom library.
“At the start of the year my kids tested me,” Ms. Osmani said, adding staff was also skeptical of the Albanian-American in their midst. She quickly won them all over.
After two years she returned to the states.
“It honed in who I wanted to be in the classroom,” she said of her foreign teaching experience.
Ms. Osmani refers to her students as “my kids,” and to PCHS as her “home.”
“I love my kids. I love working in this building,” she said. “I’m proud to be a Port Chester teacher.”
It’s a sentiment also supported by her 4 year-old daughter, Fiona. She will tell anyone willing to listen that her mom is a teacher and won an award.
A part of what makes working in Port Chester so meaningful for her, she said, is the support she receives from her colleagues and administrators.
A half-hour after interviewing for a position in the Port Chester schools, she received a call letting her know she had the job. She said she appreciates the support she has received from PCHS Principal Dr. Mitchell Combs from day one, along with the Board of Education and her colleagues.
She also appreciates the support of the 6-12 ELA Supervisor Diantha Barone, whom she said allows her to be a creative teacher who encourages her students to get out of their comfort zone.
Ms. Osmani serves as a co-CAS advisor for the International Baccalaureate mentoring program and also as a mentor for the Byron Womack Mentoring Program.
On March 2 Ms. Osmani will attend the AAWO annual gala to receive her award, where she will also give a speech.
“It’s another story to add to our family as a whole,” she said. “I’m very blessed to have had the childhood I had and the opportunities I’ve had.”
“I feel like I’ve gotten a chance to grow and learn,” Ms. Osmani said.