I met her in 2000 as I was bringing my oldest daughter, then three years old, for her pre-kindergarten screening. She was amazing. She had a way of connecting with young children that was completely non threatening and on their level; yet they understood that she was in charge. My daughter used to say, in her three-year-old voice, “She is not a lady; she is a little girl.” She insists that you call her DeeDee, but her name is Dr. Deneita Jo Farmer.
DeeDee is the coordinator of the Pre-Kindergarten Partnership Program for Oak Park School District 97, and has been for many years. The program she leads is designed for students who are at-risk, and my daughter qualified due to a speech delay that she has long since overcome. DeeDee assured me that I was doing all the right things and that my daughter wouldn’t suffer any ill effects as a result of her diminished hearing during her early years.
DeeDee was not only my daughter’s preschool teacher, she later became my boss, my dear friend, and my mentor. She exemplified good early-childhood practice and much of what I did in my classroom I ran by her first. She never tired of brainstorming with me. She helped me plan for students with challenging needs, prepare for parent meetings, organize “Toddler Fridays,” in which the little ones would explore the classrooms, as well as family days when even the parents would come to play.
DeeDee is forever cognizant of the diverse needs of her students — this is a constant. She taught me that fair isn’t always equal, and that what is most important is that everyone gets what they need to grow.
DeeDee inspires me every day to be my best self as a teacher and as a person. She lives her life as an example of what love looks like. We used to teach side by side, but now I teach kindergarten. I love that she sends me her students, fully expecting me, and entrusting me, to provide the learning experience that they need. This, to me, is the greatest compliment.