"How Marvelous": An Interview with Zeena Cameron

Zeena Cameron has been teaching at Step One since 1986 and is one of the beloved founding teachers who shaped our school. She describes her teaching history and philosophy, why she loves working with kids, and more. 

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How did you start at Step One?

I was doing in-home childcare. One of the kids I cared for started at Step One and Sue visited me to discuss the transition. Later, Sue contacted me about an opening at Step One, but my youngest wasn’t kindergarten-age yet. It turned out that Sue had spots for us both! My daughter graduated Step One after one year: now it’s my turn to graduate after 33 years, the same year as my grandson. Time has come full circle.

After 33 years, how have you kept enjoying teaching and kept your passion alive?

Part of it is the professional development we get at Step One that introduces me to new and exciting practices around the world. The kids keep me passionate, too! Every year you have new kids that are all so special in their own way. They teach you to teach them. I love sitting down before conferences because I can focus on one child. As I write about the child, see the child in photos from the year, I say “How marvelous.” I see the wonderfulness of each one.

Do you have any advice for future Step One teachers? 

Make sure you're doing the basics. Teach the kids to wash their hands, to go the bathroom independently. Kids’ worlds grow from there. I started with Montessouri so practical life skills are important to me. 

What is your teaching philosophy?

I try not to use the word “can’t.” “Can’t” is too limiting a thought. If the kids are going to say ‘can’t,’ I ask them to use ‘yet’ with it: “I can’t do it yet, but I can learn if I try!” 

What’s your favorite thing about working with kids?

Watching the spark when they thought they couldn’t do something and then it clicks. Seeing them be kind to each other. Also, literacy and language inspire me, and helping kids express what they want to say. 

What does Step One mean to you?

This is a special place. It has given birth to many wonderful futures for adults and children alike. It's always been a family-like community where teachers look out for each other. Plus, I can go anywhere in Berkeley and see people I know and hug and talk with them. Teenagers will be hanging out with their friends and come and hug me. How special is that?

What are you looking forward to in retirement?

This is a happy and sad event for me. For a long time I couldn't talk about it because I would start crying. But hard as it is to leave, I’m looking forward to quilting, traveling, reading leisurely, horseback riding, meditating, yoga’s a long list!

Are you excited about becoming Step One’s first librarian?

I love books and I can’t wait to have the time and energy to focus on our collection, and to support our teachers who love good books but might not have time to search them out.