Meet Our Teachers
Carine says she could never think of anything else that she wanted to be besides a teacher. She earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and master’s degree in early childhood education from Brooklyn College. Now in her 19th year as a NYC teacher, Carine Bruny is a teacher in the NYC DOE’s 3-K for All pilot program.
3-K for All is a Foundation for Future Success
Our city’s 3-K for All program is so important because our children at an early age come into a structured, safe, and loving environment. They start to learn language skills, critical thinking, and social skills. You see the growth and you see the difference in their confidence. As an early childhood education teacher, you’re not only thinking about the 10 months that they’re going to be with you, you’re thinking about them moving on. I’m a part of something bigger—and I always keep that in mind. On their first day, there’s that anxiety that we have to be aware of. They think, “What’s going on here? Why am I being left with these strangers? Where are my parents?” It’s very, very difficult. Now, I’m watching my students from last year go into pre-K and most of them say, “Hey, I’m a pro. I can do this.” Those are just beautiful moments that make you say, “Wow, I’m so powerful as an educator. My goodness, I’m powerful. Look at how these kids started. Look at what happened.”
It’s Not Always Easy, But It’s Always Rewarding
I tell new teachers you have to have patience and you have to have the energy for this work. Sometimes, as educators, we think, “I’m going to have the perfect class. Everyone’s going to sit down and listen.” Then, reality hits you, that it’s not always that way, and you can become discouraged. But there are always highlights in this field. One thing that I love the most is seeing one of my students years later. I was going to the store right around the corner and this young man comes to me and says, “Ms. Bruny?” and he gives me a hug. I said to him, “What do you remember in my class?” He said, “I remember you taught me good manners.” I left with a lump in my throat because those are the fruits of your labor. You realize the impact that you leave on a human when you work with them. They don’t forget. They remember you and they remember the little things that just maybe stays with them forever.
We’re a Family with One Goal—Supporting One Another
There’s a relationship in this building—with the teachers, the food service workers, the nurses. You cannot be in this field and close your door. I’m a product of other teachers. Consciously or unconsciously, I’ve adopted what I’ve seen other teachers do. As a family, we’re constantly uplifting each other. You could be in your room, and a teacher walks in and wants to share something with you. They may have a concern, or I might have a concern. We help each other. We get together sometimes, and teachers share whatever they want to share. There’s a teacher who does massage. I like to do yoga classes or sometimes we’ll get together and practice mindfulness. We’re a whole family with one goal, supporting one another. Those relationships keep me coming back to this building year after year.
Felesha teaches 10th-grade English and 11th-grade Honors English at the Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts in Harlem, a specialized high school that brings core academic subjects to life through the performing arts. She began teaching in 2013, and holds a Bachelor’s in English Literature and Criticism and a Master’s in Adolescent Education from Hunter College.
I Challenge Students to Consider Other Points of View
Our students come from all over the city and many are immigrants from the Caribbean. Their experiences inform how they attack the different texts we read in class. It’s my job as a teacher to present them with opinions of people who might view the world differently. It’s about showing them how a high school student in Harlem might see the world, and then contrasting that with what a German high school student on the other side of the world might experience.
I Choose Texts that Spark Students’ Love of Reading
I teach many students whose reading skills aren’t where they should be, but watching their progress is great. One of my students was struggling so I tried to speak to his interest as a reader. We read Bad Seed, a short play on whether nurture or nature makes people who they are—and he had a definite opinion on the topic. In the beginning, I’d sit beside him and we’d read it together. By the end of the play, he was reading on his own. When students are moved by what they read, their reading levels and interests grow.
I Use the City to Teach Complex Material
Our school teams up with the Epic Theatre Ensemble to infuse the arts into our class. My students worked with professional actors to perform a remix version of Hamlet, which is tough material. To produce a layman’s version—set in a different time and location—they had to really grapple with the content and learn the play like the back of their hand. At the end, they performed it at Harlem’s National Black Theatre.
Jahira began her career as a publicist at Madison Square Gardens before realizing that her true passion was working with young people. She trained to become a NYC public school teacher through the NYC Teaching Fellows program in 2013. Today, she teaches Government & Economics at the Business of Sports School in Manhattan.
Teaching Fellows Offered a Supportive Way to Transition into the Classroom
I had my dream job doing PR at Madison Square Garden, and one of my responsibilities was community relations. Every week, we had high school students who would come in. I designed a curriculum around media and interviewing for them—and that was the happiest I was. Regardless of working with celebrities and athletes and CEOs, my happiest time was working with the high school students. I think that was the universe’s way of telling me that that was my calling and my passion.
I began researching teacher training programs that would truly support me in that transition. The Teaching Fellows program provided me with a network of other people who were passionate about education. Being surrounded with people who have the same purpose and the same passion to try to make public education better was the most valuable experience for me. And the summer training was helpful in that the fall wasn’t technically my first time in the classroom. So, when it’s the first day of school you feel like you already had your first day in the summer. Those butterflies aren’t as intense.
I Want My Students to Question the World Around Them
As a social studies teacher, I actually enjoy when students don't always agree with me. When I get students who are questioning the things that I'm teaching I think for me that is the moment when I realize that there's engagement. The questions let me know that they're thinking deeper than the surface level. My students are predominantly black and Latino, which are underrepresented populations in the narrative of history. As well as in society presently. In my class we talk a lot about social economics, we talk about mass incarceration, we talk about globalization. And some of the daily struggles that they've experienced in their communities are tied to economic issues. So that often ties things together for them and then you see a bulb go off and it's like "Wow, I didn't know this!" Culturally relevant education is so important because it gives the student an opportunity to delve into things that they were not sure about in how that relates to their everyday existence.
I’m Supported to Give my Students a Great Education
I'm very lucky that I have a principal who genuinely cares about not only the academic but the overall well-being of our students. He is amazing at empowering the adults in this building to put us in positions of leadership. He trusts us. And I think that's really important in the dynamic of a school building. Once he comes into your classroom, and he sees that engagement with the students, that they are open to learning new ideas, he allows you to run with that. Even if it's in an unorthodox manner, he believes that you're making the right decision for the students.
A pre-K teacher in Oakland Gardens, Queens, Phyllis began her teaching career in 1996. In 2014, she received a Big Apple Award, which celebrates outstanding public school teachers in New York City. As an active delegate of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), Phyllis supports her school community by facilitating dialogue between faculty and school leadership.
Pre-K Levels the Playing Field
The value of early childhood education cannot be overstated—it’s the first step to a long life of learning. The students come in with different levels of experience, but once they’re in the classroom, everyone is starting their education the same way. At the beginning of the year, school is totally foreign to them. Activities last three minutes and then we’re on to something else. By the end of the year students are confident and eager to share. I love seeing everyone’s hand up.
It’s An Exciting Time to Teach Pre-K
I’ve been an early childhood educator teaching pre-K and kindergarten in the New York City Department of Education for nearly two decades, and when the chance to teach full day pre-K opened up in my school in 2009, I jumped. It’s an exciting time. The Chancellor has a wonderful vision for the children. You have meaningful professional development with other pre-K teachers. And you have the city behind you saying, “We need you to do your best and we’re going to help you and give the children the resources they need.”
NYC is a City of Possible Field Trips
Whatever you’re teaching, you can go somewhere and bring the experience to life. When we were learning about insects, we went to the butterfly pavilion at the Bronx Zoo. It was wonderful! How often do you get to walk through an enclosure and see butterflies all around you? When we were learning about pets, we went to Petco. Do you know how many students have never been to a pet store? They got to touch a turtle, see huge aquariums of fish, and meet a chinchilla and a bearded dragon. You just have to know what’s around the corner and make it happen.
Renee began her career in New York City public schools more than 20 years ago as a kindergarten teacher. She currently teaches sixth-grade English Language Arts at Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brownsville, Brooklyn.
Learning Is a Two-Way Street in My Classroom
I always tell my students, "We all know something and we all don’t know something.” They teach me the latest things—a new slang word, or a new trend—and in turn I teach them, too. Getting to know my students personally helps me when it is time to teach more challenging concepts since the trust is already established. So when it comes to learning something difficult, they know I have their best interest at heart.
The Community Brings My Lessons to Life
The diversity in different neighborhoods is an incredible resource. When I worked with elementary children we did a social studies unit where each child had to study a different aspect of Indian culture like food or clothing. I’d built a relationship with an owner of Baluchi's in Park Slope and he let the whole class come and make naan. (There was flour everywhere!) The fact that he did that for the children was amazing.
This Job is Not Your Average 9 to 5
Most of my growth had to do with the children and the diversity of the challenges they face. I learned quickly that this job is more than teaching students to read and write. If a student is hungry, you need to feed them before they can learn. If a child went through something at home, you might need to give them a moment. It's a package. I became a better teacher when I realized you can't separate academic aspects from social-emotional learning.
Sau Ling “Charlene”
Charlene teaches ninth and 10th-grade Living Environments at the International High School for Health Sciences in Queens, a new school focused on helping non-English speaking immigrant students acquire English language skills for successful college study in the health sciences. A teacher since 1996, she founded the International Student and Teacher Exchange Program (ISTEP) and served as the Science Research Director of Advanced Science Research at the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics. She’s also won several teaching awards, including the 2013 Sloan Award for Excellence in Teaching Science and Mathematics for the City of New York and the 2011 Inspirational High School Teacher Award from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
My Students Teach Me the Power of Curiosity
I don’t want to just help my students learn English, I want to stimulate their thinking. For example, one of my typical lessons didn’t intrigue them. I wondered if language was the barrier. So I did something different: I didn’t talk at all while demonstrating an experiment. To my surprise, students who normally didn’t pay attention were staring at everything I did. At the end of class, they told me their mind was racing because I made them wonder why I was doing this or doing that. Unintentionally, they challenged me to be a better teacher for a diverse group of students.
I Engage with Educators around the World
Working and living in New York City affords you with a range of opportunities you don’t see elsewhere. I’ve been able to engage with educators from Singapore, Netherlands and Thailand. Through ISTEP, I have worked with over 30 different institutions and 200 scientists, disseminating their research and collaborating with them. This kind of experience is very rare, if not unheard of.
I Use the City to Unlock Opportunities for My Students
Once, a stranger in a university elevator asked what I was doing in the building. When I told him I was searching for mentors, he immediately agreed to help. Turns out, he worked for one of the most prestigious laboratories in the university. His team later selected one of my students to conduct biomedical engineering research in his lab. The lucky student was named a co-author on a scientific paper and a finalist at the New York City Science and Engineering Fair—and was accepted to MIT! While I have heard of people in business use the phrase "elevator pitch," I never thought that I’d prove that it works!
In his 20 years as a teacher, Scott has taught every grade from first to twelfth. He is currently a Master Teacher of Big History, an alternative course to classic global studies that combines history and science to chronicle life on earth. He also helps fellow teachers improve their practice as an instructional guide. He has been profiled by The New York Times and is a recipient of the New York City Outward Bound R. Gaynor McCown Excellence in Teaching Award.
My Class Celebrates Different Points of View
I teach students across many different belief systems and encourage them to share in a respectful way that creates risk-taking. In Big History, we ask how humans fit into the universe and look at both scientific discussions and religious beliefs, which creates a dynamic discussion. Students understand that I don’t want them to just give me the right answer, I want them to state and defend their claims based on their knowledge. The openness of the debates becomes a source of joy and that’s why I teach.
A Great Teacher Learns Constantly
Teaching is a craft you can hone, even if you can never perfect it. When I taught high school science, I wanted to make the curriculum more interdisciplinary, so I created a course where my students learned Newtonian physics through designing toys and play spaces. They split up into companies to design products for a “client,” and the school’s second-graders gave them feedback. I also invited a top architecture firm to come discuss the students’ designs. Through the course, students learned what it’s like to be a professional and do multidisciplinary work.
I Invest in Students and Their Families
I go above and beyond for my students every day. Most teachers do. I spend a lot of my time with a set of students I’m advising, visiting their first-period classes every morning and hopping on the phone during weekends. I check with their families to see how they are doing in their classes. My students know that I’m there for them and they come to respect that.
Sergio graduated Brooklyn College in 2009. He began his teaching career in District 19, the same district his father, a Cuban immigrant, was a principal. Today, Sergio teaches 6th and 7th grade English Language Arts at The Eileen E. Zaglin School, where he serves as a Model Teacher. He is also a professor at his alma mater, Brooklyn College.
My Love of Reading Became a Love of Teaching
The first time I picked up a Goosebumps book, there was no looking back. My aunt used to work at the World Trade Center and she would literally purchase the new Goosebumps edition month after month for about five years. That was basically my dive into the love of reading, my passion for reading. It just became natural to transition into education and follow a career in English teaching. I actually fought it as my calling because my father was an educator. But I found that passion and I made the connection. I love children, I love to read, I loved my English teacher in high school: I remember connecting those three dots and it was just a no-brainer to follow the path into teaching.
My Classroom is a Laboratory of Learning for Other Teachers
As a Model Teacher, my classroom serves as a laboratory, allowing other staff members to come in and observe teaching strategies and teaching practices that I have found successful with a variety of learners in my classroom. It allows my colleagues to watch my practice so that I can support them and eventually help them implement those same strategies. This is a big building, we serve Kindergarten through 8th grade. I want to bridge the gap and make connections between the awesome things that are happening in the second-, fourth-, and the eighth-grade classrooms. I'm here to allow that sharing of best practices to take place because there's a lot of awesome things happening in this building that more of us need to know about.
The Best Teachers Push Learning to the Next Level
We need teachers who are passionate. We need teachers who are energetic. We need teachers who are motivated to push learning to the next level. I can't teach passion. I cannot give you a pamphlet on how to acquire passion. If you're here, it’s because you are passionate about education and helping students learn in the most diverse city in the world. I am a strong believer of the growth mindset. Serving as a model, as an exemplar, being positive, having students know that if you can't do this now, the key word is 'now'. Adopting a growth mindset is a key part of any strong teacher's arsenal. I learn from them every day. Learning is a lifelong process, so the day that I say I haven't learned anything in a while is the day I need to really take a step back and re-evaluate my approach.
Marvelyn and Sakena
Marvelyn and Sakena attended Relay Graduate School of Education through the NYC Teaching Fellows program. Today, Marvelyn and Sakena teach students with disabilities at the High School for Service and Learning at Erasmus. They also help mentor current Teaching Fellows as Fellows Effectiveness Managers.
Partners on their Path to the Classroom
Sakena: I was inspired to become a teacher by my mentor. She taught here too, and just seeing the relationships that she had with students, including myself, calling her my big sister till this day, was just amazing. I'm like, if I can ever do that, I want to be that person. So, what about you?
Marvelyn: My 8th grade English teacher, Ms. Berry. She was just the best. She was so compassionate and so kind. And so into everything you did. She was the first person that had me do a journal and I would write about everything, I mean everything. And then she would respond back and that's what made it great. She built my love of reading, my love of wanting to interact with other people and have friendships and have relationships and get to know other people. I want to be that teacher one day that someone says, "Ms. Hamilton, because of you, I did this and this and this and this."
Marvelyn: We entered the Teaching Fellows Program together. We were at the same grad school, and then we taught in the same middle school during the summer. We've only taught one year specifically together where we co-planned and taught units, but even though we don't work together in the classroom, we still work together to co-plan ideas and concepts. So sometimes it's not content related. Sometimes it's something about the school culture, what's going on, any activities, any games, any events. She's a tennis coach so if she has a game, I'll come and sit and support her and watch her games. I'll help her set up, help her break down. Whatever it takes.
Empowering Students with Disabilites
Marvelyn: I think our work becomes super intricate because we're special education teachers. We do both. We do subject area content and special education. So, we dive in a little bit in more depth, finding out about the students and reading their IEPs [Individual Education Programs] and getting to know them and trying to build a curriculum around that. Most of the time it's social emotional stuff [in high school], so we have to focus on that before we can get to the schoolwork.
Sakena: Because for some they just need structure and structure is not content, it's a life skill. Just basic organization that we both teach, like, "Make sure you have a pencil, make sure you have your binder." Things that they don't learn elsewhere. It’s a lot of life skills that goes into teaching. It’s not just the content. It’s a lot of other things outside of that that I think a lot of teachers should be appreciated for.
Agility and Humanity in the Classroom
Sakena: I think for me, the biggest thing that I took out of Teaching Fellows program is being agile, because there's so many times that you want something to go a certain way. Then the day comes, and it doesn't go that way and, you know what, you can't cry about it. You have to be agile, you have to move forward, you have to have a plan—A to Z. Because when students see us flustered, it makes them flustered. And it teaches them also to be agile. Like, "Listen, if you don't get this answer correct .. it's okay. Let's work through it."
Marvelyn: And also showing them that we're human too. I'm always like, "I'm not above error," If they're like, "Miss you spelled something wrong." "Oh, thank you. I'm not above error.” We’re human. We have a life just like you. We have friends and families just like you.
Helping to Prepare the Next Generation of Teachers
Marvelyn: For the Teaching Fellows Program, we’ve started doing the phone interviewing and that was pretty awesome to reach out to these aspiring Fellows that are super nervous, have a thousand questions, and to be able to hear a firsthand account of someone who's done it and is still doing it. A lot of people were grateful for our phone calls. For me, I felt like that was just giving back a little bit because the program was really, really helpful in getting us to where we wanted to be as teachers. So, to not want to give back in any way, shape or form that we can, that would be so selfish.
Sakena: I have to meet up with two of my Fellows soon. To just see what those first few weeks were like for them because I remember what it was like for me, and it was hard. [Editor's note: This interview took place during the first two weeks of the school year.]
Marvelyn: I feel like your [Teaching Fellows] coach is your everything. I still have a great relationship with my coach, Christie. And she actually was a Fellows Effectiveness Manager over the summer too. So, it was just like, "Oh Christie, you're still around? You guided me. You molded me. You were patient with me and everything that I saw on you are the things that I try to hone in on myself to be able to guide and help anyone else."
Sakena: I'm quite sure she's very proud of you because she saw you that summer when you were new to all of this. And now she's like, "Wait, we're colleagues?" I would feel proud. So, she's more than proud of you.
The Inspiration that Led to a Career in Teaching
Sakena: I am here because of the relationships that I've had with great teachers. I always say this: if it wasn't for the teachers that I had, I would not be here. I had some great teachers and I'm like, "Wow, you guys are great. I want to be half as good as you guys." Just seeing how relationships and bonding with students was so important to them. I think that's why I wake up every morning to push myself to be better, to help students find that light that they have within themselves to help students just realize that, "You're smart. You're not invisible. I see every single one of you in this class and your voice matters.’ So that is something that I actually tell my kids every day. ‘I want to hear what you have to say because your voice matters. I don't care what you sound like, where you're from. Your voice matters.’
Marvelyn: I do what I do for my daughter. She's my biggest motivator. She's my biggest supporter in addition to my mom. And when she started school, her very first teacher took so much care and had so much compassion for her. I was like, you know what? I want to be like that for someone because what you start off with, it ideally molds you for the rest of your life. If you start off not having great experiences, then that's what you end up with and that's not what I want for students. I want to be that positive face they see in the morning.