Meet Our Teachers
After eight years of working as an investment banker, Joseph became a teacher in 2011 through the New York City Teaching Fellows. He currently teaches seventh-grade math at Baychester Middle School in the Bronx, New York.
My Students Are From All Walks of Life
What I enjoy the most about the students is their different backgrounds and cultures. You get students from every walk of life; they could be in a shelter or from a really nice area. I have plenty of students that have moved here straight from other countries like the Dominican Republic or Ivory Coast or Jamaica. We can really pull from that experience, and we create time for students to share where they’re from and what they do in their families. It’s fun to work through that dynamic and it builds connections in a deeper way.
I Use the City to Engage My Students
I use the framework of the city to teach the content. To teach unit rate, I might bring up how many people may travel through a subway turnstile in an hour, minute or day. We’ve also used trains throughout the classroom to show students’ progress, giving students who are doing really well the title of “conductor.” The city is always alive and the students know it so well that once you bring up examples in the city, they tend to be engaged even more.
I Work With People That Go All Out for the Kids
The people I work with take pride in teaching and in making sure that the kids are loved, supported and safe. Most of our students are at or below grade level and we want to push them to excel. I’ll work with students individually during lunch and after school. I give out my phone number so they can call with questions. I try to make it safe for students take academic and emotional risks. When it comes down to it, that’s my role as an educator: to support these students.
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.
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.
William teaches eighth-grade math, both pre-algebra and algebra, at Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brownsville, Brooklyn. He entered the classroom in 2006, after a principal encouraged him to consider teaching and to serve as a black male role model for the students.
My Students Learn Why Math Matters
One of my students asked me when they were ever going to use algebra, which was a very good question. When would they use a linear equation in a job? I told them that math is about reasoning, logic. It’s about dissecting a problem and solving it. That’s what makes math important. Because of that question, we all learned that math is more than equations and goes beyond the classroom. It’s something you can and will use the rest of your life.
I Teach More than Math. I Teach Resilience.
The first year I prepared my students for the Algebra Regents exam was very difficult. My students didn’t have graphing calculators, which meant they had to learn all of the formulas—and it wasn’t easy. Students were used to being able to punch in the numbers and get things right, and they’d get frustrated and give up. I had to teach them that getting it wrong was still progress. In the end, 24 out of 25 of them passed the exam. In that class, I was teaching more than math. I was teaching resilience.
Education is About Shaping Young People
Education isn’t just about grades. There’s a social emotional component that is often overlooked, and the person you’re shaping is a great responsibility. I think of a student that was ready to fight for no reason, but I saw an evolution every year. After three years, she became my favorite student. To see someone shed the weight of her circumstances was amazing.
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.
Sau Ling “Charlene” Chan
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!
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.