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Marvelyn and Sakena

Marvelyn and Sakena

Teachers of Students with Disabilities High School for Service and Learning at Erasmus

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.

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."