By Karla Davis
Q: Tell us a little bit about how you came to teach at MCSM?
A: I joined the NYC Teaching Fellows program in May 2014. I knew I was going to be an ELA teacher in a high school. I met principal Jimenez at a job fair for teachers, and once I found out there was a position to teach writing in particular, I was thrilled to accept the position.
Q: We are told that in addition to teaching full time at Manhattan Center, you are also attending graduate school. Is there any connection between the two? Are you finding it easy or difficult so far to teach and be a student at the same time?
A: The connection is that in order for me to be a teacher in the teaching fellow program, I have to also be getting a graduate degree in education/ teaching. This is because I did not originally go to college to become a teacher, so I need to learn a few more things about the teaching profession. I find it difficult to be a student and a teacher at the same time because there is a lot of work to do for both positions. However I also find it beneficial to be reminded what it feels like to be a student and how to create lessons that take that feeling into account.
Q: You are a big part of Principal Jimenez’s plan to make sure all incoming freshmen have a solid foundation in scholastic writing skills. Describe some of the special things you do in class to strengthen students’ writing skills?
A: I try to allow the students a lot of freedom in choosing the topics they write about, therefore students often write about a wide variety of interesting things. If I assign an essay about something specific, I try to choose subjects or issues that students care about or will have a lot of ideas about. Being mentally interested in a topic makes writing about it much more pleasant. I am not sure how “special” this is, but we also do a lot of peer-revision. I believe students can teach each other many things about writing and also about the topics they choose to write about. Also, by simply re-reading what you have written you can strengthen your writing and thinking skills.
Q: Are there things your freshmen write that surprise you? Have you discovered other things about teaching at MCSM that surprise or delight you?
A: Yes, there are things that the freshmen write that surprise me. Sometimes it is their willingness to write so honestly, even if it means not putting themselves in the best light. Sometimes it is their analysis of an event that surprises me, and sometimes I’m surprised by the solutions or the lessons that they include in their writing. They often display their maturity, their ability to think deeply about a topic, or their creativity and their humor in their writing; it is in these displays that I usually find myself surprised. There are many things that surprise or delight me about teaching at MCSM. Mostly it is the students’ willingness to participate in class, and the work ethic of the students. Students want to be involved in class and they want to perform well, so they work hard. They are also very friendly and kind, the environment in our classes is really positive.
Q: When did you first know you might like to be a teacher, and what initial steps did you take to reach that goal?
A: I knew I wanted be a teacher through trying out and experiencing a lot of things I did not want to be. I did not want to be a salesman. I did not want to crunch numbers. I did not want to sit in meetings all day. I wanted to have meaningful interactions with people. I wanted to help change the world, and teaching is one way of doing that. The literal steps I took was to fill out the teaching fellow application, study for my certification exams and then continue to study for the work I have in grad school now. I also read a lot for my students. I watch movies, TV and commercials with teaching in mind, and I am always on the lookout for materials and ideas from the real world that I can bring into the classroom.
Q: Have you student-taught at both public and private schools? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of both?
A: I have only taught in public school, but I attended private school for a few years, as did my brother. From those experiences what I can see as the biggest advantage of private schools is a different kind of freedom, such as smaller classes and different options for how learning takes place. The advantages of a public school is that the students seem more “real” to me. It’s a better representation of the world we are in every day, and things like basketball games, homecoming and proms are much more traditional and fun. The writing classes here at MCSM are small, which kind of offers a “best of both worlds” situation.
Q: What do you think about the wide range of school options parents and students now have to choose from in New York? There are charter schools, private schools, Catholic schools, prep schools, magnet schools and old-fashioned neighborhood schools. As a teacher do you find all these choices confusing?
A: As a teacher I don’t find it confusing because I am so focused on the one school that I am in! However, as a parent or as a student I would find it confusing. Some schools are sold to students with the promise of doing A-B-C, while other schools are sold to students with the promise of doing X-Y-Z. Ultimately I think students have to choose the school where they will learn the most and be happiest, which may end up being a different choice for every student.Q: Since you are not much older than some of the students at MCSM, does this make it easier for you to relate to your students?
A: Definitely. When I leave the school I am likely to be listening to the same music as some of the students, wearing somewhat similar clothing, watching similar TV shows and even having similar experiences in the world. Yet at the same time I have successfully finished my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I live on my own, and am a functioning adult. I can help bridge the gap between the world of teenagers and the adult world. This helps in the classroom because I am able to show how the academic things we are learning actually connect to real life experiences we all have. For example, I tried to explain plagiarism in one sense through Instagram by saying: What if you post a picture and then your friend screen-shots that picture, posts it, gets a bunch of “likes” and gives you no credit! That’s a form of plagiarism. I can only make this analogy because I use Instagram, and I know that feeling.
Q: If you could teach any particular book to your English classes, what would it be?
A: I should have an answer to this question but I don’t. I would always teach whatever books I think would benefit the class or each individual the most. I don’t like pushing my own views onto others. I like reading radical books or crazy stories which may not be the best fit for every student or class. If I had to choose though, it would be cool to teach Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie.
Q: If you had to describe to your students the biggest benefit that comes from learning to write well, what would you tell them?
A: Through learning to write well, you can become a better person. You can become a person that is more insightful, a person that is more creative, a person that can look on the inside and the outside and see the complexity of life. A more literal benefit is that every field uses writing. Science and math books are written, advertisements are written, letters are written, laws are written. Writing isn’t only for creative writers, so writing well will always benefit you everywhere you go for your entire life.