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Describe your journey to becoming a teacher. What is the path that led you to Relay?
While my parents are total jokesters, school was serious business in my home. My dad went to college on a full scholarship, working as a nighttime New York City taxi driver to pay living expenses. Using her father’s G.I. Bill funds for tuition, my mom graduated undergrad in three years, and was a college professor by the time she was my age. My parents made sacrifices for my sister and me to get the best education possible — enrolling us in the best schools they could find, sometimes even moving towns to do so.
From high school, I felt passionate about advancing educational equity. In the student political organization I worked with, I debated resolutions advocating fair funding across school districts (a dire issue where I grew up). My first college internship was at President Obama’s Department of Education, where I did policy research on teacher preparation programs at HBCUs. Other factors along the way — teaching middle school and high school students in various capacities throughout college as well as a an inspiring campus visit from Cory Booker and a transformative friendship I made while studying abroad in Brazil — also pushed me towards teaching.
When I picked Teach For America as my route to the classroom, I wanted to be in a region where I could benefit from Relay’s classroom-proven, cutting-edge, practice-based approach to teacher training. I had read an article in the New York Times about Relay’s commitment to academic and character success for all kids, and the program’s innovative, technology-infused approach to getting there, so when I was placed to teach at KIPP:NJ and given access to Relay, I was pumped to get the ball rolling with their stickily-named engagement strategies, morning motivational folktales, and high bars for character and academic excellence.
What is one way that Relay has impacted you?
Dean Verrilli taught a lesson to my Relay class on one-on-one behavior interventions. I think it was called, “Break down the behavior and build up the child.” The attention paid to the minutiae of communication — from tone to facial expression to eye contact — taught me the importance of being hyper-intentional about and aware of all the ways I communicate with kids. Tweaking my conversations to more thoughtfully shift mid-intervention from serious to empathetic tone, and from stern eye contact to the “I believe in you” smile, catapulted the effectiveness of my one-on-one interventions.
Who are the people in your life that have made your journey as an educator possible?
Above I shared some of the ways my parents helped me reach where I am today, but I also have to credit some amazing friends, teachers, and leaders that supported me along the way. One friend is Ana Claudia, a classmate of mine from when I studied abroad in Rio de Janeiro. Ana Claudia’s amazing story of overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles to graduate high school, secure a scholarship for college, and then choose to become a teacher herself helped inspire me to pursue a similar path.
What do you do to continue developing your craft?
When I taught third grade, I loved using field trips and interactive Saturday Schools to get kids excited about learning. Now I work full time designing and managing 2-week long project-based learning experiences for New Haven public school students as part of the Achievement First Greenfield Expeditions team. It’s my passion to leverage community assets — artists, research labs, dancers, museums, nature centers, you name it! — to bring content to life and catalyze rich curiosity and understanding in students. Much of my development now comes from books: checking out and reading all the books from the library on a topic I’m working on has fed me numerous valuable planning ideas. I also seek out best practices from educators themselves — asking around for names of great educators and swinging by their classroom to observe is another tool of choice. Local organizations, like museums, nature centers, theater companies, art studios, etc., have also proven to be invaluable resources in helping me develop engaging ways for content to come alive.
What is your signature teacher move?
The disco finger has a special place in my heart.
What keeps you doing this work?
This Cory Booker quote keeps me motivated: “You are the physical manifestation of a conspiracy of love. That people whose names you don’t even know, who struggled for you, who fought for you, who sweat for you, who volunteered for you, you are here because of them. Do not forget that.
What do you want others to know about your students?
Both in coordinating field trips as a teacher and organizing expeditions now, on a few occasions I encountered adults from outside organizations who did not seem to regularly work with kids of color. These situations have required me to have some direct, albeit respectful, conversations with other white people addressing their perceptions of our students’ families, communities, and abilities. I’ll say here what I’ve said then: my kids can do anything yours can, and likely better. So many of my students have outstanding moms, dads, aunts, grandparents, and siblings that go to enormous lengths to make sure they have the education and experiences that will set them up to succeed in life. My students are also astoundingly diverse. They are not only readers and mathematicians, but actors, painters, chefs, dancers, scientists, activists, and so much more. Let’s take the time to learn about each child and her story and fears and interests, and let’s do everything in our power to break down barriers, unleash potential, and help them make their dreams come true.
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