When did you start at Rashi?
Fall 2011, I started at After School, I worked there for one year, then I was (Grade 4 teacher) Joey Regen’s Assistant Teacher for four years, and it’s my fifth year in Middle School. Rashi was my first job out of college!
What is special about Middle Schoolers?
I’ve always enjoyed working with Middle Schoolers. They are more developed in terms of the processing they can do and the connections they can make. They put things together and make connections…even if you have discrete subjects you are learning about, you have an interdisciplinary world. For example, if you’re learning about environmental science, it’s also important to learn about the policies that impact it.
Middle school students are so ready for that kind of learning. They are also ready to explore, and learn, and they’re realizing that other people see them. For some it’s a really big transition from the Lower School, for others it’s really natural.
On Connecting In and Out of the Classroom
When I’m not teaching science, I run the school Dungeons and Dragons club. It’s important for students to see adults who are willing to have fun and be silly, for each child to feel like they have a home within the school building where they can be “nerdy” or be excited about things.
If you look around the Middle School, you’ll see a lot of people who love working with middle schoolers. We create an environment where students can talk about themselves, on topics they might not want to talk about publicly. It’s so critically important personally and social-emotionally.
What excites you in teaching Middle School?
Seeing growth! It takes time, but you can see kids really change through their years. I really saw it with the kids who graduated last year, I had them as Kindergarteners at after school! Seeing them grow into themselves, and sometimes out of different things. Being a small part of that growth can be super rewarding, especially when it comes to academic, social emotional, and executive functioning skills.
What is hardest about your job?
The hardest thing for me as a teacher is there is always more that I can do. We are never at the bottom of our to do lists—there are always things you could do to improve communication or make a student’s life easier. I could work until 10:00 PM every night. There is no catching up, we just have to set limits for ourselves, and I always feel a bit guilty when I stop.
And as a teacher, you constantly want to be innovating. You want to stay up to date on what’s going on in the world–especially science, which moves so quickly! Scientists share new findings all the time.
Describe your teaching philosophy
What a child is dealing with outside the classroom can sometimes be more challenging than the work in the classroom. It’s really important to be attuned with what’s happening, using a whole child approach.
I’ve been leaning into finding ways to have students see what’s happening with their own eyes. So they already have observed and analyzed the concept before they need to learn the vocabulary. For example, I had students look at plant and animal cells and make observations, comparing and contrasting the A and B group, not knowing that A’s were animals and B’s were plants. Through observation, they learned about the differences between cell types, and then learned differences between eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells.
To stay up to date, I do professional development every summer. One key class was around modeling–students collaboratively connect their macro level observations with micro level interpretations. It involves building their understanding based on evidence that they gathered individually or as a group. For example, to learn about thermal expansion, we filled test tubes with water and ethanol, and had a tube coming out of the seal where the liquids could overflow. Then, the class observed what happened when we heated both substances – they climbed up the tubes! The students then worked together to diagram what they thought was happening on the particle level before learning that this is an example of thermal expansion, and that it’s also how mercury/alcohol thermometers work.
And at the same time, I teach communication and clarity to hold kids accountable for what they say; the students learn that if they say something, they’ll need to explain why they think that, what’s their evidence. I’ll frequently ask, “Say more, what do you mean by that, what’s your evidence?” Through the seventh grade modeling chemistry curriculum, students are also learning to ask these questions, and hold each other accountable for their assertions.
On perspective taking
A favorite unit that I teach is about the human impact on the environment.
Students learn about the science of the problems of deforestation, overfishing, air pollution, water pollution, ocean/plastic pollution, noise pollution, soil degradation, and climate change. The science is really important for them to understand in order for them to become change-makers in the future.
They also start to learn why these issues have been so complicated to solve, like how we also currently have cultural/economic need for logging, current technological limitations relating to adapting our practices to mitigate these problems, and when there are already people working in an industry, they’ll need somewhere to turn if their industry ceases to exist. Students learn about these problems, who is fighting the change, and who the stakeholders are. It can be really easy to think one way or another: “Oh there should not be deforestation, we should stop cutting down wood entirely.” But there’s always another side to the story.
It’s important to understand the other side, it’s a communication skill, and it’s an empathy skill. We do a debate on this topic, and students take the role of either an environmental lobbyist or a representative from a related industry. Through this they also work with Bonny Goldberg on public speaking skills, such as creating an argument, presenting oneself professionally, and learning other debate skills.
Our kids leave that experience having a taste of the empathy involved in lobbying and creating policy and thinking about how people and policies can incentivize changes.
Through all grades, Rashi works hard to develop perspective taking in our students. It’s a big part of what we do here. It’s our values: respect requires empathy. Justice requires empathy.