Fellow Profiles
Name: Lynn Bernstein
School: K039 in Brooklyn
Subject: Elementary Education

Before I became a teacher, I was a photo editor for sixteen years - at the big newsweeklies and finally at The New Yorker. At the time, I had a beef with my son's private school about its deficient art program. Optimistically, I hammered out an elementary school visual arts curriculum. It fell on deaf ears.

Then, in 2001, a new headmaster was hired, and I sent my curriculum to him. Within the week I was invited up to his office, where he asked why I wasn't teaching. The seed had been planted.

September 11 drained most of the joy out of my job. The hustle to get the best, the most unusual, the only great photo began to wear thin. How much difference did it make to anyone's life?

I began to think about teaching. Not in a private school but where the kids really needed help. I wondered whether I liked kids enough to teach. I liked my kid enough but had very different feelings about roomfuls of them.

I looked into the Teaching Fellow program. One of my dear friends assured my that I could afford the pay cut if I cut back on my shoe consumption. I invested in Harry Wong's First Days of School, figuring it would disillusion me.

Well, here I am three years later, and I love teaching. It gets better every year. My nightmares about finding myself rehired by some photo department are finally easing up. I'm a card-carrying teacher now.

Name: Lauren Rott
School: M094, District 75 in Manhattan
Subject: Special Education
This past week, I presented an M&M math game to my students—we were sorting, counting, and graphing. During the lesson, my students were all engaged and actively working. I knew chocolate would be a draw, but I was surprised to see just how excited they were.  A few days later at our Thanksgiving celebration, M&Ms were given out as a treat. Not expecting anything— except that the children would begin to devour them—I watched eight kindergarten and first-grade students begin to count, categorize and graph! They began saying “Ms. Rott, I have more brown M&Ms than green,” and “Wow, Sarah has ten more green M&Ms than I do.” I watched in amazement, and when they were finished, they began to eat them one at a time, relishing the taste and comparing the colors!  I was thrilled not only that they had absorbed my lesson but also that it had sparked further learning and growth. Moments like this happen on a continuing basis and are the reason why I adore teaching. Because of my students’ unremitting curiosity, motivation, and awe—I continually seek memorable activities and lessons, which will help them grow and develop as learners.  I thank the NYC Teaching Fellows program for allowing me to experience daily the joy of teaching.

Name: Harold Phair
School: K292 in Brooklyn
Subject: Elementary Education

During 8th-grade graduation, a parent came up to me and said, “I want to get a picture of you and Ian.  Mr. Phair, you do not know this, but you turned my son around, and he is going to a technical high school, all because of you.”

Last Thursday I was showing students how to calculate average, median, and mode using Excel. Dashawn asked me, “Mr. Phair, where did you learn how to use Excel?” I told him that Excel was one of the tools I used formerly to manage a 20 million-dollar business. Dashawn said, “Mr. Phair, will you teach me how to do Excel?”

There is no other job in the world that gives a person an opportunity to give something back to the community and hopefully change some lives along the way. This is why I am a Teaching Fellow. There are many more stories I could tell you, and each one of them makes me walk faster and work harder to help young people obtain the education they deserve.

Name: Charles Pannell
School: K329 in Brooklyn
Subject: Special Education

The New York Teaching Fellows program puts you on the Department of Education’s fast track to a very challenging and rewarding career.  Teaching is not a profession, not a career – it is a "Calling".  It is a myriad of emotions, a roller coaster of highs and lows but more importantly, it is seeing the results of your efforts.  It is looking at a struggling child, seeing the uncertainty in his/her eyes and then that infamous "light goes on" and you are overcome with satisfaction -- if only for a brief moment, you found a way to reach this child and "all is right with the world."  You grab that moment, savor it, cherish it and then begin again hoping to experience that feeling again and again.  That is the wonder of teaching – one child, one moment, one success at a time, day after day, after day…..

The New York Teaching Fellows Program makes this all possible for many of us foreign to the world of education.  Following a very rigorous selection process you become a member of a very elite group of people.  You find yourself in a semi "boot camp" where you are trained quickly and professionally to enter the world of teaching.  What makes the system work is simple – we are all working for the same goal.  The NYCTF administrators become your guides and for many, your friends.  The college liaisons map out your educational requirements with every consideration for the program, its success, but mainly, you! 
The Fellows program is a whirlwind experience of learning, teaching, and camaraderie. I found this program to be a "Light in the Darkness" of the complex Department of Education and its desire to reach and more importantly retain qualified, caring teachers.

Name: Molly Mahany
School: M011 in Manhattan
Subject: Special Education

My first NYC Teaching Fellow assignment brought me face-to-face with a special education class of twelve rough and rambunctious eight-, nine-, and ten-year-olds. Their academic skills and performances spanned five grade levels, and their behavior was atrocious. Years of difficulty with math and literacy had created students with low self-esteem and learned helplessness. The children were scared to take risks in school, and getting them to practice a new strategy required tremendous hard work and (sometimes) bribery. 

One student in particular resisted reading instruction without fail day after day, week after week, and month after month. But day after day, week after week, and month after month, I persisted. 

At the end of the school year, as a reflective exercise, I asked my students to grade me based on my performance as a teacher.  Any grade was allowed, but it had to be supported with evidence.  I expected my little reading buddy to refuse to do the assignment, so I was surprised when he quietly handed me a small wad of white paper.  As the rest of the class joked about the scores they could give me, I unraveled the wad.  At the bottom was written "100."  When I asked him why he gave me such a stellar grade he said simply, "You taught me to read."  My heart leapt. This student—my biggest challenge—had given me the greatest joy. 

Teaching is a difficult job often requiring more heart, dedication, creativity, and perseverance than you think you can muster.  But, as is often the case, the bitterest battles produce the sweetest victories.

Name: Kavita Gupta
School: M541 in Manhattan
Subject: Math

In every teacher’s life, there are special moments that touch not only the heart and mind, but also the soul. Just recently, I showed my inclusion math class a documentary entitled Super Size Me, a film about one man’s quest to demonstrate the ill effects of fast food. Since it was the day before Thanksgiving, I thought showing this film would be a nice break for the kids (and for me!) and it would provide an interesting lesson on nutrition, which could be connected to math.

Back from Thanksgiving break, I went to pick my class up from lunch. Unlike many instances when the kids are not getting along, I was shocked to find my students huddled in the corner whispering to one other. After bringing the children back to the classroom, I could no longer contain my curiosity. I asked a student what had transpired in the lunchroom, expecting to hear something sinister. Instead, this student explained to me that the class had written a petition to the principal asking him to change the lunch menu to include more nutritious food. At the bottom of the petition were the signatures of all 28 students in my class! 

I was amazed at the initiative that the students took. They worked together, associated what I had shown them in class, and integrated their learning into their own lives. It is a moment like this that makes all the hard work and struggles that one experiences as a teacher completely worthwhile.  Like a parent, a teacher often feels that her words fall on deaf ears. However, if you listen carefully enough, you will realize that your words are in fact heard and do indeed have significant impact!

Name: Daphna Gutman
School: K345 in Brooklyn
Subject: Elementary Education

When Daphna Gutman changed careers from financial corporate sales associate to educator, she carried her high standards for success into the classroom. “I believe that teachers are professionals. Sometimes we forget this, and our teaching suffers. Whenever our teaching suffers, our students suffer,” she said. These may seem like the words of a seasoned teacher at the end of a long career, but Daphna has been teaching for only four years. She added, “I have been determined to always act as a professional and to aid my colleagues in doing so whenever possible.”

The transition from the private sector to the classroom has, however, brought challenges that Daphna hadn’t anticipated. In her second year, she was assigned to a third-grade class in which the majority of the students did not have the reading and math skills necessary to move up to the next grade. Undeterred, Daphna focused on making sure each individual student’s needs were met and spent significant time arranging educational evaluation for their placement in proper educational settings. Many of these students had learning disabilities and required speech and pull-out services, and she made sure they received this help. By the end of last year, more than 90% of her students either met or exceeded grade level.

Daphna said, “When I started as a first-year Fellow, I had no idea how to create an environment conducive to learning and creative exploration.  My students have been incredibly patient teachers to me, and, though I am always learning how to be a better teacher, they have helped me grow confident in my craft.”

In her time at the Patrolman Robert Bolden School, Daphna has served for three years on the school leadership team. She is also the lead teacher for the fifth grade, and she leads professional development sessions to assist her colleagues. She recruits her former students to tutor her current students, promoting a sense of self-worth that accompanies mentorship in the students who participate. Each year, she has her students create storybooks to read to children in lower grades. For four consecutive years she has secured funding for her school to participate in the New York City Opera Education is Elementary Program. She is also working on an after-school soccer program that should benefit at least 100 children at the Patrolman Robert Bolden School. All of this, and Daphna has not missed a single day since she began teaching.

Name: Zoe Rind
School: X154 in the Bronx
Subject: Elementary education

It was Tuesday, my third day of teaching. I finally took my first-graders down the right set of stairs to lunch. I had bought a line-maker, so I could write straight on the chalkboard. I could almost trust myself to bend down to tie my shoe without the class erupting into chaos. 
Then Marco and Andre, coming back from the bathroom, threw open the door and asked, “Why are buildings on fire?” I reprimanded them about bursting into the room in such a disruptive manner. I then quickly assured them that all was fine, that we were safe.
Not much later, the teacher next door came in and told me. The rest of the day was a blur. I didn’t know how I was going to get home; I didn’t know what to say or what not to say. 

On Wednesday, I sat in a trance in my living room watching television, disbelieving. The next day I was grateful to be back at school. We were instructed to “check in with our students.” 

“What happened on Tuesday?” I asked.  

They fell, the World Trade Center fell down,” explained Namit. When I asked about how they felt, Wendy talked about her birthday party being canceled. Sohrin remarked on how sad she felt. Kevin wanted to know about Osama bin Laden. Then William implored, “Why do the bad people hate the good people?” I stood there and looked at these 24 students of mine. They asked the questions and expressed the feelings that I couldn’t. In those months of such darkness, my students offered me light.

Name: Jeremy Epstein
School: M605 in Manhattan
Subject: Math

I see myself growing: a lesson falls flat 1st period, but works ten times better when I teach the revised version in the afternoon. I see students growing and making the right connections—a few days ago, I was helping some students work on equation transformations, and one blurted out, "I get it! You're not SOLVING, you're just making a new equation!"

I’m inspired to work hard, too, when I see how hard some students work; understanding math does not come naturally to everybody. I think it’s important to let inspiration soak in, because there are plenty of rough days when I don’t feel inspired at all.

The best kick I've gotten so far was when I saw a new section list made in January. When I pointed out that one student seemed to be with the wrong group, my principal told me, "No, we changed it, at her request, so she could stay with you. She didn't want to switch math teachers." Being a first-year teacher has many discouraging moments, but that feedback reassured me that I’m doing something no one else can do the same way. Someday I hope to be good, as well as unique.


Name: Miyilyn Parra
School: X440 in the Bronx
Subject: Special Education

Miyilyn Parra has always connected with children with disabilities. Before she began teaching bilingual special education students, she was advocating for them through her work with the Angela Perez Center for People with Disabilities at the YWCA in New York City. “I decided to become a [Teaching] Fellow, because I would too often go into schools and realize that nobody believed in the children labeled special ed,” she says.

For her, there is no greater rush than the thrill of sharing knowledge with her students at Dewitt Clinton High School. Miyilyn’s students are learning or emotionally disabled, and many don’t realize that they have a world of knowledge to share themselves. Getting them to make the connections between the lessons she teaches and their life experiences keeps her inspired every day. She elaborates, “‘We can’t ‘cuz we are special ed’ are words that are not allowed in my classroom.”

Aside from her regular teaching schedule, Miyilyn also devotes a lot of her time to DIVAS (Diverse, Intelligent, Virtuous, Ambitious Sisters), a girls empowerment group with 39 members that she and two other first-year Teaching Fellows started at Dewitt Clinton. The DIVAS do monthly community service projects, including painting all the girls bathrooms at their school, working with Women in Need (a New York-based non-profit that serves homeless and disadvantaged women and children), and performing a play at domestic violence shelters all around New York City.

Despite her drive to engage her students, Miyilyn does struggle with student apathy. Some of her ninth grade students don’t seem to realize that “high school is serious business,” she says. “Their lack of effort could very well keep them from graduating.” However, there are also many students whose effort and work make her proud. Ten of her tenth grade special education students took and passed the Regents Competency Test in reading a year early. Two of them are now in her CTT (collaborative team teaching) classroom on the road to taking the English Regents. “I knew that I was proud to be a Fellow that day,” says Miyilyn, “[because] this one test has a great impact on their future.”

Name: J. Javier Guzman
School: K610 in Brooklyn
Subject: English

Two months after I started teaching at a SURR school, I was assigned a literacy class of about twenty freshmen who were reading below the third-grade level. I was angered by the administration’s decision to give me such a class; surely, there was someone better qualified. I learned quickly that my disbelief and rage weren’t helping me teach them to read any better. And so I began to chip away at the walls they hid behind. They began to trust me and take risks. I tried to make them into critical thinkers. In turn, they made me a more conscientious and thoughtful teacher.

At the end of the 2000-2001 school year, my class’s results matched the highest in the district for students reading at those levels. In truth, I don’t know for sure what worked. I tried everything and anything, from Hooked on Phonics, reciting nonsense words, and read-alouds to cloze activities, scaffolding writing, and reading comprehension strategies.

Name: Susana Temprano
School: M018 in Manhattan
Subject: Math

When is the right time to pursue a passion? After twenty very successful years at IBM, I made a life-changing decision to leave and pursue my passion. I did not know if I could be a good teacher.  I did not exactly understand why this internal calling was so strong. But I always had a desire to impart a love of learning to our kids. A solid education made a huge difference in my life. That’s a message I am passionate for our kids to hear.

I am currently teaching 7th and 8th grade math in Region 10. I absolutely love what I am doing.  Oh, don’t get me wrong: there are “not-good” days. (I refuse to call any day a bad day!) But it is now crystal clear to me that what I am doing is making a difference. The math curriculum is challenging for our kids, and the kids themselves have challenging days. But in our classroom, we work together and “WE LOVE MATH!”

The rewards for doing this work are tremendous. Every day, I see at least one student smile after having an “a-ha” moment. Some students remind me how great it is for them to be in my class. Some students write me notes to tell me how much they appreciate my being there for them. I had my best day last month when two students got a 99% and 100% on their tests, and the class as a whole did well. Given how difficult those tests can be, this was a first ever! I paraded with those tests through the school, into the principal’s office, and, boy, did I have a huge smile on my face! In my heart I knew this moment was the turning point I was hoping for. It’s a great feeling.

Name: Sharaz Scofield
School: M415 in Manhattan
Subject: Special Education

I had known about the NYC Teaching Fellows program for a long time and always wanted to apply. However, I needed to complete my Bachelor’s degree first. While working toward my Bachelor’s degree, I worked for two years as a paraprofessional in NYC public schools. In the spring of 2004 I finally received my Bachelor’s degree. I had submitted my application to the Teaching Fellows program months before and eagerly anticipated every e-mail I received from them. Words cannot describe how excited I was to learn I had been accepted! I became a Fellow in June 2004.

As a special education teacher, one quickly begins developing strong bonds with all his students. My experience as a para gave me the benefit of learning about the classroom as an observer; I learned and experienced things that could never be explained in books. Because of that experience, I never once wavered about becoming a special education teacher. Since I began teaching in my own classroom, I go to school every day excited to teach and communicate with my children. Six months into the school year and I have taken only one day off—it seems I cannot stand a day without them. Some jobs fill your pocket, but this job fills your heart. 

Name: Geoffrey Roehm
School: M415 in Manhattan
Subject: English

Six months ago I arrived in Harlem, bearing a sack full of plastic snakes and lizards. Months before, when I was accepted to the NYC Teaching Fellows program, a friend and former Fellow gave me the following advice: “Go to the 99-cent store and buy silly prizes for your kids, especially the snakes and lizards. They love those.” I explained that I would be teaching high school and that snakes and lizards might not be appropriate for kids that age. “Trust me,” she said coolly, “snakes and lizards.” 

And so I entered Wadleigh Secondary School with reptiles in tow and a noble vision in mind: I was going to give these children knowledge! As it turned out, the kids were less taken with my vision than I had hoped, mostly because I had no idea how to make it a reality. Thank goodness for those snakes and lizards, as they were the only offerings the students were willing to accept from me for the first month (as I’m sure my friend was aware!).

I relate this anecdote because it highlights one of my greatest challenges as a first year teacher: how do I motivate my students to truly explore material? More than pacifying or bribing them with toys or food or grades, how do I get my students excited to learn? It is both a constant challenge and a constant inspiration, as each and every day at least one student offers something of himself or herself that inspires me to come to work the next day. There aren’t many jobs where this is the case. I love this job.

Name: Marcia Cacaci
School: K811, District 75 in Brooklyn
Subject: Special Education

Marcia Cacaci had a successful career in advertising and public relations. For fifteen years, she acted as the director of public relations for Maidenform Inc., meeting celebrities and living a life of expense accounts and free travel. Though her position teaching technology and professional development to special education students at PS 811K may seem less glamorous, Marcia has no regrets about her career change.

She said, “People often ask me how I could have given up such a lucrative career after having worked so hard to attain it.  My response is that I’ve given up nothing, and I’ve gained everything.  I love working with special needs students, and I really think I can make a difference.”

Changing careers in your late fifties may seem daunting, but Marcia found that the NYC Teaching Fellows program provided her with the foundation necessary to thrive in the classroom.

“The NYC Teaching Fellows has not only helped me to achieve my dream of becoming a teacher but provided me with a strong foundation and continuing support.  When I first became a teacher, there was only one other Fellow in my school. Since that time, because of the remarkable strides we’ve made, the administration has hired an additional eight Teaching Fellows.”

As a new teacher, Marcia channeled her business expertise into grant writing and amazed her school and the community with the results. She wrote a Title VII grant that won her school a reward of $1,000,000. And if that weren’t enough, Marcia procured $100,000 in funding for a multimedia computer center for PS 811K and an additional $45,000 for a mobile computer lab. She now serves as the school's technology coordinator. Nonetheless, she is actually proudest of her in-class achievements.

Marcia is reminded each day of why she became a teacher but remembers a specific incident that makes her especially proud. A student’s mother once called her in tears because, with Marcia’s help, the woman’s sixteen year-old son had begun reading full paragraphs for the first time.

“I remember the day the student asked me, ‘Mrs. Cacaci, could you teach me to read the big words?’  It was a teaching moment I will never forget,” Marcia said.

Name: Evan Weinberg
School: X405 in the Bronx
Subject: Math

Evan Weinberg starts his day discussing how to apply the principles of torque, force, and speed to robotics designs and mechanics. Though it sounds like he’s an engineer working for NASA, Evan is actually a third-year Fellow teaching at Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx.  

Of his own volition, Evan created a Principles of Engineering course last year with Lehman High School’s robotics team in mind. “This course introduces students to the mathematics, principles, and design processes engineers use in their work. My students use LEGO brick technology and a great deal of creativity to develop designs for class projects,” Evan said. They collaboratively designed a robot last year for the multinational FIRST robotics competition and were rewarded for their ingenuity. Under Evan’s guidance, the robotics team made it all the way to the nationals.  

The range of his teaching abilities really marks Evan as a jack-of-all-trades. In addition to engineering, he teaches advanced placement physics and math to incoming freshmen who haven’t passed the Mathematics A Regents exam. “I really enjoy working with these students, laying the groundwork for their future success in mathematics,” he says. Evan has already had the pleasure of seeing the results of his dedication to both his students and the robotics team. “Many have gone on to technical and engineering programs at various colleges and universities.”

Evan has also developed a mentoring program that allows his high school students to help middle school students prepare for a robotics competition, giving older students the rewards and responsibility of being mentors. 

Name: Georgina Smith
School: K159 in Brooklyn
Subject: Elementary Education

Georgina Smith has experience in everything from botany—in which she earned a Master’s degree—to business. She has succeeded in several corporate positions and was formerly the director of strategic sourcing for USA Networks, Inc., the fifteen billion dollar entertainment corporation. Although one might assume that the skills and tactics she learned in the corporate world would be of little benefit in the classroom, Georgina, a fourth-year science teacher at PS 159 in the East New York section of Brooklyn, has used her business savvy to launch and grow a very successful literacy initiative—Wash and Learn™—in two other low-income Brooklyn neighborhoods.  


Wash and Learn™ offers free tutoring to kids in Clean Rite Laundromats in Crown Heights and Sunset Park. “It provides a relaxed and fun reading experience for children of all grade levels,” Georgina said. “I feel confident that our kids go back into the classroom after a night at the Wash and Learn™ tables a bit more enthusiastic and confident about reading and learning.”


Even as Georgina works tirelessly writing grant request letters and contacting literacy funding programs for financial support for  Wash and Learn,™ she offers her students at PS 159 her all everyday. She has been instrumental in setting the standard for science classrooms within Region 5 and loves teaching science to her K-5 students, a much tougher crowd than her former corporate colleagues.  

Name: Walt Morrison III
School: M811, District 75 in Manhattan
Subject: Special Education

Walter Morrison III discovered his passion for the culinary arts more than fifteen years ago. He excelled in the hotel and restaurant industry and worked his way up to positions such as executive chef and restaurant manager. Two tragic events reshaped his life though, forcing him to reevaluate his priorities. The gravity of the September 11 attacks combined with the trauma of a car accident prompted Walt to pursue a more altruistic career.

“After thinking long and hard about it, I decided to be a teacher,” Walter said. “I applied to the program because I felt I could do the most good for these students.”

He has done a lot of good for the seventh and eight grade students he teaches at the Mickey Mantle School P811M in Manhattan. Walt has taken the concepts of Project Power, a positive behavioral incentive program, and implemented them through having the students run a diner during lunch hour. From a kitchen in total disrepair, Walt rebuilt the diner with an authentic antique 1940s interior.

“I was given total control over program design from day one. That was my biggest initial challenge, although I have had many challenges along the way,” Walter said.

In Project Power, students incrementally prove their dependability and good behavior. Many of Walter’s students have special educational and emotional challenges. Everyone working for the diner starts out with a white chef’s coat, washing dishes and tidying the kitchen. The next level is the red coat; these students act as “runners” taking food orders throughout the building, delivering orders, and receiving payment. Black coat is the highest level. These positions are reserved for the students who have proven themselves most trustworthy. If students get fired for misbehaving, they then have to start again from the white coat level.

Walt has seen a number of success stories come out of his innovative culinary program. He has had more than a dozen students go on to culinary high school environments, including the High School for Food and Finance. He has also observed many students improve their reading and math skills, through functional use in the culinary arts.

“One of the things that make me most proud is helping troubled students turn into good citizens,” he said.

Name: Shelley Pinks
School: K533 in Brooklyn
Subject: Math

For years, Shelley Pinks excelled in the world of corporate communications and advertising, bringing out the best in her team members at McCann Erickson by nurturing their strengths. She was proud of her accomplishments and the professional strides she had made but felt unfulfilled by her work.

As the parent of a New York City public school student with an autistic spectrum disorder, Shelley was already heavily invested in the success of the city’s schools. “I wanted to help with his education,” she said. Having volunteered as a math tutor, she also had first-hand experience with students in high-need schools and understood the obstacles to their success.

Shelley made the leap and joined the NYC Teaching Fellows program in 2005. She now teaches ninth-grade math in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Her students keep her constantly inspired: “It would be difficult not to form personal relationships with the kids and become invested in taking the steps necessary to ensure their academic success.”

Despite her connection with her students, Shelley sometimes struggles to differentiate her instruction for them. “Developing lessons that address all abilities and levels has been my biggest teaching obstacle,” she says. While she’s made improvements since she started, she continues to tackle differentiation in order to foster student success and create a stimulating learning environment.

The next few years may bring Shelley into a leadership role. She would ultimately like to open her own school serving the Crown Heights Caribbean community she’s come to love. Her school would prioritize academics, as well as development of the financial understanding and skills—opening up bank accounts, budgeting, and the stock market—that will bring her students success.

Until then, Shelley looks forward to seeing the students she began with last year graduate from high school: “I think that will be one of the high points of my life.”

Name: Paul Berizzi
School: K330 in Brooklyn
Subject: Elementary Education

Before Paul Berizzi joined the NYC Teaching Fellows program in 2002, he spent most of his time with trees. More specifically, Paul dealt with urban environmental issues in his roles as chief of environmental services for New York City’s Department of Parks & Recreation and the executive director of a not-for-profit organization that has a special interest in urban environmental justice. While working for the Parks Department, Paul was responsible for overseeing the preservation of almost three million trees throughout the five boroughs. After more than a decade of working with trees, he felt ready for the challenge of working with kids. “Getting a tree to grow tall and healthy in a New York City sidewalk is hard,” he said. “Nurturing a young mind is much harder.”


Despite his expertise at overcoming organizational hurdles, Paul has had his share of teaching challenges. “Overseeing the activities of scores adult employees was easier for me than managing twenty preadolescent learners in one room,” he said. Through consistency, and using the tools he learned during his Master’s coursework, Paul now thrives in his position teaching middle school science at the Urban Assembly School for the Urban Environment in Bedford-Stuyvesant.


Paul also applies the fundraising know-how acquired in his former career to raising money for educational trips, including an overnight excursion to the Catskill Mountains watershed. Paul’s other contributions include creating an environmental center for a school in Red Hook and facilitating three professionally published non-narrative picture books about water comprised of student work.


“My goal is to continue doing what I have been doing but to do it better,” he said. “I’m not a master craftsman yet. I am an apprentice learning a trade.”

Name: Shanique Clement
School: PS 214 in the Bronx
Subject: Elementary Education

Shanique Clement always wanted to work with children. Upon completing her Bachelor’s degree, she applied to medical school and to the inaugural cohort of the NYC Teaching Fellows program. She ultimately chose to join the Fellowship. “When I started teaching, I loved it so much that I turned down medical school and have been teaching ever since,” she said.

At PS 214 in the Bronx, Shanique has worked with gifted students and with special education students both in inclusion settings and in general education classrooms. Now in her sixth year of teaching, she knows that it means a lot to them that she’s simply there with them every day as a stable, positive force in their lives.

But she’s not just there everyday: she works tirelessly conducting test preparation workshops for parents, serving as the literacy coach, assisting her principal with hiring, and always, always supporting her students. “It tends to be a lot of work,” says Shanique, “because it means giving up your preps, working after school, preparing extra materials for additional practice. But to see how excited my students get when they can read new words or tackle math problems makes it worth it.”

Every year, Shanique most looks forward to seeing the students she’s taught from second through sixth grade graduate. “I am always so proud that they have made it through this major milestone in their lives. I love being a part of that.”

Name: Louis Garcia
School: K485
Subject: Principal Intern

Before joining the Fellowship, Louis Garcia was a caseworker for the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, working with children and families in crisis. He had always wanted to teach, but didn’t know if he would be any good at it. Louis claims that he was a “lousy high school student who didn’t like (or attend) class very much.” His own disappointing school experience made him want to provide students like himself with a challenging, creative, engaging, thought-provoking classroom environment. In 2003, he joined the NYC Teaching Fellows program and found that he was a lot better at teaching than he thought he could be.

Until recently, Louis taught social studies at West Brooklyn Community High School, a transfer high school in Sunset Park. Many of his students had truancy issues and were under-credited for their ages. The “horror stories” people hear about New York City students’ behaviors and failures make interesting gossip, but they’re not really indicative of what happens day-to-day in a classroom, says Louis. “Every day, there are thousands of students who succeed and quietly make things happen for themselves.” Every student in his classes each day made a decision to be there and made it there despite numerous obstacles. “It’s really thinking about the thousands of students across the city, and the dozens of students in my classes every day who choose to make things happen for themselves, that inspires me,” he says.

Having had a hand in the planning for and direction of West Brooklyn Community High, Louis was inspired to enroll in the NYC Leadership Academy in July and is in the process of becoming a high school principal. He is currently a principal intern at the High School of Telecommunications.

Name: Michelle Patrovani
School: K115 in Brooklyn
Subject: Special education

Ask her today, and Michelle Patrovani will tell you that everything in her life three years ago pointed to becoming a Teaching Fellow. She was searching for a school for her oldest son, working as a school secretary, earning her Bachelor’s degree at Brooklyn College, and going through personal turmoil. Ultimately, her visit to a pre-kindergarten classroom at PS 115 and the obvious impact of its two teachers on their students became the catalyst for her decision to apply to the Fellowship.

When she talks about the connection she’s made with her own students and how she’s able to foster their achievement, it’s evident that Michelle belongs in the classroom. She’s eager to tell you about Maria, a seventh grader she taught in Williamsburg, who “barely said a word in my class for two months.” One day, during a lesson on unsanitary conditions in the factories where food is processed and canned, Maria yelled out, “That’s disgusting!” She was an active participant thereafter. Najjah, a second grader in Michelle’s self-contained special education class in Canarsie, is another student who’s inspired her: “[He] made such social and academic progress in a year in my classroom that I was able to recommend him for an inclusion class, in which he is now thriving.”

Besides pouring her all into her students, Michelle also serves on the consultation team at her school and has conducted professional development in math instruction for other teachers. Her enthusiasm for new roles seems unending. She would also like to begin an ongoing parent education group in her community and become a mentor for new teachers.

While she finds the lack of social skills among her special education students challenging at times, Michelle has developed some successful methods for getting them back on track when behavior threatens to derail their lessons. “I use two puppets, Slow Down Sam and Impulsive Paul, to teach my students about conflict resolution, problem solving, having empathy, and taking responsibility for their actions,” she says.

Michelle is in her element teaching her students and making an impact on their young lives, but she also looks forward to taking more of a leadership role in her school and community. She’s in the process of applying to the Administrative Leadership Program at Brooklyn College, and she’s always interested in helping new Fellows make the transition to teaching.  

Name: John Frias
School: X009 in the Bronx
Subject: Elementary education

John Frias was a Marine who originally wanted a career in the FBI. While studying criminal justice, he worked with inmates who were released into transitional programs and realized that, instead of working with people after they were trouble with the law, he wanted to be in a position to create change in a preventive way. Today, he is a teacher and positive role model for third and fifth graders at Ryer Avenue Elementary School in the Bronx.

Making the transition from Marine Corps to the classroom was a challenge for John, but Marines like a challenge, so he felt right at home in some ways. “I understood what it meant to take orders, I knew what it meant to wake up extremely early and go to bed late, I fully got the concept of fatigue, and I had in my heart of hearts the term ‘motivation,’” he said. But he had to get used to “a world where I had freedom of thought, where people didn’t necessarily work together, and where respect for authority wasn’t a given.”

He draws encouragement from the thought that, one day, one of his students might remember something Mr. Frias told him while weighing a tough decision and make the right choice. “Knowing that model citizens and positive individuals will be molded from my classroom inspires me to teach,” says John.

Although he has sometimes had to contend with parental apathy, John continues to push his students to achieve. Most of the students in his first fifth-grade class were performing far below grade-level when he started with them. Through hard work on their part and inspired instruction, all of John’s students finished the year either at or above grade level. “This was a great accomplishment for them,” John says. And for him as well.

John has no designs on leaving the classroom. In the coming years, he will continue making a difference in the lives of his students: “I want to have a classroom of students who step outside of expectations and work beyond them,” he says. “As a Fellow, I also want to inspire others to work harder for their students.” 

Name: Joel Key
School: X418 in the Bronx
Subject: Spanish
As a recent college graduate, I needed a program like the NYC Teaching Fellows to launch my career in education. I think the Fellowship provides independent and proactive professionals with an ideal mix of structure and freedom.
The quality and number of opportunities available to teachers at high-need urban schools is surprising. Every day I find new non-profits, artists, scientists, grant opportunities, conferences, and businesses that have money, time, ideas, and opportunities to offer me and my students. All these potential collaborators need are creative and dedicated teachers to work with.
As I continue into my fourth year as a teacher, I look forward to seeing my first-year freshmen graduate and, hopefully, go to college or find meaningful employment. I will continue to see each and every day as an opportunity to make a difference, and I will see the proof of my effort in the struggles and successes of my students.

Name: Akilah Robinson
School: K150 in Brooklyn
Subject: Special education

Akilah Robinson was born and raised in working-class Atlanta, Georgia. Her mother instilled a strong work ethic in her children—a work ethic that took Akilah successfully through college while working 40-hour weeks to Wall Street. After college she joined the Equities division at Goldman Sachs as a financial analyst. For over a year, Akilah represented a full roster of fifteen hedge fund clients, before she determined that the financial world wasn’t really where she belonged. 

In her second year at Goldman Sachs, having succeeded in every respect in the eyes of the rest of the world, Akilah decided to define success on her own terms. “Education was the driving force that gave me the ability to grow beyond the environment I was raised in,” she says, “and it has given me the chance to choose my own path and create my own opportunities. I felt amazingly energized at the idea of giving children this exact gift. I believed that the Teaching Fellows program would be the perfect avenue to help me instill hope in the minds of young people.”

During her first year in the classroom, Akilah spent her days with twelve first and second grade special education students in a “bridge” class. The setting and the span of ability levels required a lot of lesson differentiation, and Akilah admits to struggling with this strategy: “As a newcomer to the world of differentiation, I often feel overwhelmed and spread too thin. I wish there were three of me to be able to cater to each group of students.” Her first attempt at introducing both first and second grade curricula into one lesson was “a complete disaster. My room turned into a three-ring circus as I sprinted between each impatient group of students.” Since then, she has learned the importance of patience, organization, and practice. Although she still stumbles, she knows that each small success creates powerful learning opportunities for her students.

Now in her second year of teaching, Akilah looks forward to many more years of instilling confidence in students who are nervous and sometimes embarrassed about being labeled special needs. She aims to make them aware of their intelligence and empower them: “I want to inspire my students to believe that there is a world of endless possibilities, and, even at the age of six, they are not too young to dream big dreams.”

Name: Rebecca Grant
School: IS 318 in the Bronx
Subject: English

Being an educator had always been a goal for me. Before joining the Teaching Fellows, I worked as the director of student activities at a boarding school for students with learning disabilities. When I chose to be a Fellow, I was ready to begin teaching in my own classroom and wanted to work with students in a high-need school district.

Since I began my teaching career, I have had several memorable moments. For instance, this year a student from my homeroom began the year a very angry young man. When I would try to speak to him, he would ignore me and act disrespectfully. I understood that his home life and academic situation were the source of his anger. I let him know that I would help him if he needed it, and I occasionally checked in with him to see how his school work was going. Now he is the one who comes to me when he needs help or just wants to talk. I recall the day before winter recess when he handed me a black plastic bag. Inside it was a coffee mug wrapped in newspaper that read "Number 1 Teacher."

I am looking forward to many more years as a teacher in the New York City school system. I love that I am continuing to grow and develop as a teacher. I want to continue to help my students achieve.