As a musical theater major at Syracuse University, I never imagined that my audience would one day be a room full of first graders from Brooklyn.
After I graduated with my B.F.A., I worked nights and spent my days auditioning for shows in New York City. I loved the theater world, but eventually I began to crave a more stable position. A desk job wasn’t for me – I wanted a career that would throw me curve balls every day, one where I could make a difference in people’s lives. Recalling my transformative experience volunteering at an inner-city school as a high school student, I decided that teaching would be just that career.
In 2008, I began working toward a master’s degree in special education at Fordham University, and a friend recommended that I apply to work for Success Academy, a growing charter school network that at the time had four elementary schools in Harlem. I was hired as an assistant teacher, and today, I am a special education teacher at Success Academy Crown Heights.
At first glance, the voice and acting classes I took at Syracuse University seem unrelated to the math and English lessons I teach today. But after seven years of teaching, I’ve found that not a day goes by when I fail to apply the lessons I learned as a musical theater student in my classroom.
When I started at Success Academy, I quickly realized that the traits that make an actor great – preparation, quick thinking, the ability to accept feedback – are the same qualities that make a teacher successful in the classroom.
When I started at Success Academy, I quickly realized that the traits that make an actor great – preparation, quick thinking, the ability to accept feedback – are the same qualities that make a teacher successful in the classroom. During productions at Syracuse, I had to improvise if I forgot a line, or if a prop was missing from the stage. Today, if a student is disruptive in class, I have to think on my feet to resolve the issue immediately – while making sure I don’t lose the attention of my young audience.
My acting career also taught me to accept feedback — a critical skill for any teacher. In the same way that directors guide their performers, Success Academy principals offer in-the-moment feedback to teachers, allowing them to improve rapidly. The trick is learning how to accept constructive criticism and incorporate it into your next lesson. As an actress, I had a lot of experience doing just that.
Today, my colleagues and I work together to ensure our scholars are meeting Success Academy’s high expectations. We all care deeply about our students and work to create a school environment where children arrive eager to learn every day. To achieve this in my classroom, I might ask scholars who have a hard time grasping a book passage to act out a scene, so they can better understand a character’s motivations or a certain plot point.
As I collaborate with my Success Academy colleagues to improve student learning, I am always reminded of the family-like atmosphere I discovered at Syracuse University, where players worked together to give the best possible performance.
At Success Academy, I have found the perfect position for me — no school day looks exactly like the one before. Each morning, I have an opportunity to impart a new lesson to an eager young audience. That’s an exciting and sometimes scary responsibility — but one that the stage prepared me for.