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Our Superhero Teachers

As Teacher Appreciation Week draws to a close, I want to congratulate and thank our teachers for all their hard work and dedication this year. I know preparing for the state tests can be stressful, but our teachers did an incredible job of keeping scholars and parents calm, focused, and motivated every day.

I was especially impressed with the staff at Success Academy Harlem 5, where I spent most of March and April. I was honored to be back at the school where I was principal for three years and work with current Principal Molly Cohen and her team to get the third graders ready for the state tests. The long days left Ms. Cohen and the teachers exhausted, but they never let it show. Every day they pushed themselves and their scholars, and always with smiles on their faces.

Before the tests, Ms. Cohen and her staff energized and celebrated scholars in a very special way. Ms. Cohen declared that every third grader was a superhero and renamed the homerooms after groups of popular costumed crimefighters. So the students in Carnegie Mellon University-Washington Lee University became the Avengers, the students in Yale University-Haverford College became the Justice League, and those in Duke University became the X-Men — and teachers made a big deal about it.

Three teachers — Vanessa VanSickle, Deniz Sancaktar, and Naomi Riemer — deserve special recognition for infusing so much joy and positivity into everything they did. Ms. VanSickle, for example, got her class — the Avengers — going every morning with a hero-themed song. Like the other teachers, she introduced a special superhero cheer. Every time she said the word “incredible” to describe a scholar’s work or effort, all the boys and girls would flex their muscles and shout, “Like the Hulk!”

In Ms. Sancaktar’s class, every scholar was a proud member of the X-Men. They were so excited to earn tags to wear over their uniforms. When a scholar showed improvement or effort, Ms. Sancaktar gave them a tag to put around a necklace as a reward. Ms. Riemer found creative ways to motivate scholars, too. Besides dressing up as Batman herself, she encouraged her scholars to show urgency before an assignment by having them mimic the lightning-speed movements of another Justice League superhero – the Flash. Each time she said, “Ready to be the…Flash,” the kids would race in place, furiously swinging their arms back and forth.

In the morning, teachers greeted scholars by their superhero names, and when they asked, “Are you ready to be a superhero today?” the kids broke out in huge smiles. For scholars who struggle academically, this kind of encouragement is so important. It made the children feel they could tackle any challenge because their teachers believed in them. They also got to wear superhero capes and take laps around the school, showing their confidence and pride. Seeing scholars flying around the school in capes is one of my favorite memories.

In addition to group confidence-building, the teachers made sure to give each child individual attention. When a scholar needed a mental break, he or she got extra time on the playground, or got to spend extra time reading a book or talking with a buddy teacher.

All that great work happened at just one school, but across the network, teachers went to great lengths to support and motivate scholars. Yes, our scholars are superheroes, but so are these teachers who constantly take risks and use their extraordinary talents to help their students succeed. Our superhero teachers deserve our gratitude not just this week, but every week.


Written by Stacey Gershkovich May 6, 2016


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