NJ Teachers’ Lounge is excited to continue its Teachers of New Jersey series in 2018. This editorial series is curated by photojournalist, Gregory Andrus, creator of the social media series, Portraits of the Jersey Shore. These stories highlight the joys, struggles, and personal reflections that surround being a teacher.

“I teach in Elizabeth High School. I teach 10th grade English Honors, 11th grade AP Language, and this year I teach a new college course called AP Seminar, which was started to better prepare kids for college. It helps kids learn how to do a research paper, not just Google searches, and how to give presentations. “

“Elizabeth High School was the largest high school in the country. It had about 5,000 kids going to it in six different buildings. So they divided it up into 7 different high schools. The Elizabeth High School in which I teach, became the “gifted and talented” school. The students have to apply to go to it. You can’t get in without a 3.0 GPA. If you are coming to school there, you are saying you want to go to a competitive four-year university.”

“But I tell my students, ‘I am not even so concerned that you go to college, as much as I am that you have life skills from taking these courses. I want to prepare you for the rest of your life.’ I think social media is the future of language. I am an English teacher, and I really believe that if we are not teaching kids how to analyze and understand all of the information coming at them on social media, then we are doing them a disservice. We need to help kids understand text, and when I say, ‘Text,’ I mean everything they read. I tell my students, ‘A stop sign is text.’ We are not going to just talk about books.’”

“And yet literature is still so timeless and reaches across generations. I have them read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and they are blown away. Things that were written hundreds of years ago, they can still relate to today. They still fall in love, they still feel that their parents don’t relate to them, and they see that being a teenager is still being a teenager, regardless of what time period you live in.”

“Kids don’t read magazines and newspapers like we did. We are not doing enough to eep up with them. Where do the kids get their news from? How do they get their information? For example, the tragedy that happened in that high school in Florida two weeks ago: all the kids were talking about that, and they were really scared. I was talking to the kids about it, and there was so much that they didn’t know. Like, they were amazed when I told them that if you live in Alabama, you could go into a Walmart and buy a gun. One kid said to me, ‘I think I should start reading the news every day.’ And I was like ‘If you would do that every day, you will be so much more aware of how things impact you.’” 

“As a teacher, it is my job to adapt my lessons to meet the students where they are at. I once gave an assignment where they had to pick a song that they felt represented their life, and they had to give a speech about why they think it represents their life. This one student who had failed my class the previous year and who was taking my class again played this song about how a guy sold drugs, was a terrible student, and failed out of school. I was like, ‘Oh wow, what is this all about?’ But then the song turned into how he was trying to turn his life around. A few years later I reconnected with him on Facebook, and he just graduated from college, and he told me he was going to be a teacher. I was so proud of him.” 

“He actually just started teaching a few weeks ago and he texted me and said, ‘What do you do about kids who just don’t care about learning?’ And I texted him back and said, ‘Make sure you talk to the kid every week about something that is not school related, and take an interest in their life. That’s how you get an unmotivated kid to learn. Every day give them an opportunity to engage. Let them know that together, you will help them learn. Just never give up on them.’” 

Romeo & Juliet is a classic. Do you have a teacher that inspires you? Let us know in the comments

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