Ariel Sacks: At Home in the Classroom
Some teachers may come into the profession only to be disillusioned by the difficulty of the job, but Ariel Sacks, a third-year middle school teacher in New York City, has seen her enthusiasm deepen as she works with students and learns more about education.
“I really like being in the classroom,” she says. “I just want to be around kids. They have infectious energy.”
In that regard, her path to teaching has been a natural evolution.
Teaching Requirement: Experience With Children
While working on her bachelor’s degree in English from Brown University in Providence, R.I., Sacks worked with children in any way she could.
One summer, she worked at a day care center. One semester, through a Brown partnership program, she taught an elective course at a local private middle school. During other semesters, she volunteered at a community center and then in the summer worked as its art director.
“I wasn’t really teaching children, but it allowed me to develop a rapport with them,” Sacks said. “Once I got into the classroom I could focus on teaching and I didn’t have to worry about finding my identity as a teacher,” she said.
First Teaching Experience
Upon graduation, Sacks wanted to try out teaching so she obtained an emergency certification and began substitute teaching in the Providence public schools.
The experience was both exciting and overwhelming. “They stuck me in a classroom immediately,” she recalls. “I was unsure that I could make a positive impact on students’ lives, because I was not impressed with the way schools sought to meet children’s needs.” Even though it is not a requirement for substitute teachers, Sacks read about curriculum techniques to plan lessons.
A breakthrough came when she tried a poem exercise from Reading, Writing and Rising Up by Linda Christensen. She had her students write “I am from…” poems to share their cultural identity, heritage, and personal interests. At the end of the school year, she bound a copy of all the poems for each student to remember the candid honesty and genuine diversity of their class. Through that experiment, Sacks knew she made a difference and the students knew it too. When it was time for her to leave the school, the class petitioned the principal for her to stay.
International Teaching and Graduate Work
Inspired to do more as a teacher, Sacks went to Mexico to teach English, then briefly taught ESL to adults here at home. Now firmer in her interest in teaching, she soon enrolled in Bank Street College of Education in New York. “I think I could have managed in the classroom, because I had a lot of experience with kids,” Sacks said. “But I wanted to study teaching with the best, which is how I found Bank Street College,” she said.
Novice to Full-time Teacher
While studying, she was experiencing teaching, too. Middle School 45, a high-needs school in Belmont, Bronx’s Little Italy section, hired Sacks after meeting her at a recruitment job fair on campus. The public middle school is made up of 70 percent Hispanic students.
“M.S. 45 asked me to come in and do a demo lesson, then they hired me on the spot,” Sacks said. “I was looking at other schools with more challenging application processes, but as a new teacher it is hard to know exactly what you are going to do in the classroom,” she said.
For the next two years, she taught full-time while finishing her master’s degree part-time.
“The first two years are the hardest,” Sacks said. Now in her third year as a teacher, she says she has seen many teachers leave the classroom because they don’t regard teaching as life-long career.
In addition to teaching Sacks works with the Teacher Leaders Network, an initiative of the Center for Teaching Quality. Sacks, who mentors student teachers through TLN, attributes the organization with broadening her perspective on the profession of teaching.
Sacks says she may one day pursue a job as a school administrator, but for now she’s happy as a teacher.