Inside the Classroom: Q&A with Harlem Hebrew Teacher, Jared Waters
First grade teacher Jared Waters has just completed his first year at Harlem Hebrew and is spending the summer in Israel teaching English. During his first year, he also facilitated Hebrew Public’s young adult volunteer program, YALLA, where middle school and high school students volunteer monthly in his first grade class. Jared grew up in the Netherlands on a US military base and has lived in countries such as Japan, South Korea, and Morocco. He has over six years’ experience as an elementary school teacher and graduated from East Carolina University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary school education. Check out our Q&A with Jared below!
Q: What made you decide to become a teacher?
A: Sometimes I feel like it was divine intervention for me to start teaching. All my summer jobs revolved around tutoring and working in after school programs. For me becoming a teacher was similar to Luke Skywalker becoming a Jedi (Star Wars). Luke always admired the Jedi’s and their abilities from within the force but when he met the right mentor, Oby Won, his destiny was established. Being a teacher was always in me but it took the people – professors, mentors, family – along the way that helped me see it.
Q: Describe your first teaching experience and how it shapes your approach today?
A: My first teaching experience was in Seffner, Florida at title one school (large low income population) called W.E. Phillips Academy Learning Center. Just think about whatever could go wrong in your first year – everything, went wrong!
The school lost funding and was closing down. We did not have enough text-books, no copy machine, and supplies. We were teaching in small trailers but the trailers had great air condition for the Florida heat. The first week of school, my mentor/teacher quit, and everyone with a great amount of experience left so I was all alone. That year of teaching shaped me to be the teacher I am today, because what’s the worst that could happen to me? We had the lowest performing students in the district and most came from immigrant families so the language barrier at times was really difficult. I experienced being at the bottom of the barrel. So everything that happens to me, I have learned to accept it and move forward.
I realized back then that despite the circumstances as a teacher, the students should not feel the effects of the school. I started reading Harry Wong’s book, “The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher” and the book started to come to life in my classroom. I also adopted the philosophy of professor and author, Linda Albert, by making my classroom a learning environment, despite the school literally closing down daily. Those experiences shaped me to the teacher, I am today as it taught me to cherish all the good things and celebrate the little things a student accomplishes. If man has 100,000 thousand pennies it still is a 1,000 dollars – it may take us a longer time to count to a thousand dollars by pennies but the value is still the same. Similar to being in the classroom – in some students you can see growth immediately (counting by $100 bills), and for some others it may take while (counting by pennies) but in the end we all have the same value as a person.
Q: What is the hardest part of your job?
A: The hardest part of my job right now, is making sure I catch the correct train. There have been many countless times, where I was headed uptown towards the Bronx instead of downtown toward Harlem. However, I am getting better.
Teaching at Harlem Hebrew has been more joy than hardship because of the team atmosphere with both administration, faculty, and my first grade team. This school is the 1996 NBA champions the Chicago Bulls, and I am a young Steve Kerr with the high top fade that’s ready to come off the bench and score.
Q: How do you get to know your students and build relationships with them?
A: I think the best way to get to know your student is by asking questions. Find out what their likes and dislikes are and find out what TV shows and songs they like. I think the more you have in common with someone, the more you can relate to them and use a common language to communicate – not just academics – but in life. Another way is by creating a learning yet fun environment in the classroom. I make sure every year that everyone’s voice is heard and their opinion matters. I call it “camouflage learning” when sometimes students don’t realize they are learning because learning is happening all around them.
Also, understanding the Gardener’s Multiple Intelligences. Which is comprehending that everyone learns differently and we have to find ways to connect with their learning styles.
Q: Tell us about a memorable time (good or bad) when a student or family influenced your perspective or approach?
A: The most memorable time was when I had a student who is now deceased. She was in stage four of cancer, and she was a huge “Frozen” fan. She loved Frozen dolls, make up, and dresses.
When the cancer started to get worse, she went from having perfect attendance to barley showing up to school and we would video chat with her. Her birthday was during the Christmas break, and she passed away in April. However, she wanted to have a birthday party and she wanted her whole class to attend, which was really hard because Christmas is a really big holiday in the south and all the students were leaving for the break.
I gave my word that I would attend and when I got to the party – kid you not – my whole class was there and we had the best Frozen-themed party! That’s when I knew that teaching doesn’t just happen in school from 7am to 4pm. School affects the way we will live our lives for both student and teacher. To see other families give up their own personal family time to spend it with their child classmate, was better than any lesson, spelling test, or trips to the treasure box that I could offer.
That experienced taught me that school isn’t just for learning but we are also making a life time worth of memories.
Q: Fill in the blank: I can’t start my day without___________________.
A: A prayer to the man upstairs and I listen to MC Hammer’s “2 Legit to Quit”!
By Keciah Bailey