This year, almost 700 teachers joined the Success Academy network — and they’re ready to make this the best school year yet. We caught up with four new members of our community to hear about what brought them to Success, their passion for education, and their reflections on New Teacher Training. Thanks to all of our teachers who are already making a difference in the lives of their scholars!
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
Jael Henry (SA Harlem 1): Before I started training, I had been working as an Associate Producer at a radio station. I grew up in Harlem and am a first generation immigrant, and I studied journalism in college because I wanted to give people like me the opportunity to tell their stories and be heard. But the work wasn’t as satisfying as I expected, and teaching seemed a way I could more directly impact lives. Getting to work as an educator in Harlem, in the community that accepted me with open arms when I moved here, means a lot.
Fatyma Saleem (SA High School of the Liberal Arts): My own schooling experience really shaped my commitment to the power of education. I am from Senegal and had the privilege of attending an excellent private boarding school in New Mexico, the United World College, where I studied with students from all over the world. Thanks to that school, I went to Yale on a full scholarship and from there encountered many other amazing opportunities. This country has given me so much and I know many of the opportunities I’ve had are not available to a large number of American kids. I want to help bring educational opportunity to disenfranchised communities.
Although I knew I eventually wanted to work in education, after college I worked in international development as a consultant in Morocco and Nigeria. During my last year, I really caught the education bug. I taught a leadership seminar in Dakar and loved facilitating learning and the energy of my students. So I left international consulting and went to work for a year at my old school. I worked as a special assistant to the president, helping her develop the strategic plan. In the end however, I found the most joy working with the kids and concluded I had to get into the classroom.
Kyle Chittum (SA Harlem 5): I got into teaching because I wanted to share my experience with kids and show them that you can persevere through challenges and achieve great things. I had a rough childhood — from the age of 12, I didn’t have parents. I was living with my brother and sister and we were always moving. There were so many times I could have checked out and said, forget it — my life is going to be trash anyway. There were no teachers who motivated me and even my guidance counselor didn’t help me. It was a substitute guidance counselor who pushed me to apply to college through the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and I was accepted to seven colleges. I chose SUNY Albany and it was there, through EOP, that I met educators who changed my life. They encouraged and molded me, helped me become a confident adult. They made me want to become an educator myself, so I could play that role for others.
Amanda Manno (SA Far Rockaway): Since I was a child I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. I loved playing school and being the teacher. As early as high school I was teaching religious education and dance. I loved teaching! I chose Hofstra University because they had a great education program but also it was always my dream to go there. While at Hofstra I studied Elementary Education and Sociology as an undergraduate and then went straight to my Masters in Literacy Education.
Why Success Academy?
Mr. Henry: I moved to Harlem when I was 15 from Dominica, a small island in the Caribbean. At my high school in Dominica, it was all vocational training: they were preparing us for trades — auto repair, carpentry, warehouses — because that’s where the jobs were. My mother sold everything we owned so we could move to the United States for a better education. We had seen American public schools on television — beautiful facilities, gleaming lockers, cheerleaders — but when I arrived at my school in Harlem, it was nothing like those TV shows. The school was run down and was actually an unsafe environment. I joined Success Academy because it is providing kids with the kind of education my mom and I came to America to find.
Ms. Saleem: Once I made the decision to teach, the consultant in me didn’t want to reinvent the wheel — I wanted to study best practices and learn by doing. I found out about Success Academy and decided that they must be doing something right — organizations don’t get so much attention from the press when they’re doing things wrong! I also had a friend who worked here and loved it. The high school was looking for an economics teacher and my experience as a development consultant was a great fit, because they are doing tons of interesting work in using real-life case studies to bring macroeconomics to life.
Ms. Manno: I was the managing director of an independent learning center in Lynbrook before coming to Success Academy. I worked with some students from Success Academy and part of my job was going into schools and meeting teachers. From those visits, I became a huge fan of Success Academy’s mission, and when I decided to finally take the leap to become a full-time teacher, Success Academy was my first choice.
Mr. Chittum: Before joining SA I was an educator at Albany Community Charter School (ACCS). ACS is a Blue Ribbon school which means it’s one of the top schools in the country. I loved working there, but in the last year, my mother passed away and I needed a change. My friend was urging me to move to New York City, and teaching at Success Academy seemed like a great opportunity to work at an organization with an amazing reputation.
You just completed New Teacher Training — what surprised or stood out for you?
Mr. Henry: I had a misconception about what it is to be a teacher. I thought that if you loved reading and writing and could articulate that love, that was all you needed to be a good teacher. But the training helped me understand how much skill and craft there is to teaching, starting with classroom management. At the school I attended in Harlem, I never heard any mention of classroom management. Kids did what they wanted and there was chaos. Kids were cursing out teachers and flipping desks. It was really bad for kids because you can’t learn in chaos.
Mr. Chittum: Studying the Success Academy curriculum and instructional framework was illuminating for me — now I understand why they’re so successful. The framework is beautiful in how it’s so student-centered. This is what every school and educator wants — to run a student-centered classroom. I remember being in middle and high school and having non-stop busy work: filling in blanks and writing down terms. Having an in-depth discourse with my teacher and peers was entirely outside my experience as student. I also love how SA curriculum connects the units through these engaging storylines. It allows you to make what you’re teaching entertaining and engaging and it gives you flexibility as long as you are wrapping it back to the main idea.
Ms. Saleem: When I started New Teacher Training in July, the first thing that struck me was the sheer number of people. Seeing the scale of the recruiting was both impressive and intimidating — it really was a moment of realizing what a massive operation SA is!
Ms. Manno: I loved how the New Teacher Training process was set up. We didn’t just jump into curriculum — instead we delved into the why and the what of everything at SA, because you have to understand all the conditions for learning before you get into the nitty-gritty. So we were learning about the SA approach to parent and student investment, pedagogy, intellectual preparation. I think it was a particularly good way for people without a background in education to ease into teaching here.
What was your favorite aspect of the training?
Mr. Henry: After my first teach back I was feeling discouraged and I went up to Aaron Marcus — one of the SA assistant principals who was leading our training — and said, “I need more help with this.” And he said to me, “You’re doing great. You remind me of me when I started.” That stuck with me throughout the whole training. There weren’t a lot of people that looked like me, and to have him say that — when he is obviously such an amazing educator — meant the world to me.
With all the learning and teach backs and feedback we’ve been doing together, it already feels like we are a community. We are all supporting each other and applauding each other and gathering around if someone is struggling. Having colleagues who care about you is amazing. It makes work feel joyful.
Ms. Manno: The new teachers at SA Far Rockaway had a week to work directly with our principal before the rest of the staff returned, which was fantastic. We reviewed some of the things we covered in the first weeks of training at SA Hudson Yards. We dove into content for our first week of classes, and learned all about our school and where it is and where we want to get to. We really forged a sense of community and comradeship and the energy was wonderful.
Ms. Saleem: I loved all the planning and teach backs we did at our schools. It’s so powerful to observe people who have been doing this work for a long time and to learn from the deliberate choices they make. There has to be a strong rationale behind all the choices you make as a teacher because 55 minutes is a very short time. You have to work purposefully to make sure that 35 kids all have the opportunity to engage meaningfully with the content!
All the practice gave me a level of calmness and comfort about starting as a teacher. I know how to lay down a clear plan and set my expectations. I know how to implement a diversity of engagement opportunities that will allow me to help all my students. These are basic things and I will build up from here, but thanks to the training I have these tools.
Mr. Chittum: The new teacher training at Success was everything you could ask for and more. Was it overwhelming? Absolutely. But our instructors were so genuine and energetic and did a great job of not making it feel stressful. They were transparent about how demanding the job is and what we are signing up for and at the same time they made us all feel that we were going to rock it. The biggest struggle for me in the training was that I wanted to help the new teachers but I didn’t want to come off like a know-it-all. I take this work very seriously and I love sharing my experience and helping my colleagues get better.
Final thoughts: How was your first week of school?
Ms. Manno: Second grade is great and the kids are the best part! The day goes so fast that sometimes I look up and can’t believe it is time to pack up already. My class is a great bunch of students and I truly can’t wait for the great year we are going to have. I was excited to finally put everything we learned during training into action this week. But I also can see that there is plenty to learn and look forward to growing as a teacher.
Mr. Henry: The first day of classes I was really nervous because I didn’t know what to expect but once the first scholar walked in and gave me a hug all those butterflies went away. I love my class already! Some of my students had dance tryouts and I went by to support them because I want them to know I care about them inside and outside the classroom. I endured a lot of teachable moments, but the support I got from some of my colleagues went a long way. Teaching is hard, but seeing your kids make a connection in a text on their own or solve a math problem they struggled with makes the job satisfying. I’m just excited to keep learning and becoming a better educator.
Mr. Chittum: The first week couldn’t have gone any better. SA Harlem 5 has made me feel comfortable and my adjustment to a new school has been incredibly smooth. I was nervous about teaching a new content — science — that I’ve never fully taught before, but seeing the look on my scholars’ faces while talking about their observations was priceless. All of my nervousness went out the window and it has inspired me to be even more prepared so I can push them to the highest ability imaginable. Being with fourth graders has made me feel at home since I taught fifth grade through my first three years of teaching, and being with second graders has been refreshing since I’ve never worked with scholars that young. I have had great feedback from my leaders and my peers that I have been able implement — whether grows or glows — and that feels amazing. I am so excited for the rest of the year, and ready to catapult my scholars, my peers, and overall, my craft as an educator in order to take them, and myself to the next level. I truly care about our culture, our community, and most importantly our scholars and families. It takes a village, and that’s what we are.
Ms. Saleem: The first week of school was intense, humbling, and inspiring. All the weeks of training and reflection led to this moment and having my first classes, meeting with my advisees, going home exhausted but with a smile because I recall an “aha” moment in class, a smile from a scholar, or just a short conversation — that made it all worth it.
Pictured above: Ms. Manno with scholars.