Inspirational Educator: Aliza Mann – I Want to Help Create Global Students Who are Independent Thinkers and Leaders

How long have you been teaching?

I am about to start my 7th year.

Why did you choose to teach as a career?

My mom has been a teacher for over 30 years. Growing up, I was always in and out of her classroom like it was a second home. I would go in on days when I didn’t have school and at the beginning and end of the year during in-service days. It was a fun place where I got to see all these teachers interacting behind-the-scenes, witness these unique friendships between colleagues, and everything I saw my mom do seemed important and special. She was in charge of all these kids, they all looked up to her, and I saw her as this huge force of nature in the classroom. I guess when you’re the kind of kid who is drawn to the experiences I just described and loves the smell of school and just hanging out in a classroom, what other choice do you have than to become a teacher? There was no defining moment; it was a natural step when choosing a path for my future.

Many people question whether our current education system is working. What do you think?

As a private school teacher, I won’t speak for those in public schools, though it seems clear that change is vital and necessary in the public sector. I’ve chosen to work in a private Jewish day school which teaches a dual curriculum education to our children. I believe in the importance of these day schools for young Jewish children, but they aren’t without their challenges. Not only is tuition a huge hurdle for many parents who feel that a Jewish day school education is non-negotiable, but these schools are often community schools and are not well-equipped to provide special services (on both ends of the spectrum), don’t have the financial means to hire well-rounded, certified educators, or create innovative solutions for helping students master double the amount of content and skills while taking into account various learning modalities, needs, and multiple intelligences. More Jewish day schools need to be putting in the work to find innovative solutions for dealing with these challenges, and not shying away from taking risks or being forward thinkers. As my principal always says, “Just because that’s always how it’s been done doesn’t mean that’s how we have to do it.”

What would you like to see being taught in our classrooms?

Specifically, in our Jewish day schools, I would like to see an emphasis on rigorous standards in order to create a Jewish youth who is capable of thinking critically about the world around them, questioning their leaders and peers, and understanding how their heritage can help them shape the future. I want our educators to effectively use resources to create global students with an emphasis on character-building, leadership, and independent thinking.

Share your proudest teacher moment.

This is a really hard question! There are so many moments I’ve been proud of, both for myself and vicariously through my students. They surprise me every day with their intelligence, humor, and grit. My proudest experience was probably saying goodbye to my 5th grade at the end of this year, having followed them as their teacher through 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. I gained incredible insight and perspective is a part of their developmental journey for those three years. By the end of 5th grade, there wasn’t one stone left unturned or one intangible I can say I didn’t appreciate or love about each of those students as people. They are incredible, and I am beyond proud that I was privileged to have such an impact, both academically and in the (extremely close) relationships we created.

What is the most important message about teaching that you would like people to know?

There is so much negativity surrounding the education profession, generated by those within the field and without. I think we can all remember that one teacher who left a bad taste in our mouth, or perhaps as parents we’ve had a negative experience with our kid’s school, or we remember struggling and counting down the days until each school break. This field is so politicized, and unlike other disciplines, I think one bad experience tends to taint people’s view of the many. But I really want people to know that the majority of those doing this job day in and day out are doing it through passion and joy. Most educators have only the best intentions, and more than one perspective about what is right for our kids can be right. Essentially, we’re all on the same team. Speaking for myself, I want the parents of my students to know that I love their children with all my heart, and I will always do everything I can to appreciate them as unique individuals and nurture their individual spirits beyond any academic goals.

How can parents and educators work together to better ensure children are successful?

It backs right up to making sure that we’re all on the same team. Viewing your child’s teacher as “on-your-side” and someone who also wants what’s best for your child. I think more understanding needs to flow in both directions as well. Parents need to support the expertise of the teacher (acknowledging that there can be more than one perspective on what might be right for a child), and the teacher needs to understand the unique situation at home and how that impacts the child. I see so much judgment flowing in both directions, and more compassion for the humanity of both parties would help ensure that parents and teachers are working on the same team, nurturing our children emotionally and academically.

What is the most important educational gift parents can provide for their children to help them be successful learners?

Parents need to talk to their children (with an emphasis on quality conversations)! They need to help their children understand how to question the world around them, advocate for themselves, and develop empathy. There is a wide range of ways to do this, with reading, exposure to books, and demonstrating a love of literacy as one of the most beneficial.

Who is the most inspirational teacher you’ve had? Why?

I’ve had so many amazing teachers, with my mom being the most influential and inspirational of all of them. My goal has always been to reach the same level of mastery over the classroom as she has, and anytime she tells me the student has become the master it means more than any other singular praise anyone could give me. I also had a wide range of inspiring teachers as a child, including my fourth and fifth-grade teachers as well as my sixth-grade language arts teacher. The teachers I worked with in a close mentorship capacity during and after college also made a huge impact on my love of this profession.

How many hours a week do you spend completing all of your duties related to your job?

I think people don’t realize just how much teachers actually work. There’s this idea that teachers work from 8 to 3 and then spend the rest of the day getting to do activities like real humans. (Spoiler alert: teachers are never real humans except for maybe one week in the summer, and that’s still up for debate.) I usually get to work about an hour and a half early and then have a set schedule for the work I complete after school each day, which includes lesson planning, grading, special newsletters I write each week, paperwork, and developing my curriculum (which I am very proud of). I will also communicate with parents late into the evening in order to accommodate their schedules. When I first started, I used to work from sunup until sundown on Sundays, but as I became more comfortable with the job responsibilities, I was able to figure out a way to shift my workload so that I could have a day to recharge and spend time with family. (Of course, unless it’s reported card time in which case 3-4 Sundays each term are set aside to work on my comments.) I think finding balance in this profession is the most important thing new teachers can do for themselves to avoid burn out. However, a teacher’s brain is truly always turning, generating new ideas, looking for inspiration everywhere (literally everywhere!), and finding new ways to connect and build relationships with students.

Have you ever paid for supplies for your classroom?

I own about 98% of my classroom outright, which includes some of the furniture, all of the decor, all of the games and over 600 books in my classroom library, plus the paint on the walls. My school has become more generous as our funds have increased over the years, and I am grateful that they were able to help me convert to flexible seating in January of this past school year. There are teachers in many classrooms across America who are struggling to give their students the basic necessities for a well-rounded 21st-century education. I would urge anyone reading this to go to the website www.donorschoose.org and find a worthy classroom to help support.

2 Comments

  1. Mrs. Mann is a phenomenal teacher. To hear her speak, understand the way her mind works, and see how it all comes together in the classroom is a thing of beauty. No moment is wasted in her classroom. Every moment is a Teachable Moment and I am proud to call her my friend and colleague

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