STAFF SPOTLIGHT: Ms. Vanessa Wyckoff 

Staff spotlight interview with Ms.Wyckoff by Maria Cruz and Shreya Gannaram


What do you enjoy most about your work?

 Seeing the growth that my students make.

Did anyone inspire you to become a first grade teacher?

No, I’ve always loved kids and working with them. I was always babysitting and helping kids with homework and seeing them succeed.

Would you recommend your career to others?

Yes, if you like kids. It’s very rewarding.

What other jobs did you have before coming to this school?

I worked at a charter school, and that’s where I learned a lot of great skills.

What is your goal as a teacher? Do you think you already achieved it? 

My goal is for my students to be on grade level and ready to succeed in the next grade level. At this point of the year, 80% or my kids are at grade level. We are on the path to achieve it.

What is the most difficult and easiest part of your job?

Seeing students struggle, and there is nothing easy about being a teacher. It takes a lot of planning and time. It’s really hard thinking about misconceptions kids might have.

What have your experiences with children been like? 

I’ve always been with kids. I worked at day camps, children’s clothing stores, and daycare. My experiences have always been positive and kids always trust me.

What personality traits does your career require you to have?

 You have to be organized, trustworthy, hardworking, and patient.

What is your favorite food? 

I love Greek food. Chicken gyro salad with tzatziki on the side is my favorite!


Interview with Ms. Suzie Cook by Diya Patel, Samantha Torres, and Jacky Cheng

What does a school social worker do?

John Lewis said, “Within the breast of every person is a spark of the divine.” That’s the job of a school social worker–to find the spark of the divine in every child, tease it out, and show it to them so they can embrace it. I do it through working with the child individually through therapy sessions (groups and individual), and also working with the child’s interaction with his whole environment–home, school, history, etc.

Can you give some advice to students who are struggling to focus and are too scared to ask for help?

I was always the kid in school raising my hand and asking for help. I have a really hard time with reading comprehension, so it takes me a long time to process abstract concepts. It was embarrassing for me to continually ask for help. But I noticed that whenever I did stop the teacher just to say, “Wait a second, can you say that one more time?” or “I missed that! Can you say it again?’ or “Would you mind explaining that another way?”, that students would whisper a thank you because they needed it too. So I think one thing to keep in mind is that just because it SEEMS like everyone else gets it, you don’t know what other people are struggling with. You helping yourself helps others too. It takes courage, but you have courage.

How would you describe your personality and how does it affect your work?

I think the only natural thing about me, the only thing that comes without effort, is my innate enthusiasm for serving. It struck me when I was 8 years old walking my neighbor’s dogs and has struck me like a lightning bolt over and over again–I must be actively engaged in serving others. It’s when I most feel most like myself, when my heart feels the most full, when I have the most 
fun. Love, listening, passion, empathy–things that most people think are gifts are really just skills that have to be learned and practice. But my need to be of service is the drive at my core.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

Being innately driven to be of service has pros and cons as a school social worker! It means that I’m independently motivated–I don’t slack off, get lazy, or need praise like I do in other areas of my life. But it also means that I’m extremely emotionally invested–I lie awake questioning things I could’ve done better, agonizing over mistakes I’ve made, ways I could’ve shown love and mercy but instead was impatient for progress.

My family does a lot of exploring–most Saturdays you’ll find us poking around a random neighborhood in the city looking for a good bookstore, a cozy coffee shop, an interesting museum exhibit, a good-smelling farmer’s market, or hunting down and fiercely debating the best ice cream/tacos/French toast/doughnuts/fries/ramen/pizza in the city (ample hills/coney shack/French louie/dough/randolph beer/chuko/juliana’s, in case you’re wondering. Don’t tell my kids or my husband–it will come to blows.) I take exercise as seriously as religion, so I’m an avid biker, runner, and push-up doer. Don’t mess. And I have a bunch of sisters that live close by, so we play soccer in the park, make waffles, laugh about everything, and dance around with the kids making dinner listening to Chance.

What college did you go to and what did you major in?I went to Brigham Young University and studied sociology–the study of the relationship between people and their environments. That’s when I really fell in love with learning. I was always interested in lots of things, but only really ever found myself really engrossed was when I was studying people. I also wen
t to New York University for my Master’s in Social Work and majored in social work with an emphasis on adolescents and trauma.

What are your two favorite books?

Native Son, by Richard Wright and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I found a beat up copy of Native Son at a cafe in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and was changed forever. I can’t describe how much this book means to me, but it showed me how light from another can spark fire and 
illuminate the humanity and a desire for love and freedom in the darkest, most depraved soul. I closed the book and thought, ok. That’s it. This concept is what I will give my life to. Some people innately know who they are, the rest of us have to search. But it’s the spark of faith and belief from others that can help us connect to our core truth.
Just Mercy is my bible. Its core principle is in its title–just be merciful. This book helped me to realize that I so rarely have to judge if someone is a good or bad or lazy or ungrateful or selfish or who made what mistake and why they should know better, a preoccupation that is infused in the conversation of everyday life. I just don’t have to do it. All I have to do is to try to understand why. The more information we have and the more we understand, the more we are naturally merciful. People are full of flaws and we are all continually learning at each other’s expense and that makes us relatable and human. It’s pointless to do anything but just try to understand, be merciful, and help if you can.

Is there a quote that inspires you the most and if so, why?

[A leader] with anger issues, who’s always blowing up at people, or reacting in ways he can’t control, will unintentionally create an angry or abusive personal culture. [A leader] who’s conflict averse, on the other hand, will create a quiet, but bitter and back-stabbing environment. The organizations that I have worked with that have been the most difficult culturally, have been the organizations that have been most determined to repress the negative aspects of their own behavior. Their own individual leadership behavior and drive those behaviors underground only to have it pop up in politics and in nastiness. And we don’t even see it coming. So those are the things that terrify me. If you’re not consciously, intentionally creating your culture, a culture is going to get created around you, or despite you.”–Jerry Colonna, Executive Coach

Everything on the inside is already on the outside. There are things we run from, things we’re scared to face and try hard not to face, things that are scary and uncomfortable. But you can’t run from something inside you–it’s inside you! The truth will always out. And one way that truth will come out is in your personal climate. The climate that surrounds us will always be colored by the internal issues that we have not resolved. All our fears, insecurities, hurt, and pain that we carry around color our actions and words–you can’t hide anything because people can feel it and see it. I think the best thing that you can do if you want to be of the greatest service to others, is to examine your mind, your actions, and your heart with an attitude of acceptance of your total fallibility and humanness. If you can intentionally decide what kind of environment you want to carry with you in every interaction and every conversation, you can affect people for the good, but more importantly you can build yourself into the human you want to be and piece by piece, create a masterpiece with your life.

Ms. Gloria Chao, (Foreign Language: Mandarin)

Interview with Ms. Gloria Chao by Ivan Huang, 8-413

What do you do in your free time?

When I am free, I like to do both indoor and outdoor activities. I like traveling a lot, visiting museums, trying different food, and shopping. At home, I like cooking, playing piano, singing karaoke, reading, and watching movies (from Red Box). I also like hiking in the spring and fall, swimming in the summer, and skiing in the winter.

If you weren’t a Mandarin teacher, what else would you be?

Besides being a Mandarin teacher, I would like to be a bilingual teacher as well, teaching in the Mandarin immersion classroom to help students to be fluent in different subjects and all kind of topics.

What made you decide to become a teacher?

My career had started as a nutritionist in the hospital for 3 years and after that I worked for the Kaohsiung (in South Taiwan) Chamber of Commerce as the Branch Chef’s secretary for 2 years. I did this work until I had a chance to teach an English enrichment program to elementary school students after work. I found myself enjoying teaching and working with students. That’s how I started my teaching career. Then I increased my work hours from part time to full time. I eventually left my job to study for my master’s degree in education in the state and became a professional educator.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

In the future I see myself studying for a PhD degree and become an experienced teacher. Also, I have always had this dream to move from country to country to see and experience different cultures, eat authentic cuisine, and meet different people after my children grow up. If Mandarin is still a popular language, I would like to be a traveling teacher. I would like to teach Mandarin in colleges around the world.

What are some things you do to overcome stress?

First, I plan ahead to make sure I am following the steps to finish my work, especially a huge project. I do not put all the work together until the last minute. Second, I make sure to have a healthy and balanced life, sleep at least 7 hours, eat various vegetables and fruits daily, and exercise at least 3 times a week. Last, I do not only spend time with my family, but I also make sure to reserve my alone time. I love to get massages, go shopping, or even just get a cup of coffee to be by myself.

Staff Spotlight: Traci Kaplan


Interview by 8th grade student reporter Nahian Haider


Who influenced you to be a teacher?  Do you think teaching fourth grade is the right place for you?

My mom is a teacher, she’s a literacy specialist, and she inspired me to become a teacher.  I talk to her almost every day about what I’m teaching and my students. We are very close and she was definitely a huge influence on me becoming a teacher.

I love teaching fourth grade. I taught first grade and second grade and loved both of those ages at the time.  The biggest change between the lower grades to teaching 4th grade is the literature.  I love the books that fourth graders are reading.  I feel like 4th grade was when I fell in love with reading, so inspiring 4th graders to read is an amazing feeling.  I remember reading a lot of the books my students are reading and love being able to recommend books to them.  I also can do fun read alouds (like Harry Potter) that I couldn’t do if I was teaching younger grades.  [If you check out my classroom you will see how much I love Harry Potter!]

 Did you always want to be a teacher- or was there something else that you wished to do, but just felt it was not right for you?

I’ve always wanted to be a teacher.  I remember when I was 7 years old and my younger brother was 4, he was listing all of the jobs he wanted to be when he grew up…he listed police officer, fireman, doctor, etc.  He filled an entire page of jobs he wanted and I remember thinking, “I don’t have to make a list, I want to be a teacher”.  I have known I wanted to be a teacher my whole life.  Before becoming a teacher, I worked as a swimming teacher, a camp counselor, and a babysitter, and loved working with kids.  That just confirmed that teaching was the right job for me. Then, I went to college and majored in elementary education and then got a teaching job.

Being a teacher sometimes can have challenges. How do you manage to balance everything out?

 Being a teacher can sometimes have challenges, but it is hard to focus on any challenges when you go into work everyday to work with an amazing group of students. Seeing my students persevering and working through their challenges motivates me to continue through any challenges I am having.  Also, maintaining a positive attitude always helps both me and my students.

Educationally, were there any teachers that influenced you in your career?

Yes, it was actually my fourth grade teacher! Ms. Skahan was my favorite teacher.  I remember after 4th grade, I always said I wanted to be a 4th grade teacher like Ms. Skahan… and now I am! She was so enthusiastic about everything.  She made learning really fun and I loved going to school every day.  I hope to be a teacher like her!

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

I still see myself in the classroom as a teacher. I love being a classroom teacher, so I don’t see myself doing anything else for a long time.  I am getting my masters for literacy and think maybe in the distant future, if I were to ever leave the classroom, I would consider being a literacy coach or a literacy specialist.

Besides making lessons for your students, what do you do in your free time? Do you play an instrument or have any other hobbies?

I am currently in grad school so two days of the week I go to school after work and that takes a lot of my time.  I have played a lot of recreational sports like dodgeball, kickball, and softball but don’t have the time right now. When I finish grad school, I can get back into it.  I also am very active, I love to be outside walking around the city and going to the gym to lift weights.