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.

Staff Spotlight: AP Rebecca Mintiens

Ms. MintiensInterview conducted by 8-409 students Hao Dong Deng and Sabrina Halaka

Have you always been an educator? What inspired you to become one?

No, actually it was a career change for me. I received my undergraduate degree in music and theatre for kids, and I had moved to Florida to work for Disney. I did that for a very short time, but I just didn’t really enjoy it. I then realized that I had worked with kids my whole life; I babysat, I was a tutor, I was a camp counselor. From there I knew I really wanted to work with kids directly. With music and theatre you’d work with one group of kids for maybe a week in the summer then a different group of kids come in, and I wanted to have more of a steady group, like a class. What inspired me was that I just always really loved working with kids and I personally had some really great teachers when I was younger-so that’s kind of what led me to education. For me it felt like a bit of a risk because it was a career change so I thought, “I really hope I like this” and obviously I loved it so I stayed with it.

Would you say that as an educator, you retain the same qualities as a student?

Yes, I think personally I love school, you know I ended up going to undergrad, took some time and worked for a bit, then went back to get my master’s and ended up getting two master’s degrees and then went back and got a third master’s degree. I just really love learning and I love being in school, working with other people that are interested in learning the same things I am, so for me I’m constantly trying to grow as a person and trying to learn as much as I can about, really everything not just education, whatever I find interest in. For example, I love running so I like to read about health and fitness, I also just love to read, and of course I still love music. I think a good educator is constantly learning and constantly looking for ways to increase their knowledge, so I think it’s very similar.

What are your fondest memories of working with children in the younger grades?

I taught pre-kindergarten for a few years, kindergarten for one year, and grade one a couple of years so in total for almost ten years, and I remember one lesson specifically which I sort of look back on, and this is the reason why I’m an educator. A few years back near Earth Day when the BP oil spill happened, I was teaching kindergarteners, but they’re five years old you know they don’t really understand what an oil spill is. When we were talking about what we were going do for Earth day, somebody said, “I heard there was an oil spill, what is that?” Right on the spot, I decided we’d create our own oil spill, so we got a big basin and put some sort of cooking oil with dye in it, and we also put items like feathers, you know you think about the animals that were affected with the oil and to really show them how sticky the oil can be. That was something that really stuck with them and at the end of the year that was something they really remembered from our class, so creating meaningful learning experiences especially in the younger grades is very important to me and I think for you guys too (8th graders, Hao Dong Deng and Sabrina Halaka) as you get older, things you remember are things that are meaningful for you. It’s not just necessarily reading a book, it’s experiencing things or doing things with that book that are more significant. If we can’t create authentic learning experiences, like real-world experiences, then we’re not doing our job or we’re not doing it well.

What inspired you to transition from teaching to administration?

I think as a teacher I had one class, so I felt like I was making an impact on those kids, that small class, but as I started to think of making real changes in education in general not just in my school or in my classroom, the next logical step really was to do administration because it’s not that we have so much power, but we have more power to make decisions and make changes. For instance next year a lot of the curriculum here is changing and I feel like I want to be a part of that greater change. I think in the grand scheme of things I’m still a new administrator, this is only going to be my third year coming up. I really want to be on the forefront of that change, to change education in general, to make sure that we are doing our jobs as educators to keep kids interested and motivated in learning and school-those kinds of things. Some of those big changes I couldn’t do as a teacher besides in my classroom without enough sort of pull or influence, I thought administration would be a good fit to allow me to be a part of those greater changes- and so far I’ve really enjoyed it.

How would you describe yourself as a leader / Assistant Principal?

This was a really hard question, but if you think about leaders you sort of try to think about what  your philosophy is or what you want people to remember you by, and I think for me the number one thing is trying to motivate people to be and do their best and to build people’s capacity to be the person they want to be. For educators it means to be the best educator that they can be and students to be the best student that they can be. I think I’m also very much pro-student so my job, as much as I’m here as a leader to support the teachers is number one, but it’s all about the students. So whatever I’m doing to support the teachers it has to directly affect you guys [students]. Some leaders are very much involved in pro-business or the industry portion of education, but I think at 102 what I love about it so far that I’m learning is that everybody that works here, teachers and administrators are all pro-students. Everyone is making sure that any decision that is made is going to affect the students. I think I’m sort of still learning about myself as a leader because it is such a new role for me.

As an adult and an educator, what advice would you give to students to be successful with their education?

So I think the students that are the most successful are the ones who work hard, do their best, and they’re motivated. I think for me the advice I would give is to find your passion no matter what it is. So if you’re really passionate about music, know that, study it and be involved in music and somehow tie it into your studies. For me in high school I realized that I was super-duper passionate about music, and that was all that I wanted to do, so I thought, “Why do I need to learn math?” Well music is actually all math, so I was able to sort of tie in my love for music to figure out math problems. I think as teachers and educators for us to help you find your passion and to help you be able to connect the passion and learning that we’re doing here right now to make meaningful learning, it’s all tied together. It’s really important for you guys to find your passion, especially at your age, in middle school. This is really where you’re starting to learn the path that you’re going to take in life. It’s not in stone, but I think that will keep you motivated and that will keep you learning.

What aspect of education inspires you the most?

As I said before, the reason I love being with students and being in education is watching kids get the “aha” moment like realizing their success, learning new things, and finding their passion, that’s really what inspires me to keep coming to school everyday.

What was your favorite book in middle school… or the last book you read?

So I was thinking a lot about this because I don’t remember a lot of the books that I read in middle school, but I mean I’ve always been a big reader. I loved reading from the moment I knew how to read and my parents always read to me, I used to get up and read early in the morning before school started. I remember reading a series called Thoroughbred in the third grade, I was really into horses at a young age. But I do remember the last book I read, I just finished it, it was The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult. It was a really good book, it’s about the Holocaust. It’s fiction but it’s a story within a story within a story, within a story. But in middle school I was really into series books like Thoroughbred.  It was a big series for me. I was talking to the literacy coach, Mrs. Duke and I said that you are really lucky that there are now so many series out for you guys to read, like The Hunger Games, and The Twilight Series.

Why did you choose 102?

So as you know I recently left a school, and it was a great school but I knew Mr. Ko. He had asked me to just come visit and I was so incredibly impressed with the students here. Number one, I think you guys are really motivated, you guys work very hard and the kids here are very welcoming and respectful and I think the same goes for the teachers. The teachers here are just really awesome people and I think in speaking with the administrators at 102, the vision that Mr. Ko has is very much the same that I have. We want to push you guys, we want to make sure the learning is rigorous, it just not surface level learning. We want to give you guys as many learning experiences as we can before you go off to high school and we are not going to settle until we make sure those things are in place for you. I think it’s a really special place and now being here for a couple of weeks I know I made the right decision.

Staff Spotlight: Ms. Keen Lee

keen lee-1

This issue of Staff Spotlight features one of my favorite people: Ms. Keen! Thank you Nahian for the write up and Frances for the photo.

Why did you become a paraprofessional?

 When I was in Malaysia, I was an education counselor. I was responsible for placing the Malaysian scholarship students in American universities in other countries. When I migrated to this country I could not find a job, so I applied to private schools to become an assistant teacher in pre-k. I became an assistant teacher for 13 years and in those 13 years I prepared myself to become a paraprofessional because I wanted to work in a public school. So I took action and got nominated by the principal and did all the tests that were required by the DOE, and I passed all the tests and I was qualified.


Did anyone inspire you to do this job?

In Malaysia we had a yearbook every year and when I was in the second grade in 1963, my teacher asked me what my dreams were. I said I was going to be a teacher. I was inspired by my second grade teacher and her name was Mrs. Ali. I like the way she dressed and used the blackboard and the ways she held the chalk in her hand and asked us questions and just the style that she taught us in. Mrs. Ali always loved us, and was really soft spoken.


Who supported you throughout your schooling years? Did they have an impact on the person that you are today?

 I would say my family, they encouraged me a lot and my husband would say, “Go take those tests.” When they called me to say that I was going to be a paraprofessional, my husband and my younger daughter emotionally helped me and supported me. I had in my mind to be in the educational field because my plan when all my kids finish school is to retire and be with my family more.


What is the most exciting thing about your job?

The most exciting part of my job is I work with children and I teach them. Whenever I teach my students something I repeat it to them over and over again to see if they truly understand. The next day, I ask them the same question that was told to them the day before, and when they understand -I get so happy. It is the best thing and it is such a sigh of relief. When I spell the words they say over again, it is the sweetest thing and I always expect something new and it makes me happy.


If you had to choose one other job, what would it be?

I like to cook, so a chef. I love cooking and I like to share it with my family and my co-workers and that impresses me. I enjoy it when they like the food, and have a good impression.

Staff Spotlight: Ms. Vega

unnamedBrianna Lee of class 8-413 interviewed Ms. Vega


Brianna: Why did you want to become a teacher?

Ms. Vega: Ever since I was about 7 I knew I wanted to be a teacher which is really funny because everyone goes through the ” I want to be an artist… I want to be a lawyer… I want to be a doctor…” stage but I guess for some reason it was partially from my first grade teacher. I just really loved teaching and learning. I was an only child but I really loved helping other kids. My family used to joke that I was the mother hen because of all my younger cousins. I would like to help them, want to read books with them- and I felt that I liked helping and being around kids and so I just felt like teaching was perfect.

Brianna: So your first grade teacher influenced you?

 Ms. Vega: Yes. Her name was Ms.Tambakis. I dedicated my first classroom to her.  She was kind of like my influence -she was there for me even when I was in high school and I would go back and visit her. She was passionate about her job. You could tell she really loved her job and she did it for all the right reasons and she actually wanted to help the kids.  She was such a positive influence.

Brianna: Who else influenced you to become a teacher?

 Ms. Vega: When I graduated from undergraduate school I was working at the YMCA and there were a few teachers that really helped push me and they were like my mentors. Mr. Combs was a 5th and 6th grade teacher. Ms. Martinez was actually a self-contained teacher and a SETSS teacher so they helped push me to see what it was like. In college we read a lot from books about what being in a classroom was like but it’s the real life experiences that really help you grow as a teacher. They would let me observe in their classrooms and I would help out and unofficially co-teach. I would stand in the room and help out but it wasn’t for school credit or anything. It was a really big help with personal growth for me. They said that I was way too comfortable at the Y and they really pushed me to put myself out there. I was worried about going to graduate school but they said, “you better graduate and we don’t want see you back here in this building.” They really wanted me out there with my own classroom. It was funny because when we did our first picture day, I had made a deal with one of the other teachers- that once I graduated I had exactly a year to (from when I left the Y) to find a job. I always told them “I won’t be back here” so when we completed a school picture I sent it to him and he said he was so proud of me. They really showed me that they believed in me. In my meltdown moments they always listened and explained that all teachers have them.

Brianna: What is the difference between the teaching that takes place in your room and the teaching in other classrooms?

 My classroom is a self contained room so it’s a smaller group. I have 9 students. I feel like the only real difference between here and other classrooms is that these students need a little extra more support, or maybe they don’t work as well in a bigger classroom setting. They just need more one on one. It’s easy for them to get the extra support they need. If you think about it, I have 9 students and in 2 class periods you figure it’s about 10 minutes with each student. But with 30 kids in a class you have 3 minutes if you want to get to every student. As teachers, we know that realistically when a student needs help it’s not like they’re going to get it in about 3 minutes. Sometimes they need that extra time. So its good to have that flexibility of knowing you are in a smaller setting if you need to get around to everyone. They get that extra help they need to succeed because in the end it’s about getting them to that level where they can be in the general education class where they can work well without needing that one on one. So really it’s like a stepping-stone to helping them now so that way when they get older they can be able to work independently so they don’t need that support.