New teachers reflect on their first year at THHS

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As the school year draws to an end, new teachers reflect on their first year at Townsend Harris. Having to quickly transition to remote learning in March, many teachers described this adjustment as both a challenging and rewarding experience.

History teacher Blayne Gelbman described working at Townsend to be exactly what one would want teaching to be. “I’ve never worked in a school where the kids have so much talent in so many different areas,” he said. Math teacher Abid Choudhury agreed, saying “It’s quite heartening to see how students could both handle the rigors of academic stress and engage in the school community.” 

Similarly, English teacher Kevin McDonaugh commented on the dedication of the student body. “The students here really care about doing their best. It’s quite inspiring and has pushed me to some boundaries that I have not before been pushed,” he said. 

For Social Studies teacher Frank McCaughey, his first year was “the most complete and rewarding experience” he has had throughout his 12 years teaching in the DOE. “I even [had] perfect attendance for the year, [which is] no small feat for teachers.”

Recalling his many positive experiences, Mr. McDonaugh compares his time at Townsend to a kaleidoscope. “It’s difficult to hone in on one specific moment,” he said. “In it, I see brilliant poetry by students, honest expression, Founder’s Day, lively discussions and debates, Sing!…” For English teacher Aseefa Rasool, “some of the most memorable moments came from socratic seminars and whole classroom discussions about real-world topics.”

Mr. Gelbman also reflects on a surprise birthday celebration his students organized for him, one of his favorite memories. “That was amazing,” he said. “[[It] made me feel like part of a family.”

Many teachers agree that their first year at Townsend proved to be a valuable learning opportunity. Mr. Gelbman shares an experience he encountered, explaining, “I thought I was doing such a great job, but everyone in the class [preferred a different teaching method]. [The class] gave me good feedback [in order to] pivot to make the learning and the experience more enjoyable for the students.” 

With the transition to remote learning, many teachers are saddened by the loss of student interaction. “I truly enjoy and am energized by being in the classroom… all of the joy I get from being around students and colleagues are gone,” Mr. McDonaugh said. “I don’t get to laugh and listen and help in real time.”

English teacher Katherine Lipinksi believes this transition has encouraged her growth as a teacher. “We [learned to] prioritize the most important skills that we wanted students to learn [to] make our teaching more intentional,” she said. “We had to become even more deliberate to organize our lessons with explicit directions and steps that students would be able to follow from home.” Mr. Choudhury agreed that “brevity paired with precision had to become the focus” in his teaching after the quick shift to remote learning.

Despite the unconventional school year, many teachers look to the future. “I think that what I’m looking forward to is fairly obvious: Being back in school—a real place populated with real people,” Mr. McDonaugh said. “I truly have had a remarkable experience. My plan is to teach in the DOE for another 15-20 years and I genuinely hope that each and every one of those years is at Townsend,” Mr. McCaughey concluded.