Teachers Fresh Off the Wagon
Reading Time: 7 minutes
For most students, the first day at Stuyvesant is both exciting and nerve-wracking: making friends, getting to class on time, and of course, meeting your new teachers. This year, some teachers are having the same experience as it is their first day at Stuyvesant as well. Here are some of their stories about their journey to Stuyvesant.
Catherine Maitner (Geometry and AP Statistics)
Catherine Maitner was on the path to becoming a professional ballerina. But Maitner’s love for mathematics overrode her passion for ballet and drove her to dive head-first into the world of mathematics.
Math has always been Maitner’s favorite subject. However, Maitner’s passion for math sprouted when she went to college at Georgetown University. She explained, “Once I got to Georgetown, I signed up to be a math major my freshman year, and that is where I really learned to love math and began wanting to teach it afterward.”
Maitner has been successful with this goal of teaching math. Before coming to Stuyvesant, Maitner taught at the Convent of Sacred Heart, a Roman Catholic girls’ school on the Upper East Side. While there, Maitner taught a wide variety of different math classes: geometry, Algebra 2/Trigonometry, precalculus, and AP Statistics.
In the initial weeks that Maitner has taught at Stuyvesant, she revealed, “I have been really impressed by the really positive community that is here and how motivated the students are. It is really wonderful to see how [they’re] interested, excited to learn, and willing to do all of the work.”
In the future, Maitner would love to participate in a club or publication. She explained, “I do really love getting involved in the schools I am a part of.” Maitner was able to do so at Sacred Heart; Maitner helped with admissions at Sacred Heart by interviewing applicants and assisting during admitted students night. In addition, Maitner started a Global Scribes club at Sacred Heart, which “opens up a high school online community of people that are talking about similar interests,” she said.
Sandra Brandan (Guidance)
Students waiting in the guidance office this year might catch a glimpse of a new face with kind eyes and a radiant smile. The owner of this smile is a new counselor at Stuyvesant, Sandra Brandan.
Before becoming a school counselor, Brandan was in the music industry, in which she worked on a lot of popular songs, as an audio engineer. “People are usually shocked when I say that I used to be an audio engineer, as at first glance you wouldn't think it. But I’m a geek at heart,” she said.
After working in the music industry, Brandan became a middle school guidance counselor for 10 years. Before she applied to Stuyvesant, she felt she needed a change. She decided to submit an application even though she did not think that she would be called. She thought, “Let me just try; let me just submit my application and see what happens.” And so she did. She tried, and she succeeded, as it led to her joining Stuyvesant’s guidance department.
Brandan’s adjustment to Stuyvesant’s environment so far has been a transition, but it has also been great. “I don’t regret it one bit, and I’m going to be here smiling every day,” she added. She is also thankful for the learning opportunities she has gotten. “I feel almost like a student all over again, but I love it; I don’t regret it! I’m a learner; I’ve always loved to learn,” she said.
Lori-Ann Newman (History)
The new history teacher at Stuyvesant, Lori-Ann Newman, may be more familiar with Stuyvesant's history than most of the students. For the past nine years of her teaching career, Newman has been teaching at the old Stuyvesant building, now home to the High School for Health Professions and Human Services. “Every single day for nine years, I’ve walked into a school that said Old Stuyvesant Campus,” Newman said. “That was definitely part of the inspiration to come here.”
Newman’s teaching career expands farther than just her nine years at Health Professions, however. Before teaching in New York, Newman was a substitute teacher for schools on the Florida-Alabama border. Back then, teaching full-time was not yet the plan for Newman, who has a Bachelor’s Degree in political science and a Master’s Degree in public policy.
It was not until she moved to New York and started dating a history teacher at Brooklyn Technical High School that teaching began to really appeal to her as a potential future. “Hearing his passion and his energy just made me think about how I substituted for a year and [how] I [may] want to do this full time,” Newman said. “And he said to me, ‘that’s fine but just be aware that when you first become a teacher, you’re not going to be at a school that’s like [Brooklyn Tech]. You’re going to be in a school that has kids with different needs. It’s going to be different from what I’ve been telling you.’” None of that impeded Newman from advancing her teaching career, which has reached a grand total of 13 years now. Nevertheless, Newman said, “ultimately my goal was to end up at a school where you can really go outside of the basic curriculum.”
Now, progressing from the old Stuyvesant to the new one, Newman is excited to have the flexibility teaching at a specialized high school offers. Already having experienced a taste of Stuyvesant this summer working at the summer school, Newman is ready to tackle teaching AP World History and regents-level U.S. History. “I’ve always loved stories and storytelling, and that’s how I like to present history in my class. It’s just a big story that we have to tell,” she said.
Eric Smith (Assistant Principal of Mathematics)
Contrary to what is written on anonymous teacher rating website postings, the new Assistant Principal of Mathematics, Eric Smith, does not speak any foreign languages except for Spanish. He does, however, offer a refreshing perspective about math as a subject.
Smith began his career as a math teacher in 2003 in Washington Irving High School. He realized throughout his childhood that though he enjoyed math, many students who did not share this enthusiasm may have been discouraged by the people who taught them the subject. As someone who likes math, it made Smith reflect on what it must be like for students who don’t enjoy math. Since Smith could feel different ways about the subject when he took two or three different math courses at a time, the idea of math instruction became very important to him.
One of Smith’s favorite moments in his 16 years of teaching is when his first period calculus class at Washington Irving High School threw him a surprise birthday party. At first, Smith was upset that everybody was late. He did not suspect that there was going to be a surprise, since it wasn’t his actual birthday. All of a sudden, his students filed into the room with a cake with candles on it. They turned down the lights and sang him Happy Birthday. Even the other teachers at school were in on it. Mr. Smith received a card that played music by an artist he liked in addition to a keychain that was inscribed, “Good to infinity.”
Three of those students became math teachers themselves, which “they either attribute to me or blame me for,” Smith joked. “I don’t know about that.”
Immediately prior to accepting a position at Stuyvesant, Smith worked at the Brooklyn Technical High School for six years. He started there as an instructional coach and soon became the Assistant Principal of the Math Department. Since Brooklyn Technical High School and Stuyvesant are both primarily STEM specialized high schools, Smith reports, there are more similarities than differences between the schools. The most stark difference between Brooklyn Tech and Stuyvesant is that at Stuyvesant, teachers seem to have quite an emotional attachment to chalkboards. Smith prefers dry-erase boards to chalk: “It’s messy. It dries your hands out,” he said.
For this year, Smith’s plan is simply to acclimate himself to the culture at Stuyvesant. “Every school is unique; it has its own culture, its own way of doing things,” Smith affirmed. “There are plenty of opportunities to improve in every single school. I don’t know what they are yet because I just got here. My plan for this year is really just to get to know everybody.”
Rachael Ferreira (Mathematics)
Before she became the math department's newest addition, Ms. Ferreira worked at a private Manhattan school. She described her move to Stuyvesant as a meaningful one. “I’ve always wanted to work in public school, and obviously, as you know, Stuyvesant has a reputation.” she explained. “So just as much it is a dream to come to this school and be a student, it’s kind of the same thing to work at this school.”
After hearing about an open job position, Ferreira was eager to apply but had to adjust to the new environment, mentioning that Stuyvesant was very different from where she used to work. As she grew more accustomed, she noticed some of the students’ attitudes toward learning. “I think that the students here are very driven, and they look forward to learning, and they enjoy learning; I can see that in the classroom from a lot of students,” she said with a smile.
Ferreira also remarked on her thoughts about Stuyvesant’s workload, aware of the pressure that many students are facing. “I could also see that these kids have a lot going on and there’s more than just math they’re worrying about everyday. I can see that also being a stressor,” she said.
Despite the large amounts of stress students face, she believes that they all have a place at Stuyvesant, ending the topic with a positive note. “It’s clear that the kids that are here are meant to be here, and they’re working hard to be here,” she said.
Ferreira is also looking forward to getting to know about the various extracurriculars offered at Stuyvesant and getting experience outside of the classroom activities. ”I heard about SING! the other other day, [and] I’m excited to experience [it]. I heard about the different musicals that go on, [and] that apparently the students are in charge of them, which I think is awesome,” she said enthusiastically. She looks forward to being a teacher at Stuyvesant, adding that “working at a school like this is something [she feels] like is incredible and one of a kind.”