Nick Jodka Tufts class of 2020 teaches 5th grade math at Success Academy Ditmas Park, one of 47 schools in New York City’s largest and highest-performing public charter school network. Nick was honored with an Excellence Award as a Rookie of the Year for the 2020-21 school year.
Despite not majoring in education, what really drove me into teaching was all the great experiences I had as a student. I majored in drama at Tufts with minors in economics and music, and I had some really amazing teachers that made a big difference along the way, both there and in high school. I would have never gotten into theatre or music if my teachers hadn’t pushed and supported me. I’m so appreciative of the teachers that helped me discover my passions, and realized I wanted to help other students do the same.
I wasn’t sure I’d be ready to teach because I didn’t study it, but I drew a lot on what I learned in two directing classes with Bridget Kathleen O’Leary at Tufts. She was just outstanding. I learned so much about analysis, leadership, asking strong questions — these laid the foundation for most of my skills in teaching.
I was a little nervous about moving to New York. As I looked into SA though, I found out their mission was really sound and good. I saw that the majority of their students are from low income families, and I thought this was a great opportunity to really help and engage students. And I’ve loved being in the city, so it’s been all upside since I started.
The school year was definitely difficult at times. There was already a lot to manage – mastering content, building relationships with students and other teachers, finding the best way to attack a subject — plus teaching remotely all year. I was able to lean on what I learned at Tufts, but also received exceptional support from my colleagues and managers. My dad taught me that if you see someone doing something well, you should ask them about it. At SA Ditmas Park Middle School, I’ve relied so much on other veteran teachers for advice when I feel like I’m struggling with something they succeed at. That level of support allowed me to grow in purposeful ways and overcome a lot of the challenges of the year.
Even the scholars would support me. One day I was feeling a bit sick and must have seemed down in class, so one of my scholars sent me an email to cheer me up. It was just so nice, knowing that I’ve been able to build relationships with my scholars in this virtual setting. I’ve been so impressed at our ability to build a real community at Ditmas Park even during remote learning.
The best advice I could give to anyone considering teaching is this: It’s okay if you’re not good at something on day one. I kept trying to figure out what I could do better and what I was doing wrong, but as a brand new teacher you don’t even know what to look for. Having a sense of reflection and comfort to reach out to your fellow teachers or managers for advice is very helpful.
And if you’re considering teaching at SA, always look at scholar work. SA cares a lot about data, and I think for good reason. There’ve been times when I thought a lesson went well, but I’d look at student’s assignments and they didn’t seem to quite get it. Other times it’d feel like I didn’t get the point across, and students were confused and asking questions, but I’d look at their work and realize that because of their deep unpacking of the subject, they came to a better understanding of the topic than I expected. The focus on data and scholar work is a positive, and you should pick it up as quickly as you can if you join SA.
By Nick Jodka, Class of 2020