Maria Rivera Maulucci studied biology and worked as an undergraduate teaching assistant, helping non-majors get through their biology requirements. “I had no training in education theory ... but I began to realize how rewarding teaching could be.” After graduation, Maulucci began teaching at De La Salle Academy, a private middle school in Manhattan that prepares underprivileged kids to enter top parochial and prep schools. “I thought I would only stay for two years, but
I wound up staying for five,” she says. “I realized how vital it was to make the classroom a fun, engaging place for students.
We took field trips and did special projects, and I got to know each one of my students individually—I discovered the joys of teaching.” Maulucci earned a master’s in forestry from Yale and a PhD in science education at Teacher’s College. “I learned during my post-graduate work that there is an art and a science to teaching,” says Maulucci, who joined Barnard’s education faculty in 2004. “It’s important to be passionate. But it’s equally important to understand the craft of teaching, both in terms of pedagogical strategies and of the political and social context in which teachers find themselves.”
During Amy Mascunana’s senior year at Barnard, she had a conversation with her mother about her 6-year-old brother’s schooling. Mascunana, whose Puerto Rican parents raised the family in a bilingual Bronx household, says, “We were worried about the quality of his education. I felt for the first time how important education is, and I wanted to do something to help.” In 2008, Mascunana graduated with degrees in urban studies and political science, and applied to Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that recruits recent graduates to teach in low-income areas in the United States. She was assigned to P.S.
385, a Bronx elementary school where she continues to teach. The job is physically and emotionally demanding. “As a teacher, you stand up all day and can’t go to the bathroom when you want,” she says. “You go home late, and take all your feelings and concerns about the kids with you.” Mascunana is studying for a master’s degree in education on evenings and weekends. It’s a tough lifestyle, but she loves it. “You can’t imagine the feeling of seeing a student who has been silent for five months say his first sentence in English,” she says proudly. “You think, ‘I taught him those words.’”
Joanna Yip teaches 12th grade English at International, which enrolls students who have been in the U.S. for two years or less. “I want to help educate students who don’t have the same privileges as others,” she says. As a participant in Barnard’s education program and 2004 winner of the College’s Sacks Prize (awarded to an outstanding student teacher of adolescents), Yip noticed a flyer for a teaching internship with Summerbridge (now the Breakthrough Collaborative), a nonprofit that helps start low-income middle school students on the path to college and prepares older students for education careers. For two summers, through the program, Yip
taught humanities to seventh and eighth graders in New York. In her senior year, the English major helped write a grant to start the School for Democracy and Leadership, a public school in Brooklyn that focuses on teaching sixth through 12th grade students about their roles as citizens and activists. After her second year teaching ninth grade English at the school, Yip was certain teaching was the career for her. “The classroom is where students can feel empowered or disempowered,” says Yip, who is pursuing a doctorate in urban education at the CUNY Graduate Center. “It’s vital that in those formative years they find their voices.”
Gillian Williams spent two years teaching ESL at an overcrowded, underfunded public school in Washington Heights as one of the 500 college graduates who participated in Teach for America’s pilot year. “There was a lot of concern from the establishment about sending untrained recent graduates into the classroom,” says Williams. The assistant principal who hired Williams told her that whatever gaps there might be in her Spanish would be made up by her humor and optimism. Barnard Professor Bob Crain’s “Introduction to Sociology” inspired her to switch her major from English, and she did a series of projects
under his guidance. For one, she worked with the Association to Benefit Children, teaching preschool to homeless children. She loved it: “I got back more than I gave.” Today Williams serves as president of the nonprofit Rensselaerville Institute, which recently launched a School Turnaround initiative to help administrators rapidly improve academic achievement at underperforming schools. “There’s no secret to success,” she says of the group’s ambitious goals. “You need people who will roll up their sleeves and tackle each day with the energy and dedication required to accomplish the task at hand.”
“Barnard taught me how to think critically and look at the world from multiple points of view,” says Lillian Mongeau. A voracious reader, Mongeau studied English and creative writing. As a writing fellow at Barnard, she assisted her peers and went on to teach writing at low-income New York City high schools. Her experiences inspired her to apply
to Teach for America, which placed her in a middle school in Roma, Texas, on the Mexican border. Most students were Mexican-Americans who spoke Spanish at home and English in school. “It was hard to see 12-year-olds who could
barely put a sentence together [in English],” says Mongeau. Today, Mongeau uses the lessons she learned in Texas as she pursues a journalism degree from the UC Berkeley. She also reports on the North Oakland, Calif., education system for publications including the Oregonian and OaklandNorth.net. “During my two years with TFA, I realized the importance of setting goals and working toward them,” says Mongeau. “You’ve just got to keep moving forward no matter how difficult it gets. It sounds simple, but I believe if I live my life that way, I’ll have no regrets.”
Anna Posner intended to study theatre, but the costume designer for a student-run production mentioned Barnard’s education program. “She told me if I wanted to pursue theatre, I should get a teaching degree so I could support myself,” Posner recalls. The backup plan turned into a passion—and a career. By her sophomore year, Posner joined the education program and participated in the Breakthrough Initiative, teaching English to seventh graders on Long Island. “I love teaching for the same reasons I love acting,” she says. “Teaching is about performance, community, and having lots of energy—being on all the time.”
As a senior and a winner of the Sacks Prize in 2006, Posner student-taught at the Bronx School of Law and Finance, a public high school where she was later hired. “The conversations I have with these kids happen at such a high level,” she says, noting that one of her classes recently discussed notions of fate and free will in Sophocles’ Oedipus applying some of the ideas to their own lives. “I feel lucky to be surrounded by so many intelligent, articulate people every day.” In August 2010, Posner received her master’s in English literature from Hunter College, hoping to spend the rest of her career in the classroom.
-by Harper Willis, photographs by Dorothy Hong, Mark Mahaney, and Aya Brackett