Late in her college career, Morgan Hamerman realized that her dream profession was teaching. But she was a journalism major and it was too late to switch majors.
Eager to gain experience and start working, she took a less conventional path into the teaching profession and joined the team at Success Academy Hudson Yards in New York City. With intensive on-the-job training, Hamerman quickly gained the knowledge she needed to become a second-grade teacher. After two years, she is now a lead teacher in charge of the classroom. “I love to be around children and see how they learn,” she says.
Teaching has also taught her valuable lessons that have helped her in all aspects of her life. She sat down with The Muse to talk about how her time in education has set her up for success.
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
I love working with kids. It’s something I discovered after working as a camp counselor during the summers. After sophomore year of college, I worked at a camp for kids with cancer. Seeing how you can incorporate learning and play made me realize I wanted to be a teacher.
How did Success Academy prepare you for teaching?
My training began the second I stepped into the school building. And honestly, it’s still happening. Your whole first year as an entry-level teacher at SA, you’re training. There’s a once-a-week meeting with other new teachers; lots of meetings with the assistant principals, principals, and more experienced teachers; and workshops. You’re exposed to all kinds of ideas, and you see how you can incorporate other people’s ideas in your teaching. You’re getting constant feedback.
I still do workshops now, both leading them for the newer teachers and taking part in them to get feedback from more senior teachers. The training program is ongoing. Everyone in the community can always improve and learn from one other; that’s the Success mindset.
What are some of the skills you’ve learned in training, and why are they so important?
Success stresses organization because you can teach and address questions better if you’re prepared. Preparation and organization go hand in hand. In order to be prepared you have to be organized; they need to be together for both of them to work.
When you stay on task and hit deadlines, you’re in the best position to help the kids. If I’m prepared to teach a lesson, and I fully understand the concepts within it, then I can teach it to a child. I’ll know what they may be confused about—and when that happens, I can adjust the lesson to make sure my kids learn.
When I’m occasionally not totally prepared—it happens, because life happens—I notice I’m more frantic and my kids have more questions. I’ve also noticed that when I’m more prepared, the kids are also more engaged. And when the kids are more engaged, they just get the lessons better and faster, and they are more alert and excited. They want to learn! You can feel the energy in the room—it’s so much more heightened and fun.
What have you learned about teamwork at Success?
Working with other people is something I was always good at—I was always a team player. I’ve learned when to take charge in a group setting and when to sit back. I’ve also learned that I often get more from working in a collaborative way, from working together and understanding what other people are thinking, and how to combine ideas. In teaching two, three, and four minds are always better than one! That lesson is reinforced every day in this job.
In the workshops, during training, and in everyday life at Success, you’re working with other people. Teams meet regularly—formally and informally— and you’re working with other people constantly. There’s always someone to go to if you need help, or you don’t understand something you’re about to be teaching, or you want feedback. There are always at least two people in arm’s reach there to help you, whether it’s your co-teacher or the person managing you, like a principal. Everyone wants to help.
What else have you learned from being a teacher?
If my class is struggling with a lesson, the challenge is just to remind myself that if they don’t get it today, we can attempt it again tomorrow. I can regroup and change the lesson to be purposeful and helpful for the kids who are confused. When things don't go as planned— and that’s what happens the majority of the time when you’re working with kids—I’ve learned not to be a perfectionist. To roll with it. There’s always an opportunity to get it tomorrow if it wasn’t accomplished today. It’s just learning to be okay with not everything being exactly as you imagined it.
How have you applied all of these skills in your life outside teaching?
After going through Success Academy training, I’ve learned to become even more collaborative and strategic. Before Success, I had trouble taking feedback. Some people are really good at it and ask for notes constantly, but that was not ever something I felt comfortable with. Because giving and getting feedback is huge at Success and at my school in particular, I’ve become much more accustomed to it.
Last summer, I went back to my job working at a camp—my third year there. The organization and other skills I learned through the first year at Success helped me better manage a group of 30 adults. I am way more prepared, and I have more tools to help get things done. I noticed how much more together I am in meetings. I always know what to address. And that was something I learned through the training program.
What are your future plans?
I definitely want to keep teaching; it’s my passion. And I’m working on a master’s degree. I look at some of my friends who are also right out of college, and they’re okay with their jobs, they’re fine. But they feel a lack of purpose, a lack of wanting to wake up and go to work. Although I’m sometimes tired and not always leaping out of bed, I’m always happy to be going to work. I’m always happy to see the kids and to tackle what’s coming at us for that day.