Meet Mr. Nathan
Campus: Freire Charter School Wilmington
Classes: 10th Grade Power & Money, 11th Grade American History
Leadership Roles: Soccer coach, Chess Team coach, Student Council advisor, teacher representative on school Board of Directors
Alma Mater: Millersville University
When did you decide to go into teaching?
I knew I wanted to be a teacher from 7th grade. I had this really awesome Social Studies teacher, Mrs. Groff. I’ve always loved Social Studies and history, but she really narrowed it down for me to be a teacher, so that’s what I went to college for and everything. When I got into teaching myself, I knew that that’s what I really loved.
How would you describe your approach to teaching Social Studies?
I’m not really into testing; I like to do project-based assessments and group work so that students are learning what real life is like. I tell them all the time that you don’t get tests in your job, you get projects in your job, so why am I giving you a test on what happened in America in the 1900s? That’s never going to come up in your real life. What will come up in your real life is working on a project where you have to assign roles to team members, and you have to be accountable for your part of it, so that’s how I try and run my class.
Can you tell us more about your Power & Money course?
The first half of Power and Money focuses on Power—we cover different forms of government first, then we do a real deep dive into American government. The second half of the course, the Money side, is the stock market, taxes, comparing when to buy, when to sell—basically the economic side of it that students have never had before. A lot of times they come in with a lot of knowledge of power and forms of government, and then when we finally talk about the stock market they have no idea. That's probably my favorite part of it, because it's all new to them and I get to be the first person to go over it.
How did you get involved in the after-school activities you lead now?
All the activities I do outside of school are things that I want to do. I’ve played soccer my whole life, that’s why I want to coach soccer, and I’ve played chess my whole life, that’s why I want to coach chess. I’m a Social Studies teacher, which is why I’m doing student council.
I think there’s a really big difference between seeing a student in the classroom and outside the classroom. I have a lot of students who are completely different in those two settings, and if I didn’t get to see them outside the classroom, I might not know how to properly meet the needs of that student. Inside the classroom, it’s hard to sit down and talk with people, get to know them, ask them about their weekend, their real life. But on the soccer team, I have a lot of opportunity to get to know my students.
How would you describe the staff culture here?
I get to be the Social Studies teacher that I want to be here. Paul fully trusts me as a teacher, that what I’m doing is right and is beneficial for the students. Trust is the big theme—there’s no one breathing down my neck for anything. This morning, Paul texted me that the teacher in the room next to mine was going to be out sick today, and asked if I could cover the class. Sure! No one said, “You need to do this coverage during your free period for the day.” They asked. I think that’s the overarching theme—we have a school where, even though Paul is my boss, I feel like he’s more colleague than boss. And that’s good for me.
What strikes you as unique about your experience at Freire?
I love our students here, because they know it’s a safe place. I’ve worked at two other schools where people would bring in drugs or fight and really nothing would ever happen to them. And that really brought down the whole quality of the school. But here, everyone knows the expectations we’re all bringing to the table, and they know that we hold each other to that standard. And that makes the whole school better.
I took my class up to New York City last month, and on the bus ride up there, there were so many kids who said, “This is the first time I’ve ever left Delaware! This is the first time I’ve ever been to New York City!” To work with students that are in 11th grade, and they've never left the state—I feel like it’s my duty to show them, this is the Empire State Building, this is the World Trade Center now, this is Ellis Island. And I get to be the one to do that with my students, so I think that’s awesome.
Anything else you want to add?
I just want to reiterate how awesome our students are, that I fully trust our students. I feel like if there was some kind of emergency that meant I wasn’t in my classroom, not only would my students be in the classroom safe and secure, but they would probably be doing what they would be supposed to be doing if I was there. Like if I left a lesson on the board, someone would stand up and teach the lesson to the rest of the kids, because they would know that’s what the expectation is. And I think that just says a lot about the school. It says a lot about the students and the community that we built here that everyone understands the way that things are run. They’re trying to better themselves—instead of thinking, “I’m forced to go to school,” they’re saying “I want to go to school, because I know it’s going to be better for me in the long run.”