Twenty years ago, Amy Binkowski switched up her plan to pursue business in order to start teaching, and she hasn’t looked back.
After studying retail management at Simmons University in Boston, Binkowski spent some years working in retail before realizing she “hated almost every minute of it.” Binkowski switched up after she worked at a day care and discovered her love for teaching, getting her master’s degree in education from the University of New Haven shortly after.
Binkowski, a sixth-grade teacher at East Rock Middle School, has been teaching in New Haven for 20 years and at her current school for seven. She did not anticipate becoming a teacher, despite the fact that her mother always told her she would make a great one.
Her favorite part of teaching is the social and emotional learning class her school offers. This year, the class started for the first time. In it, everyone is asked to keep their cameras on as the students discuss themselves, their feelings and current events. They’ve discussed the U.S. Capitol insurrection and the importance of elections on some days, while on other days they have worked on mindfulness and relaxation in the face of stress.
This year, teaching online has forced her to adapt to new technology. She has, in a way, become closer with some students than she would in a normal year. Now that schools are hybrid, she is nervous about adapting to having some students in person and others online –– especially balancing how to focus on one group without neglecting the other. She is also worried about her father, who lives in the house next to hers, as he undergoes radiation. Going back to in-person work during the pandemic means seeing her family less in order to keep them safer.
In her free time, Binkowski joked about whether she gets “to do anything,” saying that lately, it feels like it’s either school or family, but not both at the same time. She added that she has worked on this during the pandemic and that she’s discovered she loves cooking and reading.
When asked about advice to any future teachers, Binkowski said to “be flexible.” As a single mother and teacher herself, Binkowski seems to understand the value of this better than most, taking time from her personal life to work with her students beyond what’s asked of her.
“I haven’t done my job if they leave my room and don’t know that they are loved and to treat others with kindness and respect.”
Garrett Griffin has been teaching since 2016. He fell into teaching after majoring in accounting while he was in college and decided to pursue it somewhat unexpectedly. His mom used to tell him he should be a teacher growing up but he never believed her.
“I hope my students take … [from my class] kindness and a humanity … and a regard for others,” he said.
After being hospitalized because of COVID-19 complications late last year, Griffin is no longer nervous to teach hybrid, saying that “the worst is behind me.”
He also added that being online has made him shift his priorities as a teacher from students’ academic performance to their well-being. Seeing students not participate makes him question what could be happening to prevent them from turning their cameras on, instead of being angry at them for not showing up.
East Rock Middle School, where he teaches, is a community magnet school. This is not lost on Griffin, as he recalls having his first Black teacher when he was in first grade. He still remembers Ms. Taylor and her “warmth.” He hopes students with similar backgrounds and experiences can see themselves in him by seeing themselves leading and teaching.
“Having someone with a similar background as you … their approach, their style is familiar and it helps engage you in the classroom,” he said.
Outside of the classroom, Griffin loves music. He plays the drums and listens to gospel, jazz and R&B music –– he jokingly added that he likes older music. He wishes he had the opportunity to teach his students more music.
Griffin echoed Amy Binkowski’s advice to future teachers, saying they should “be flexible!”
“One of the major lessons this school year is our ability to be flexible. … Your attitude has to reflect your flexibility.”
Ángela Pérez | firstname.lastname@example.org