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David Katz

"If I'm going to put my energies into something and try to breathe life into a project, I'm going to want to see it manifested somehow."

As children, we're all asked the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" How did you answer?

A teacher. I worked with kids all through my high school and college years. I spent my summers working at camp with children. A lot of the experience that I brought into teaching, I gained from camp.

What have been the most defining moments along your career path?

I had majored in geography because I enjoyed it as a subject. I found it interesting and wanted to explore it. While I was majoring in geography, I thought I would go into the urban planning field. We went on a class trip to Toronto and visited with the city planners there. We got to talk to them about what they do. I learned that with everything they do, they rarely see it actually manifested in the street level. It gets lost in the bureaucracy, politics, and everything else. All of their wonderful schemes and grandiose ideas are lost by the time they got to the street. I was watching those people work and talk about how their jobs work, and I was really discouraged. If I'm going to put my energies into something and try to breathe life into a project, I'm going to want to see it manifested somehow. I don't want all of my work to get lost somewhere else. With teaching, the work that I do is sometimes immediately successful. You see it with someone learning something, changing their views on something, or opening their mind a little bit. You're able to see that sometimes almost immediately. So that's what attracted me to teaching once I got into it.

How did you get your big breaks?

I started as a substitute teacher, so I gained some experience that way. I received a lot of support from my familywhich is made up almost entirely of teachersas well as from the other teachers in the school I was teaching in. They served as mentors, friends, and comrades and helped me to get through those first years while I was building up experience.

What was the best advice you received when you were first starting out in your career?

I didn't have a teaching certified when I started. The city of New York was so desperate for teachers that unfortunately, a bachelor's degree is all you need to get started. It is necessary to keep working toward being certified by the state of New York though, to work towards a master's degree, which I have done. I knew that in the city, it was possible to get a job without the proper certification because the need is so great. As I've been teaching, I've been going to school, amassing the credits that I need to satisfy the qualifications for certification in the state of New York. I will have my master's in the spring of this year. At that time I will also have my certification.

What have you learned from your experience?

There was a lot of learning to do, as far as what is actually expected of teachers. The idea that we work a certain amount of hours and are finished and the only work we do is what students see is false. It's a misguided idea. What I learned is that there really is a lot to the job, in terms of planning, discipline, classroom management, philosophies of education and learning, and dealing with children and parents and the difficulties that they have. Every child comes with a great deal of baggage in terms of what's going on at home, and that's something that I found more surprising than I would have liked. I had to jump right in and deal with some very serious issues in children's lives and know that I was going to have a very stong impact on those lives. It's a frightening thought sometimes.

What most excites you about your job right now?

Knowing that what I do truly matters directly to somebody's life.

On a scale of 1-10, how relevant was your academic major to your career? (1=not at all, 10=absolutely essential)


What would you like to have achieved by the last day of your career?

I want to continue to become more educated. That will help me in the classroom. I'm almost finished with my first master's degree, and I see myself also going for other degrees. I don't see myself ever stopping.

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