“My biggest fear was never about how to manage the students, it was about making sure I was doing right by the kids. Thankfully, everybody here at KIPP has that mentality.” Mia Disla, an Empire Teaching Fellow in KIPP NYC College Prep’s science department, is learning the art of teaching from all angles: from colleagues and KIPP leaders, through classes at the Relay Graduate School of Education, and, most importantly, from her students.

What made you decide to teach at KIPP?

I wanted to grow and be the best teacher that I could be. KIPP said, come watch how our team works, see how we talk to our kids, how our curriculum is built, how we work together. That teamwork was the deciding factor. There was also the growth aspect – that you’re not alone at any step. I feel comfortable when people come into my room because I know they’re there to give feedback. It’s about being aware of what I’m doing and finding what I can do better.

What are some of the things you’re getting better at?

I know Biology and science content really well, but strong content knowledge doesn’t mean I know how to look at it from a perspective of a new learner, especially a high school student who may not have an interest in science. I’ve learned that I really have to think about the questions I’m asking and how I get students engaged.

So, how are you getting them engaged?

Sometimes the best way to get them engaged is to bring up something controversial. In our unit right now we are discussing topics like genetic technology, gene splicing, and cloning. I’ll ask them “Is cloning ok? We can do it with bacteria, but what about humans?” That’s the type of question that draws on all the character values they’ve learned and it gets their curiosity jumping. They know that character is important in life, so they think about how their own character impacts their decisions of right and wrong. How is technology changing how we view science?

What’s the best thing you’ve learned from the KIPP community?

A student was reviewing homework in my room with another student, and he said to him “Yeah, it’s fine that you know it, but I don’t learn the same way you do.” It emphasized that not all kids learn the same way. I know I have to use multiple approaches and styles of teaching to ensure every kid can grasp it.

Veteran teachers have showed me that even small things motivate students. For example, you can tell them, “If you come to tutoring, I’ll let you sit in my chair.” That may be the thing that makes them feel like it’s a comfortable environment. It’s one of the key things I love about this school. We want you to be comfortable, we want you here, and we want you working towards your goals.