Part One: This is Why I Teach
SCHOOLS | September 3, 2020
Part One: This is Why I Teach

This is the first part of a year-long blog series. Readers will follow Ms. Petrizzo, Mr. Spangler, and Ms. Griffin throughout the year to learn how they connect with and inspire their students. 

Ms. Danielle Petrizzo, a diverse learner teacher at Richard J. Daley Academy on Chicago’s Southwest Side, had her this is why I teach moment a few years ago. 

“I had a particularly difficult student who had a mindset that he couldn’t learn and wasn’t smart,” said Ms. Petrizzo. “It took a lot of reminding him that I wasn’t going to quit on him, and by the end of year, he was reading books and writing stories, and was so excited about learning.” 

Having seen firsthand how differentiated instruction and student-centered learning environments can be transformative for her students, she committed to making remote learning feel like an actual classroom as much as possible in the spring. She continued to facilitate classroom discussions and morning meetings, and even assigned virtual classroom jobs—such as someone to mute and unmute students and someone to read the comments in the chat box. 

For the upcoming school year, she hopes to integrate additional small group instruction to help students break down their learning into more manageable pieces, noting that this will help support their social-emotional needs. She also will work with Daley’s K-2 instructional team as an Empowered Schools Multi-Classroom Leader, helping them think outside of the box when refining their instruction to improve student outcomes. 

“It’s really powerful to learn from a fellow educator because you know their guidance will always come from a place of support,” said Ms. Petrizzo. “I can’t wait to dive deep into thinking about questions such as what small group guided reading instruction can look like remotely, because while I don’t have all the answers, I think coming together will lead to great results.” 

Having discovered her own passion for music through her time in the Morgan Park High School marching band, Ms. Lauren Griffin knows how education often leads to discovering your passions. That’s why she’s excited to return to Ambrose Plamondon Elementary School—an Opportunity School in North Lawndale—in the fall to continue sharing her enthusiasm with students that remind her of herself. 

“Teaching Black and Brown kids is phenomenal and means a lot. I always wanted to come back to Chicago and teach inner city youth because those are my people and we have that connection,” said Ms. Griffin. 

In her virtual music classroom, being open with her students is the core of her entire instructional model, and she quickly realized that engagement was at its highest when she gave students ownership of their learning. She recalls her classroom being extremely lively after she assigned a project where students had to share their favorite musical artist. 

“We had a lot of fun in the spring. My students knew my pets’ names, what I put in my omelets, and how I like my coffee,” said Ms. Griffin. “Teachers are people too, so I think building that personal culture really benefits everyone and makes remote learning less challenging.” 

Mr. Jake Spangler also teaches at an Opportunity School—Christian Fenger High School in Roseland. Much like Ms. Griffin, he discovered in the spring that maximizing student engagement in his English classes started with prioritizing what students were interested in. From there, he saw his role as a facilitator to help students become more comfortable with sharing their ideas in his virtual classroom and providing feedback that highlighted their strengths and built their confidence. 

“In the spring, we read Students on Strike which got my students thinking about how they can use their own power to impact social change in their community,” said Mr. Spangler. “My push in the fall for my freshmen will be bringing in partner organizations to channel individual narratives and create empathy in the classroom, and for my sophomores we’ll be looking at identity from a holistic and global viewpoint.” 

And with a new school year almost here, these three teachers will have more this is why I teach moments as they encourage students to turn a year unlike any other into one of their best years yet. 

The first day of school is Tuesday, September 8. Visit to make sure you have everything you need for a great first day.