In Conversation: Alexis Viele and Eunice Lee
After teaching at Harlem Academy for four years, Alexis Viele convinced her most esteemed colleague from her former school to come teach the grade above her. Ms. Viele is the lead teacher for third grade, while Ms. Lee is the lead teacher for fourth-graders.
With 11 years of teaching experience, why is Harlem Academy where you want to teach?
Viele: The families and the students are a huge piece of why I want to teach here. Our families are so committed to making sure their children get every opportunity. It’s inspiring to see our kids’ earnestness and willingness to approach difficult situations. They may stumble a few times, but they work hard to achieve their goals. That’s exciting to see, and I think it’s something special to Harlem Academy.
It’s also the passion and integrity of the administration, their desire to constantly improve, their willingness to partner with teachers to find our strengths. At Harlem Academy, teacher voices are really heard.
Is that how you convinced Ms. Lee to join the Harlem Academy team?
Lee: She had been telling me about HA for years. She knew the mission of Harlem Academy would fit into my identity as a teacher much more than where we were before.
Viele: Before she started, we talked about how it's a lot of work, but it's worth it. You can see the impact that it’s making. It is inspiring and encouraging. Even the long days or the hard days are good days.
Do you have a favorite subject to teach?
Lee: I love teaching math because there is hands-on connection, and opportunity to relate concepts to real life. I like that there is only one answer, but there are so many ways to get to that answer, which makes math beautiful. On the opposite end of the spectrum, writing is my favorite, because you can draw out the creativity in students. They start to realize, “Oh wow, I'm sharing my voice with somebody, and I’m sharing my story” and then they start to love it.
Viele: For me, it’s math and reading. As a student I found math challenging, so I get excited watching kids have their “aha” moment as we work through it. In reading, we’ve refined the third-grade curriculum to help them find the patterns in storytelling and to begin doing character analysis in a thoughtful way. They love this.
What do you want to make sure your students know by the time they move on to the next grade?
Viele: I hope they walk away knowing that that no matter what challenges happen in the future – inside or outside of school – that they have advocates. I teach them to try and to stumble and to enjoy the messiness that is learning, both educationally and in life.
Lee: Well, I just want them to know how to spell there, their, and they’re correctly! Really though, I want to prepare students for the challenges ahead in middle school. In fourth grade, we stress maturity, independence, and responsibility. We model what these skills looks like – studying for a test or keeping organized, for example – and then encourage them to practice on their own so it becomes a habit.