Joining the Wheatley staff late last school year, Ms. Clarke, Cynthia Schwartz’s replacement, had the near impossible task of living up to Ms. Schwartz’s standard of educating and engaging her students. As a student who had Ms. Schwartz for two years, one of those years being the year that Ms. Clarke came, I was fearful that her replacement would not be as charismatic and loving as Ms. Schwartz was as a teacher. And my fears became a reality: Ms. Clarke is not charismatic and loving in the same way as Ms. Schwartz, but that’s because she’s something different entirely, something equally as inspiring, if not more so.
Ms. Clarke is different than any other teacher: she teaches by confronting and addressing distraction. Every day in class, at approximately 7:46 am, Ms. Clarke would begin the class by asking, “What do you guys want to talk about.” It may not be Ms. Schwartz’s “How are you,” but it is equally as enticing. When interviewing Ms. Clarke, I asked her if she implements this style in all of her classes. She replied, “I do this with all my classes, especially the older kids. If students come in with certain stresses, desires, or are still thinking of the weekend, it’s distracting.” Ms. Clarke believes students, especially when they get older, are not frequently given the opportunity to express what’s on their mind. She believes this is an issue due to the rigor of coursework and the stress teachers feel to cram information and material into their classes in order to make their students prepared for a Regents or AP Exam. However, by breaking the boundaries in the classroom, Ms. Clarke creates a productive and stimulating classroom. On one occasion, my class opted to discuss gun violence in the U.S. and how we could get involved in solving the issue. From one simple question posed by Ms.Clarke, our class was educated on civil discourse. Of course, there are less serious days too. For example, our class once discussed FortNite before jumping into the roaring twenties. No one was educated on civil discourse that day, but they were more inclined to learn and listen to Ms. Clarke. Karan Amin, a former student of Ms. Clarke’s, said about this method of teaching: “It really works. I love Ms. Schwartz, but with Ms. Clarke I am so engaged by our conversation before we begin learning that I’m never bored.”
Ms. Clarke’s successful style of teaching goes beyond engagement, though. It creates among students the interest and desire to learn the material and excel. Take last year’s US History AP Exam score distribution for Wheatley Students, for example. Last year, there was a 72% passing rate (receiving a score of 3 or higher on the exam) compared to the average passing rate of 59% for the last four years at Wheatley. Although always well above the national average, the year Ms. Clarke began teaching represents a considerable spike in Wheatley’s passing rate.
Ms. Clarke’s efforts to engage and make use of distraction goes far beyond the classroom as well. She has made it her mission to get involved in our school community and “establish herself.” For Ms. Clarke, teaching “is more than just teaching the subject; the best teachers know about their students and have a good relationship with their students.” Ms. Clark believes that the most effective way to develop those relationships and understanding is to get involved in extracurricular activities. Currently, she is the Model UN Club and Team advisor, as well as the eighth grade class advisor. She wants to “allow [her] students to see [her] in different situations and environments” because “the classroom can sometimes be restrictive for students.” This ideal is based on her philosophy that human connections arise though mutual caring. If she shows her students she cares for them and is willing to give up her free time for them, they will be “more attentive and excited” in class. The aforementioned statistics definitely strengthen that claim.
I was wrong to have compared Ms. Clarke to Ms. Schwartz when she first arrived. Ms. Clarke is loving and charismatic, and although she may not be as loving or charismatic as Ms. Schwartz, her relatability and unconventional style of teaching thrusts her right next to Ms. Schwartz and her educating standards. Ms. Clarke is her own teacher with compelling and evidently effective styles of teaching; she was the best replacement for Ms. Schwartz that any student could have asked for.
Welcome to the Wheatley family Ms. Clarke!