By: Huda Ayaz
“Who’s your history teacher?” is a question students often hear in the beginning of the year. Although there’s a usual nod of understanding or chiming of “That’s a good teacher” upon hearing a friend’s reply, sometimes there’s the occasional “…Huh?”
Every time I’ve answered this question with “Dr. Lazarus” I’ve gotten the latter answer with blank looks. Hopefully, this feature can introduce the newest social studies teacher of The Wheatley School and alleviate the five minute explanation I have to deliver every time I mention my AP US History teacher.
Born and raised in Suffolk County, Dr. Sean Lazarus returned to New York after attaining his Bachelor’s, Masters, and Doctoral degrees at Arizona State University—“Go Devils!” he couldn’t help but cheer at the mention—to teach at the High School of Fashion Industries in Manhattan for about 5 years before switching to Wheatley this year.
When asked about his greatest accomplishments, Dr. Lazarus foremost mentioned “becoming a father to my two beautiful young daughters, Kameryn and Devyn, who are three and one.” In fact, a lot of his free time is spent playing with the two, the highlight of his weekends and time after school. “I really try to spend as much time as I can with them because they’re growing up so fast and I don’t want to miss it,” he admitted.
Outside of his relationship with his own family, Dr. Lazarus works hard to bond with his students through “inquiry-based learning activities,” a goal fueled by his belief that “meaningful relationships are the key to a positive learning environment and academic success.” He prides himself in being a “caring, genuine, and dedicated educator.”
He couldn’t pinpoint any specific memorable moments as a teacher but asserted that one of the best moments are “when students come back to visit after they have graduated or share how much of an impact I had on their lives are always memorable moments.” Sometimes, his excitement for his students’ journeys in education were what stuck out to him too, especially when students opened their college admission letters or e-mails with him. “The college application process has always been something that I took pride in assisting my students…unless they were applying to the University of Arizona…I went to ASU, there is a reason…,” he added, which you may interpret as you wish.
Outside of his memories of celebrating the achievements of his past students, the future is something he’s also excited for. “I look forward to building similar moments here at Wheatley.”
This is not to discount all of his other accomplishments though: Dr. Lazarus earned his Doctorate degree, became a published author, and owned a home before the age of 30.
Juggling all of these responsibilities are not easy. “Free time comes at a premium. It is really tough juggling both responsibilities because my kids are so young, but I like to think my wife and I are an exceptional team and rely on one another to keep ourselves on the right track. Organization is key. It is the key to every aspect of life over the lifespan. When I was in college it was a different type of busy and a different type of stress, but I still needed to be organized in order to succeed.”
Even as a student, he was dedicated to his work. Of course, it wasn’t always that way, with a rough start of school in his earlier years, it got better after a while. “By the time I was finishing up middle school and moving up to high school, I had put the pieces together to excel in my classes. High school was fun and challenging. I learned a lot from my teachers and cultivated some amazing relationships with life-long friends and lasting relationships with teachers who I remain in contact with.” This didn’t mean he neglected other aspects of his life as a student. He was engaged in many sports: “I played hockey and baseball, but baseball was the sport I focused on and excelled in the most.” His interest in sports and fitness persists today. When he’s not playing with his kids or teaching, you can find Dr. Lazarus playing golf or at a CrossFit gym where he’s been a member for the past three years.
“Teaching at Wheatley is very different than teaching at the High School of Fashion Industries (HSFI) in Manhattan. From a technology standpoint, at Wheatley we have more opportunities to immerse ourselves in technology supported learning than we did at HSFI. At Wheatley, we can dive into inquiry-based learning activities with greater ease due to our robust technology advantages. Where we are a 1:1 school at Wheatley, my classroom at HSFI had five chromebooks that would have to be shared with 34 students. Additionally, the students have been incredibly welcoming and have a drive to succeed and achieve excellence at levels I am not accustomed to. It is amazing how focused and motivated the students at Wheatley are to be academic scholars. Overall, I just think the tone is different at Wheatley than my old school. Wheatley is a very small high school in comparison to the school I worked at previously. HSFI is a school of approximately 1800 students, more than double the size of Wheatley. So, the smaller size has been a game changer for me to be able to get to know everyone faster and start making meaningful connections with students, faculty, administration, and parents.”
If you asked Dr. Lazarus what he expected to grow up to be, you probably might not have heard history teacher. “I had a lot of different career paths that I would dream about. I always wanted to be a baseball player, but I quickly realized that was more of a dream than potential reality.”
Eventually, he discovered a different interest. “In high school, my social studies teachers were the ‘coolest’ teachers in the building. Much like the social studies teachers at Wheatley (sorry other academic departments… the truth hurts. My social studies teachers were inspirational and had a great amount of influence. It also helped they were my athletic coaches too. It was through their model that I grew to love the art of teaching and I have always been really into history and politics, so social studies teacher kind of made sense. In college, I was the anomaly. I went in as a declared secondary education major and never once changed my major… definitely not the norm.”
Having had Dr. Lazarus for a while now, there’s been a recurring sentiment we students have received: a lecture teaching style is not the way to go. For a moment, I’d like to give him the stage to talk about one of his core beliefs as a teacher:
“My dissertation research was focused on evaluating teacher instructional models and which style of instruction would produce better results. I ran a semester long research project to evaluate a more traditional-lecture approach to instruction against an instructional style called a flipped classroom/inquiry-based learning approach. A traditional-lecture approach encompassed the standard PowerPoint slides and teacher-directed lecture that has been synonymous with teaching and education. The flipped classroom/inquiry-based learning approach puts the power of learning back in the hands of the students. Students drive their learning experiences through hands-on activities, research projects, and experiential activities to drive the construction of their learning and cultivation of mastery. Examples of this style of instruction would be participating in a stations activity in class with multiple pathways that are open to the student, providing students with a specific topic and allowing them to explore/research to develop their own assertions or understandings. Another example of this style of instruction is the use of experiential activities.
“We all love to hate homework, but what if it held a deeper and more personal meaning? The experiential activities challenge students to engage in activities outside of the classroom to help make sense of and construct their learning inside of the classroom. For example, on 9/11 this year I had my students find two people that lived in New York City when the terrorist attacks occurred, interview them, and then report back to the class what their findings were. The goal of this activity was for the students to make a personal connection to the content and a deeper understanding of the impact of 9/11 than they could ever get from a textbook or teacher-developed PowerPoint. So, to get back to the doctoral research, the data collected from the research reflected a distinct advantage in potential learning for students who experienced an inquiry-based learning classroom versus the traditional-instruction learning environment. Without getting too deep into the statistical analysis of the data, the students all took the same pre- and post-test and were interviewed by me to record their perceptions of the learning environment they were in. It is through the recorded data that the determination was made that a classroom grounded in an experiential inquiry-based learning environment mixed with some traditional-instruction would empower students to construct their own learning and encourage greater accountability for one’s learning.”
When asked to provide a final message to the students of Wheatley he said: “Learning is a process. It is not designed to be easy, but should be challenging. When we are challenged we learn and we grow. We need to have a growth mindset when we are in our classes, or when we are working on a research project, or college applications, or our National History Day projects (right APUSH?? ;-)). Rome was not built in a day. Each day we want to focus on constructing and cultivating our knowledge and lived experiences.”
His favorite quote is by Mark Twain and was one of the first things we heard him say when he started teaching in Wheatley: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”
“I am really looking forward to getting to know the students of Wheatley. Seek me out. Introduce yourselves. I would enjoy a chance to talk with you about you, your social studies classes, sports, or whatever you want to talk about. If you’re looking at colleges, take a look at Arizona State University. I promise you will NOT be disappointed.”