Anna Paikert ’13 has always known that she wanted to help people, and she’s always loved working with children. When she first came to Hamilton, she thought she would follow a pre-med course and become a pediatrician. While she changed directions and became a creative writing major, she retained her central purpose of helping children. This summer she will be joining the NYC Teaching Fellows, a program that enables its fellows to teach full-time in a New York City public school while pursuing a master’s degree in education. Paikert will go into special education, building on in-depth involvement in education during her time at Hamilton.
The May graduate will begin in June with an intensive training program and while also teaching at a summer school. She’ll be able to meet former NYC Teaching Fellows and learn from their experiences. In September, Paikert will begin teaching and continue taking evening classes toward her master’s degree in special education, grades 7-12, at Brooklyn College. All the fellows are responsible for finding their own teaching jobs. Paikert explained, “They want you to find a school that matches your education philosophy and where you can fit into the community.” All fellows teach in high-need public NYC schools, where they can make a significant difference.
Paikert was attracted to the NYC Teaching Fellows program because of its practicality and the opportunities it provides to advance quickly. She observed, “It’s a great program because you skip over a lot of steps.” While earning a master’s degree, the fellows receive a full-time teacher’s salary. Many fellows also continue their teaching positions long-term after receiving their master’s and teaching certification. Paikert praised the program for its emphasis on practical knowledge, rather than just theory, noting that “you can apply what you see during the day to what you learn at night.”
Paikert has been gaining experience related to teaching in special education for years. She spent several summers volunteering at Paul Newman’s Double H Ranch, where she worked with children with life-threatening illnesses. During her semester abroad in Copenhagen, Paikert completed a program specializing in students with special needs at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad. Her most meaningful experience, however, began last summer, when she completed an Emerson Grant using creative writing as therapy with children at the Tradewinds Center of Upstate Cerebral Palsy in Utica, N.Y.
“I wanted to use creative writing as a way to help children express themselves,” Paikert explained. She began by helping the students understand how stories are constructed, using learning techniques such as a board game. Eventually, Paikert helped each student to write his or her own book using creativity not only as a way to express themselves, but to work on other skills such as communication and motor skills.
In the fall semester, she wanted to bring more Hamilton students to Tradewinds and began a volunteer program there. Paikert and two other Hamilton students completed a quilting project with the children at Tradewinds. In the spring, she expanded the program even further, putting on a play with the help of seven other Hamilton students.
Paikert’s passion for teaching is clear in her plans for the future. She sees herself teaching in a public school for a while and has envisioned a number of possibilities for further down the road: “I’d love to go out West or teach in an international school overseas. Maybe one day I’ll start my own school or non-profit.” In explaining her passion for teaching, Paikert concluded, “I feel like I’m the best version of myself when I’m teaching.” In beginning a career in the classroom, it’s clear that she will not only be her best self but bring that best to help others for many years.
Anna Paikert ’13 is a graduate of Columbia High School (N.J.)