“I felt like my career as a pilot didn’t have a purpose. It wasn’t fulfilling; it was just a way to earn a living. I decided to turn to the education profession.”
Ray Badal, an NYU Teacher Residency alum who graduated in 2018, found his purpose by becoming a teacher. From the moment he stepped into the classroom, he focused on how to positively impact the lives of his students and bring equity to the forefront of education.
After he left his career as a commercial pilot, he worked as a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) specialist at the YMCA. That experience prompted him to have a long conversation with his family and decide to become a teacher. “I’m of East Indian descent from the West Indies. My East Indian heritage is predicated on the importance of teachers, or ‘gurus’, within society. As a result, teaching is considered to be one of the most respected professions you can have in life. You help other people grow in so many different ways.”
“I wanted the quickest way to get into the classroom, without wasting time since this was a career change for me. However, I wasn’t looking for a program that would just funnel me through. I read some of the experiences of previous teacher residents and decided the Teacher Residency was the best choice for me. I was further drawn into the program because of its lens on equity [in education], pedagogical perspective, and immersive experience.”
Impacting structural inequities
“I needed space to bring up the inequities that I noticed.”
Once his residency began, Ray immediately took an active role to address issues of inequity and share his students’ voices. He joined the Equity Team at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School (BCPS), where he completed his residency.
“I joined the Equity Team at BCPS to determine how to bring equitable instruction for students with various racial and self-identity backgrounds such as gender and LGBTQ. We explored how to create a curriculum that aligned to students and their beliefs.”
He continues to serve on an equity advisory committee at Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School (MELS), part of the NYC Department of Education public schools. The focus of the committee is to provide professional development for teachers and create culturally responsive experiences for students.
“As a team, we also provide schoolwide trainings on recognizing situations that may cause students to feel isolated or awkward – where we might be overstepping our boundaries as teachers without respecting where a student comes from.”
“I also secured a position as a crew team leader at MELS. My role is to meet with the other crew team leaders in Grades 6-12 to develop curriculum topics for crew. Crew is a place for students to socialize and discuss racial equity, social justice, self-identity, current events, and restorative justice. It exemplifies every reason why I became a teacher.”
During the spring of 2020, this work increased in importance. COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement spurred new and urgent conversations among students and staff at Ray’s school.
“We have a very mixed-race student body at MELS. We had students of multiple ethnicities and races asking, ‘Why aren’t we talking about this?’ We had to really ask ourselves if we wanted to add to students’ plates to discuss racism on top of the pandemic. But our kids were saying that we need to talk about this for our Black students and members of the Black community. Advocacy and stewardship are two of our main core values at MELS, and here our students were embodying these ideals.”
Ray worked alongside teachers, administrators, and guidance counselors to understand how topics like Black Lives Matter can be extremely emotional for students, and how to be responsive to their needs. “We had a discussion about having cultural conversations in the classroom since a lot of teachers are not comfortable in that area. Thankfully, the Teacher Residency taught me how to do this.”
Building relationships that make a difference
While Ray works to affect structural inequities, he recognized that true equity work often begins with the relationships he builds with students.
“I am trying to figure out the ways in which I can bring equity to the classroom, from eliminating biases to discussing cultural backgrounds. The first thing we had to do in the Teacher Residency was walk around the neighborhoods of our students. I still do that every September and every time I get a new student. I walk their neighborhood to understand what they experience.”
Ray conducts student surveys to find out where they are from, what they identify as, and what they connect with – from countries to cultures to favorite foods. He then embeds those backgrounds and interests into the curriculum.
“I like to open up my classroom to students as a safe space every day during lunch. This open-door policy has helped students who struggled to make connections at the beginning of the year, forge amazing friendships with other students who are from different cultures, races, identities, and grades. I owe the success of this in part to the emphasis that the Teacher Residency placed on establishing a community for students as well as the importance of student voice within their classrooms.”
The Teacher Residency, with its focus on students as individuals, helped Ray authentically connect with students. “Once you build rapport, you realize they are just as nervous and curious as you. As teachers, we must build the bridges to form these relationships.”
Ray’s approach with students has constantly changed and grown since beginning his teaching career.
“My biggest takeaways [from the initial years teaching] are being able to take chances with students and show them that I am learning as well. I have seen my confidence grow, and it started with the feedback from the Teacher Residency. Frank [Pignatosi], my residency director [at NYU Steinhardt], never rushed our post-observation meetings. It was so good to sit down and pull apart everything that was happening in the classroom.”
“When a student asks a question, I often tell them I don’t know the answer so then I can have them research it. This was another great lesson that I learned from the Teacher Residency. It shows my students that ‘this is your classroom, I am here to make sure you are learning, and I’m not going to feed those answers to you.’ It is a far stretch from my pre-Teacher Residency days in which I thought I needed to prove that I ‘knew everything.’ My level of confidence in being able to use each moment as a teachable moment came from the Teacher Residency.”
Ray’s colleagues are a significant part of his development. He takes advantage of the various levels of their experience. “There’s often apprehension to reach out for help or admit your struggles, but I guarantee someone will send a lifeline. You have to advocate for yourself; it’s the same thing we teach our students in terms of self-advocacy.”
He offered advice to prospective teachers: “Take chances with students and the people at your school. They are a resource for you.”