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April 7, 2021

Jordan Wolf: From Subway to Student-Learning Advocate

Sarah's Summer Road Trip

This interview with Jordan Wolf is part of Sarah’s Summer Road Trip: Uncovering the Secrets of Great Teaching. Engage with the Zaption tour of Jordan’s classroom and ride along on the road trip!

Like many teachers, Jordan Wolf’s path to the classroom was more happenstance than planned. Also, like many teachers, Jordan Wolf knew immediately he had found his passion.

As an environmental consultant, just out of college, Jordan recognized that his love for science and research was being overwhelmed by the politics of his consultancy work. Then, one auspicious day on the New York City subway, he read an advertisement from the NYC Teaching Fellows offering an alternative credentialing system to become a teacher. He signed up, was accepted, went through an intensive two-month initiation program, and started student teaching while finishing his coursework.

Like many second-career teachers I’ve met over the years, Jordan was already aware of his love for a particular content area, but just needed the right way to channel it: a classroom.

“A lot of people don’t know they’d be suited for the classroom,” he noted. “Getting into education is a very personal decision.”

It is, but one that Jordan knew was the right fit immediately. That isn’t to say his early days of teaching were all magical. His first year was tough. Really tough. But as he found his way to Flushing International High School, he also found his way to a group of colleagues who were passionate, dedicated, and ready to help Jordan find his way to creating an effective classroom.

Jordan’s school is dedicated to immigrants, which means that all of his students are English Language Learners, and somewhere along a continuum of English acquisition that spans from beginners to nearly fluent speakers. The model of his school and classroom is one that honors the experiences students come with, the necessity of collaboration, and the value of heterogeneity.

You can see this in his project-based learning classroom, where Jordan finds ways to challenge students by getting them to ask their own questions, create their own hypotheses, and construct their own learning. But as seamless as he seems to be now, Jordan recalls his early fear about teaching students with whom he didn’t share a common language and his subsequent realization: “I learned you can communicate with everyone. You use any resource around you and talk with kids as much as possible. The name of the strategy is ‘any and all means.'”

Jordan describes himself as a passionate teacher. His students would say he never gives up on them. And one of the most interesting “secrets” he revealed to me was the way he stays engaged and present in the classroom: he won’t teach anything he wouldn’t want to learn about himself. In fact, he says whenever they do a project, it has to be something he’s genuinely curious about and doesn’t know the answer to.

“If I already know the answer then I feel like I’m cheating them out of discovery.”

As an ELL teacher, Jordan is equally passionate about the way we perceive and work with our language learners.

“They’re not helpless or uneducated. They’re here to learn,” he says. It’s this sense that all students share this innate desire to learn, while also needing individualized opportunities to learn, that makes Jordan Wolf’s classroom the kind of place any learner would want to be.


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