This story originally appeared in the 2020 Summer issue of the Gazette.
Jenna Konstantine is a Head Teacher in the Green Cluster at Gaynor and a participant in the New York Times Teaching Project, but she didn’t always picture herself with a career in education. Originally pursuing sociology and acting, she eventually found her calling in special education after working with City Year New York. Using her own ADHD diagnosis, she strives to help students understand themselves and how they learn, just like she did.
We sat down with Jenna for the latest installment of our “Five Questions With…” series to learn more about her journey into teaching and what keeps her coming back to work every day.
- What was your journey into teaching like? I was not one of those people who always knew they wanted to be a teacher — it was not my plan. I majored in sociology in college, because I like people and feelings, and for a while I was actually studying to be an actor. I studied theater after college. I decided to get into teaching when I applied for City Year New York on a whim. So I was a member of City Year, which is a branch of AmeriCorps. City Year is an educational nonprofit that helps support public schools. I was placed in a 5th grade I.C.T. classroom with a general education teacher and a special education teacher. At the same time, I had just been diagnosed with ADHD, and those two things kind of coincided. I thought, ‘This is where I am supposed to be. I want to be teaching. I want to be teaching students who have learning differences. I want to help students learn about themselves they way that I learned about myself much later in life, and I want to teach that are like 10 and 11 and 12, because I think that’s the best age ever.’ So the year after City Year, I started working at Gaynor as an Assistant Teacher, and I’ve been here ever since.
- How did your time working with City Year influence you as an educator? Being in City Year taught me the importance of community. I was working on a team of people. We did not have a big budget, and we were not making a lot of money. But the mindset was that you can do so much more in a group that you could ever accomplish on your own. I learned to take care of my teammates, and trust that they would take care of me, and that community mindset had helped me throughout the rest of my life.
- What is one of your favorite students stories? My favorite student story was on my first day as a Head Teacher, one of my students got stick in a swing at the park. He got both of his legs stuck in a baby swing. And I thought, ‘This is it! I had one day as a Head Teacher, and that’s all I’m going to get.’ He was stuck for about 25 minutes. I was ready to call the Fire Department, and it took five people to get him out of the swing. And on that day, I realized that whatever happens, it’s going to be okay. You just have to try your best, and eventually you will get out of the swing.
- What keeps you coming back to work every day? My coworkers. My students. The fact that the mindset at Gaynor is an individualized approach to learning, but it’s also an individualized approach to teaching. I feel like I am allowed to experiment and find what’s best for me and for my students. I feel like I am trusted. Also the parents, honestly. I feel like I’m really part of a team – again that team mindset – and that keeps me coming back.
- What are you up to when you’re not at Gaynor? When I am not at Gaynor… well, right now I’m in quarantine. I love to see plays and musicals. I am learning to love to cook and bake. I read a lot, and I love to explore New York City. I never feel like I’m not at Gaynor, because I’m always thinking of new lessons to do with my students.