Success Stories: Elizabeth Mashkow, Working Towards a More Equitable Education Philosophy

Elizabeth Mashkow always knew that she wanted to be a teacher. Though at times she felt discouraged from pursuing teaching and was told growing up she should take a different path, like being a doctor or a lawyer, she didn’t let outside voices keep her from her passions. She loved literature, creative writing and had an affinity for reading young adult novels — but she often wondered why her English classes didn’t excite her the way all these things did outside of school.

Her desire to be an educator stemmed in part from the dissatisfaction she felt from her own K-12 classes. “I loved my English teachers but I always wondered why we were reading these books that were so inaccessible and boring,” Mashkow said. “I just didn’t understand why we couldn’t make my English classes interesting because I loved reading and writing but I did not love the reading and writing we were doing in school.”

Now, Mashkow is a ninth grade English teacher at New Visions Charter High School for the Humanities in Queens. She also just started her first year as a graduate student at Hunter College, working towards getting her master’s degree in literacy education. Through her job and education, Mashkow is learning about the ways she can incorporate all the things she loved as a young student into her lessons and create a space where her pupils can feel seen and understood. And in New York, a city that’s so diverse, Mashkow thinks that right now is a perfect time for teachers to implement inclusive learning into their educational practices.

Her time as an undergraduate student at Hunter

An English and adolescent education major, Mashkow was part of the School of Education’s Equity and Advocacy Committee. Through coordinating events with educators and students, she was able to further her understanding of how social justice work can be implemented in schools, something that had always been at the core of Mashkow’s teaching values. She acknowledges that her time in her program of study helped her realize there was an approach to teaching where she could include young adult literature and highlight topics like equity and diversity in her lessons, something she felt her own early education lacked.

Mashkow holds her time as an undergraduate at Hunter and the community close to her heart. Some of her classmates are now close friends that share her same goals and aspirations for teaching. She’s also still close with her mentor Jody Pollock, a former professor of hers, to whom she attributes a lot of her success and teaching mentality. These strong bonds contributed to her decision to continue her studies at Hunter, and she hopes that current students are able to find ways to make those connections with their classmates and professors, even during the pandemic.

“Don’t be afraid to try to build community within your classes. Set up a group text, set up a Zoom session with people in your classes to talk through what’s happening. Join clubs even if it seems intimidating and like no one’s going, just show up,” she said. “You will find your community and eventually you will find the right people. I find that people at Hunter are generally so supportive of one another, which I feel like in academia is rare.”

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Mashkow

Teaching in 2020

In her search for a job post-graduation, Mashkow said she was committed to finding a school that aligned with her vision of social justice and equity work, and the New Visions school has provided her with exactly that. At the New Visions school, which primarily serves Black and brown students, Mashkow’s mission to implement a culturally responsive curriculum has become even more important in light of recent world events. “When educators are silent about Black Lives Matter, it communicates so much to students,” she said. “Even not saying anything can be violent because it makes people feel unseen.”

Mashkow hopes that given everything students are facing right now, teachers will be more receptive than ever to their students and the trauma COVID-19 may have caused them. She recognizes that a lot of students might fear bringing the virus back to their families once schools open back up. Her mother is a teacher as well, and Mashkow said she feels the same anxiety many of her students do about returning to school and worrying about loved ones in a time of uncertainty. Right now, she thinks that it’s important to listen to students and to be aware of what skills are most vital to teach so as not to make them more stressed than they already are.

“We’ve considered what assignments are the most meaningful for students during online learning. One of the benefits of the shift from the spring is that it’s really forced teachers to think about which assignments are the most important for students to complete skillswise,” she said before reflecting on her own experiences as a high school student. “In high schools, teachers will just throw work at students to give a grade and not think about what’s meaningful.”

Hopes for the future

Though it’s been challenging to balance going to work and being a grad student at the same time, Mashkow said her second year of teaching has been less overwhelming now that she’s used to some of the ins and outs of remote learning. But even with the challenges of teaching remotely, she feels that teachers have risen from the ashes resilient, able to face any conflict that comes their way and find unique ways to connect with their students.

“There were definitely bright spots in online learning,” she said. “I feel like I learned a lot about my students by being able to step out of the classroom and see how they interact online.”

And while Mashkow is only just starting her second year of teaching, her desire to continue to learn and grow hasn’t faltered. “It’s really important to have a foundation of working with young people,” she said. “I feel like I have so much room to grow as a teacher and I want to fully explore that.”

Eventually, she hopes to pursue a Ph.D. and maybe even dip her toe into educational policy work and journalism. But for now, she’s happy with where she is, finding that working with young people is rewarding and something she has no plans to give up anytime soon.

This article is part of The Envoy’s Success Stories seriesin which our journalists profile recent Hunter graduates, focusing on their careers.

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