2017 Blackboard Award Honoree: Zach Terrell

Zach Terrell; photo by Marcus Photography

Editor’s note: To read profiles of all 2017 Blackboard Awards honorees, click HERE!

Zach Terrell
Middle School Humanities, English & Logic
The Geneva School of Manhattan

Tell us about some of the special joys and challenges you’ve experienced as a teacher.

The hardest part about teaching is the continuous personal innovation it takes to do the job well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up in the middle of the night wondering about this or that text or scrawling out some thought about tomorrow’s lesson. And to be perfectly honest, I’ll keep doing it a million times over because it’s more than worth it to see students join me on that journey. More specifically, it’s a particular joy of mine to see students who think they have no interest in literature light up during class. To borrow from Robert Frost, it’s in those moments when I feel less like a teacher and more like an awakener.

Please share a special project or achievement that you are particularly proud of from this year.

This isn’t an achievement, per se, but one of the most memorable moments of the year was when we were walking back to campus through Central Park after a school-wide choral concert across town. I just happened to have a short story by Franz Kafka in my briefcase so I turned to my eighth-graders and said: “Hey, who wants to read a short story in park?” This is not a hard thing to sell where I work. We found a knoll under a large tree and for the next hour we just rolled up our sleeves with Mr. Kafka—reading, talking, laughing, questioning.

Jonathan Moore (Family Media), Zach Terrell, Roxana Reid (Smart City Kids); Photo by Daniel S. Burnstein

Over the course of your career, what do you consider your greatest accomplishments?

Creating an ongoing classroom culture where students are excited to learn is easily my greatest accomplishment. Apart from that, starting a social justice afterschool club has been particularly rewarding.

What keeps you motivated and committed to being a dedicated and hard-working educator?

Words are the primary tool that students will use to order their reality, which necessarily places reading and writing at the heart of any form of education. As it happens, language is also the primary tool by which students will change the world. As I see it, teachers are at the front lines of a tension between two worlds—the world that is and the world that could be—and it is a great joy of mine to join in the training of young minds to read the world in a way that bends toward justice. In this way, teaching English is the place where my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.