Taylor O'Sullivan
Relay Resident Spotlight: Taylor O'Sullivan

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

As a product of an ethnically, racially, and economically diverse public education system, I was fortunate to be raised in an environment that valued the differences amongst students and fostered an environment in which students can work together to achieve common learning goals. Yet, I was not unaware that some students faced large and complex barriers to academic achievement. As I progressed through school, those unaddressed barriers exerted greater influence, often limiting possibilities for future achievement. It became very apparent to me that students who faced achievement obstacles because of their language, race, gender, ethnicity or economic status required additional support from dedicated teachers, mentors, and advocates.

Everyone wants to believe that their career choice will improve the world that they live in for the next generation. I thought I would be an attorney, fighting for social justice by providing a voice to those who have been marginalized in our society. Yet, my goals and dreams took a dramatic turn following my experiences observing teachers in a NYC Charter School. I saw firsthand how teachers change and improve the world, one student at a time. I graduated from the University of Florida in May 2018, with a major in Political Science and two minors in both Educational Studies and History. I am currently employed at Democracy Prep Endurance Middle School where everyday I am proud to say I am part of the change I saw in NYC Charter Schools.

What inspires you to do the work that you do?

I believe that teaching is an act of social justice. Charter schools serve minority students that often come from low income communities, and prepares them for the world and beyond. By creating a nurturing environment for these students, teachers are able to single-handedly change students' lives by helping them develop a strong sense of character and how they interact with others. Teachers can change students' lens on how they view the world and serve as a source of inspiration. Furthermore, I believe that students are given the opportunity to change the way teachers view the world, and teach them new lessons based on the values they were raised with. Teaching as an act of social justice allows students to develop a relationship between themselves and society, as they can fulfill their roles in society as they prepare for college and beyond.

How has relay helped you to become a more impactful teacher?

The Relay Teaching Residency is an exceptional program that provides a supportive environment that challenges me everyday to develop into an outstanding educator. The program provides an extensive concentration on the development of key foundational skills and a graduated schedule of increasing responsibilities in the classroom under the mentorship of outstanding faculty in the role of Resident Advisors. The deliberate practice methodology to foster the development of complex skills is a unique highlight of this program. Every week, Residents from around the city come together to practice and learn the skills needed to perform in the classroom firsthand from experienced teachers. I can't imagine a better strategy to receive feedback, work on improvements, and assess my growth than receiving detailed feedback from expert faculty on my actual teaching performance. I believe that the structured mentoring approach, with gradually increasing classroom responsibilities, deliberate practice model for the development and mastery of complex skills, and curriculum that supports personal and professional development has best prepared me to assume the challenges as an urban educator.

At relay, we truly believe that a teacher is one of the most impactful people in a students’ life. Can you share with us someone who has impacted your life in a similar way?

My ninth grade social studies teacher impacted my life in a way that words cannot convey. Mr. DiLeo not only sparked a love of history in me, but a love of learning in a way that I never experienced before. He was a first year teacher who dedicated endless time, resources, and care for every single one of his students. He was passionate about the subject matter, and inspired students to also develop a passion for history by demonstrating how history helps us to understand current events and make sense of our world. I am motivated every single day to be the teacher to my students that he was to me. We worked inside and outside of the classroom together, and even created the first ever Social Studies Honor Society at my high school!

What do you love about teaching in your city/town?

I currently teach at Democracy Prep Endurance Middle School, located in Harlem, New York. I love teaching in such a strongly connected community with much history and a great vision for the future. The biggest natural resource in Harlem is the talents of residents, in which there are many commonalities, but also much diversity. I love that students in my classroom reflect the community's interests in arts, music, social justice, and the energetic pace of life.

Tell us one word that you would use to describe your students. What inspires or resonates with you about them the most?

One word I would use to describe my students is unbounded. They reflect the capacity for development and growth inside and outside of the classroom. My students are very aware of the world around them and actively seek change. One important role I play as an educator is to help them explore and develop their potential to be better students, citizens and their unlimited potential.

Do you have a favorite quote, movie or book that helps motivate you & the work that you do?

"Success isn't about how much money you make. It's about the difference you make in people's lives" - Michelle Obama. This quote inspires the work that I do because as an educator I believe that every student in my classroom has an individual purpose and that they can all make contributions to the world around them. True success is not measured by money or what zip code you come from, but about your impact on those around you.