Alumni Spotlight: Isabella Kundu ’16

Isabella Kundu graduated from NYU in 2016 with a degree in Dramatic Writing. She is a fifth-grade English teacher at Success Academy Bronx 3 Middle School.

From my earliest years in elementary school, I always knew I wanted to go to college. I also knew that getting good grades so that I could get scholarships is how I would be independent and make choices for myself. I went to school in Massachusetts with a large number of English language learners, and I could also see that my peers were placed in lower level classes year after year simply because they entered school not knowing English. While I, along with my mostly white and native Englishing speaking peers in the honors classes, zoomed ahead, the ELL kids fell further and further behind. They didn’t necessarily have college as an ambition until high school, and by that time, it was too late for them to catch up.

Witnessing this inequity from a young age informed my interest in working in education. I wanted to play a part in helping all kids have the same opportunity I did to go to a great college and pursue their passions in small classes with brilliant professors. After college, I sought out an organization that prioritized college readiness for all students and I found Success Academy.

Success Academy valued all the things I did, including a classroom focus on critical thinking, analysis, and feedback. I majored in Dramatic Writing at NYU, and the robust discussion and feedback in my classes profoundly improved my writing and my thinking. As a fifth-grade English teacher at a Success Academy middle school in the Bronx, I am able to bring that model and mindset to my students. When they are made uncomfortable by feedback on their writing, I share with them my experiences as an undergraduate. “This is exactly what you do when you’re a college student!” I explain to them, “You constantly receive and incorporate critical feedback on your writing and thinking.”

At NYU, I had the opportunity to work as a reading tutor through a Work Study with America Reads. I knew from this experience that I liked working with kids in the classroom, but over the three years of working at Success Academy, I have discovered many other aspects of teaching that I love. For example, I never liked “group work” at school, so I didn’t expect that collaborating with my colleagues would be so fun and fulfilling. Many of my co-workers are like family to me — they make me laugh, they challenge me (we debate everything from the novels we’re teaching to the latest political developments!), and they help me through the most difficult parts of the year. Everyone has a truly “all hands on deck” attitude: When problems come up, I know I can trust my team to help me figure it out.

Another thing I have found surprising about teaching (and my non-education peers probably would too) is the variety of my daily work. Most people think teachers deliver a lesson, give an assignment, and grade homework — and that’s it. But at Success, we put an amazing amount of thought into planning a lesson and figuring out how to deliver material in a way that makes kids want to learn it. It’s like putting on a performance — and I’ve found it’s my favorite part of teaching. I love breaking down the lesson into sections that are manageable and interesting and thinking about the questions I will ask to help kids master the skill I’m focusing on. In a way, it’s like playwriting, where you have to break down the story into sections — scenes — and carefully construct dialogue that moves the story forward, advances the audience’s understanding of the characters, and entertains them!

Last but not least, I didn’t expect teaching to introduce me to an entirely new passion and potential career. Through my work at Success, I have learned that I love planning lessons, activities, and questions that will meet the needs of all my kids. The field of curriculum development is something I never even knew existed, but now I know it is the aspect of education that I find most interesting, creative, and intellectually challenging and it is the path I plan to pursue after teaching.

Attending NYU, where I got to be part of a safe and supportive community while exploring an endlessly exciting city and growing and expanding as an artist and individual, was a unique and life-changing experience. I feel so lucky that this first phase of my career at Success Academy has provided something similar: a nurturing, supportive community and the opportunity to grow personally, intellectually, and professionally — all while fulfilling my lifelong desire to help kids access the educational opportunities they need to pursue their dreams.For more information about working at Success Academy, visit their Careers page.

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