“Ultimately I wanted to inspire the youth. I realized that I can inspire them here, 25 kids at a time, one year at a time.”
When speaking with Jay Guzman, the first thing that stands out is his zest–for the classroom, his students, and life. It’s unsurprising that following his senior year at the University of Delaware he faced a unique choice between joining the entertainment industry or becoming a teacher. Throughout his undergraduate career, he engaged in both fields, interning at Def Jam records and running his own radio show while also volunteering at the YMCA and tutoring students at an on-campus middle school. At the heart of both choices was the same passion. “I was teetering back and forth between the entertainment industry and education because ultimately I wanted to inspire the youth. I realized that I can inspire them here, 25 kids at a time, one year at a time.”
As a KIPP Bronx alumnus and as one of the first high school graduates from KIPP NYC, Jay ultimately decided to apply for the Capital Teaching Residency program at KIPP DC. When asked about what attracted him, Jay shares, “I didn’t want to be a lead teacher right away, because I didn’t want to lose generations of kids before I got good. A residency program is like riding a bike with training wheels before you gradually take them off.”
At Grow Academy, which he helped to found in 2010, Jay receives support from the administration and colleagues. Hannah Schneider, who is a kindergarten literacy coach, supports Jay and his team with observations and provides actionable feedback as they implement the Reader’s Workshop curriculum. Jay also works closely with his vice principal and kindergarten colleagues for professional support and innovative ideas.
Jay also fosters a family environment within his classroom. This year he created a heart-shaped anchor chart that says “I made a friend smile when I ___.” Each time a student does a kind action, he or she adds a post-it note and the action to the heart chart, and when the heart is full he hosts a class party. He says, “Instruction is important but if friends feel uncomfortable we can’t learn. There is nothing I won’t stop to put a post it up on the chart–it’s priority number one.”
Jay’s class has gone above and beyond, filling the heart three times this year. One particularly stand out moment of kindness happened when one student shared his chicken nuggets with another during lunch time. This spurred a domino effect of kindness. Jay says, “All of a sudden it turned into a cookout! There were students sharing food all around. It didn’t feel forced. The chart was influencing it, but it just felt natural.”
Jay’s advice for anyone looking to join our team as a Capital Teaching Resident or lead teacher? “Ask a lot of questions, and don’t be ashamed. Nobody’s coming out like LeBron James. Ask for feedback and take it. It’s a learning process, and you will get better.”