In this continuation of the 20 Years, 20 Stories series, we share a wonderful conversation we had with our 5th grade advisor and teacher of humanities and mathematics: Ariel Lantz! Despite joining SGS during the height of the pandemic, Ariel has quickly found herself at home within the SGS community. Heavily influenced by her own 5th grade experience, Ariel strives to teach in a way that inspires and motivates students to love learning - and she creates a classroom environment that does just that.
You joined SGS during the pandemic, can you talk about your experience in the beginning, and what it’s like to be back in the classroom?
My experience at SGS has been that there is no normal; we are constantly changing. Even though I joined SGS in the summer of 2020 during the height of the pandemic, I immediately felt connected to the community. There is a big emphasis on community here and there is a lot of time and space for forming those connections. Even when we were all in our little bubbles of isolation and teaching and learning from home, we still had these moments of connection and coming together. I also have a lot of autonomy over my classroom, which feels good as a teacher.
Coming back to the classroom has felt great in a lot of ways, but very difficult in others. It’s nice to be able to teach in person, but it is also a challenge because everybody has had different experiences, educational and otherwise, throughout the pandemic. So now, we are really working on finding ways to connect and come together. There’s a lot of social-emotional learning that happens in a classroom that hasn’t been happening during COVID, so it has been intense to get back to that. Overall, it’s great; this is the heart of the work. It’s not just about learning math – it’s about learning lifelong skills and learning how you fit in to the community as an individual.
What inspired you to apply to teach at SGS?
I love math now, but I grew up not liking math. I had a classic gendered experience that girls often have that led me to believe that I was bad at math. And then I did my Montessori training a few years after I started teaching and I relearned math in this really cool way as an adult. This changed my perspective completely and I wanted to share that perspective in an environment that was open to that.
When I was looking for jobs, I found SGS, and I could tell that they intentionally create a space that is student-centered and transformed the middle school experience. This is a time that is often written off as a generally bad time for everyone but here there is a real push to undo that narrative and do something different. SGS is different in that way. The commitment that SGS has to social justice and antiracism also stood out to me. It can be easy to live in a bubble and separate yourself from these things, but I didn’t want to live that way. I wanted to be around people who I can learn from and who would challenge me and put this work front and center as a part of everything I do.
What inspires you most about your students?
There are so many things. They are why I love this job and why I come in every day- even on days when it feels easier not too. I get to school, and they give me that inspiration as soon as they walk through the door. Students at this age give me hope because they can see and learn about the world in a different way. There are so many big and overwhelming problems facing our world and it’s easy to look at that pessimistically. But when I look at my students, I see them being problem solvers and creative thinkers and feel hopeful.
I also love being in a classroom with all either female identifying or non-binary students. We talk about gender a lot and celebrate various gender identities. We are in a space where there aren’t really gender stereotypes and it feels like it opens up the doors of possibility.
Are there any significant moments or events that stand out to you from your time at SGS?
Yes, absolutely. One instance was during the morning following the 2020 presidential election. When big things like this happen in the world, you can feel a lot of pressure as a teacher to face your students. But at SGS, there is so much support. Together as a staff, we took the first hour of the day to meet and process what was happening. And then we cancelled classes that morning and made space for students to ask questions, learn, reflect, draw, or whatever they needed. I really appreciated the way that SGS institutionally made time for this and took a lot of that overwhelming feeling away.
Why did you choose to teach 5th grade?
I remember clearly that, by fifth grade, I had already decided what I was good at and what I was bad at. I wanted to work with this age to open up the conversation and influence students to see learning in a different way and prevent them from shutting down their potential. I also want to be in a place where I can celebrate adolescence and teach students at such as awesome age that is so often misunderstood.
Why is this new building so important for SGS?
I am excited for the structure of the new building and the way that the classrooms open up into collaborative spaces to work together and breakdown subject siloes. I am also very excited about the possibility of cross-grade collaboration and let younger and older students work together in the classroom.
What is your approach to teaching?
A lot of what I teach is influenced by a Montessori pedagogical approach, which means I believe that my role as an educator is to guide students as they self-construct. My job is to make an environment in which they are motivated and interested in learning. It’s my goal to give them the steps to figure out a concept themselves and explore where they want to go with it and what they want to learn. I think the only way that we learn is when we want to learn, and I work to bring this mentality into my classroom every day.