Jessica Hahn, Explore Charter School

Jessica Hahn has taught elementary grade children for six years in Phoenix and New York City. She has a master’s degree in literacy from Teachers College and began doctoral work in curriculum and teaching there as well. She is a member of the Teacher Leaders Network and currently teaches 1st grade in Brooklyn.

I turned the page of Maya’s measurement test. There was no answer on the line. I glanced up towards the picture of the object to be measured and saw that Maya had written a note to me:

“Dear Ms. Hahn, I can’t answer because there are gaps between the units.”

Could she be right? I looked at the tiles lined up to the side of the object.

Tile, tile, tile. Gap. Tile, tile. Small gap. Tile.

And I smiled, delighted because getting my mistakes called out by students is a sign of my success as a teacher. They not only ‘got it,’ but they are also comfortable and confident in their ability and knowledge. They are not afraid to be wrong — or to suggest that I could be wrong.


Jessica Hahn reads to her students.

At the beginning of the year, I had this student who took one look at an unfamiliar math problem and broke down. He scratched his pencil up and down the paper, poked holes in it, eventually crumbled it up, and began crying. Now, he’s the Little Engine that Could. Reaching tough spots, huffing and panting and even still crying a bit, but trying. Rather than destroying his work, he meets it head on.

Each year, I meet with small groups of students for targeted reading instruction called guided reading. Children in first grade make the greatest leap in their early reading lives. And I get the privilege and responsibility of sitting with them, listening to them read, and choosing the exact prompt (“Try something else.” “Go back and reread.” “Look for a part you know.”) that will push them to become accurate, independent, growing readers.

Three little words are the heart of the enterprise: Try. Something. Else. In the world of a reading teacher, those are three pretty powerful words. And I get to use them — often.

I love teaching because I get notes from my students that say:

“Dear Ms. Hahn, Thank you for teaching us to learn and grow.”

A classroom is filled with mistakes, but they are to be celebrated and used: Mistakes that lead to deep understanding or a better way of teaching something. Mistakes that make us grow. Mistakes that lead to success. Every moment in a classroom is filled with endless possibilities.

And I get to push and protect and nurture the children so that it isn’t only in first grade that the world seems to be their oyster. In 2nd grade, 3rd grade, and beyond, school is still a burning, green light. I love teaching because the green light of Gatsby’s world is still alive in my first grade classroom.

3 Responses to “Jessica Hahn, Explore Charter School”

  1. Joe Nathan 13. Apr, 2012 at 9:11 pm #

    This is a person who understands what it means to be a teacher. Being open, looking for growth, encouraging students to question. John Holt once said that real teaching license is a note from a student saying, “I love you.” Sounds like at least some of Hahn’s students really care for her. Clearly, she cares for them. She looks to her youngsters with optimism and hope.

  2. Joe Nathan 14. Apr, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this, John. This person appears to have many qualities of a fine teacher. She’s open, encouraging, optimistic and ready to acknowledge she does not have all the answers. John Holt once said that the real “teaching license” is the first note from a student who says she/he loves you.
    I agree that mistakes help us grow. And I think positive, optimistic, caring teachers are the ones who make the most positive difference with young people.

  3. Kizzy Rodriguez 10. May, 2012 at 1:32 am #

    This is the story of a teacher who understands and believes in the autonomy of a classroom. Jessica your students are sooo lucky to have a teacher like you. Jessica, I am fond of your ability to continuously promotes critical thinking and provide them with multiple opportunities to construct meaning.

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