Immersed is catching up on profiles of teachers who joined The New Century School during the pandemic. This post, though overdue, is no less important in introducing members of the community in an in-depth way!
Introducing Swati Mehta!
Swati Mehta joined TNCS in the fall of 2020 as a kindergarten teacher. In 2021, she took over one of the grades 2 and 3 classrooms. “The 2/3 classroom has a lot of high-energy friends who are curious about the world,” she said. “They have an opinion about everything and are like mini teenagers that way. It’s a lot of fun. I saw a lot of that same enthusiasm in the K/1 classroom, but these 2/3 students have the independence and helpfulness of older children who are more self-sufficient.”
Ms. Mehta is native to the area, born and raised in Baltimore County, where she attended public school. She graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1995 and went on to pursue a college degree at Loyola University. From there, it was back into the Baltimore County public school system, this time to teach. “I’ve pretty much been in education from 1999 to now and have taught kindergarten and preschool as well as tech integration for K through grade 5 in which I basically was teaching teachers and students how to integrate computers into their everyday learning,” she explained.
Ms. Mehta at TNCS
Now that she’s at TNCS, her main subjects have been the global studies curriculum and the Singapore math curriculum. Her co-teacher is Sarah Weisskopf, who teaches ELA and global studies. The 2nd- and 3rd-graders also study Spanish with Señora Noletto, Chinese with Peng Laoshi, science with Mr. B, art with Ms. Devon, and music with Mr. Warren.
Having spent so long in the public school sphere, Ms. Mehta says she welcomes being in the very different independent school environment for two primary reasons:
It’s a good different. The sizes of the classes are much smaller, and teachers have more autonomy to basically go ahead and meet the needs of the child where they are. We might have fewer resources, but we can be more creative with what we do with our students.
She goes on to explain that she brings her perspective of having been on both sides of the classroom to her teaching approach. “I’ve taught for 20 years, but I also remember what it was like to struggle as a student. I know that anxiety a student can have when they’re trying to learn math and to think, ‘This is something that’s really hard; I’ll never understand it’. Having been there, I can reassure them that even if they don’t learn it today, one day they will.”
To ensure continuity for students throughout their math trajectories, Ms. Mehta engages in planning both for incoming students with K/1 teacher Charlotte Longchamps and to prepare her outgoing students for their next phase with Ms. Sharma. This also helps sustain the individualized curriculum—the levels where her students are learning span a large range, with some learning as high as late 5th-grade math. This interdivisional collaboration makes sure teachers are supported and students stay engaged! It’s also a key piece of the TNCS ethos, insofar as TNCS hopes to educate students from age 2 through 8th grade. The throughlines that teachers create in this way mean that students are met where they are and not shoehorned into a chronology that does not serve them.
An interesting sidebar to Ms. Mehta’s math teaching is that it was somewhat accidental:
I started at TNCS as a K/1 teacher, but staffing changes opened up a 2/3 class, and I agreed to take it. Math is something that was a challenge for me growing up, but I actually love teaching it to students, especially the lower elementary math because it’s building those concepts and showing students strategies of how they can be successful at, for example adding, subtracting, and multiplying. We didn’t have a lot of these strategies when we were all growing up—we kind of just did a standard algorithm for some subtraction and addition where you borrow and cross out. Now there are so many different ways of doing it.
Speaking of the many different ways to learn math, Ms. Mehta incorporates manipulatives, drawing, and using dry erase markers in her classroom to help understand how to solve challenging problems.
Global studies, on the other hand, is no accident. “Global studies is an extension of something that I love. If I was going to be a middle school or high school teacher, I always say I would do history. History is a giant story; it’s the story of humanity.” Shown are photos from a tropical fruit tasting party when her class learned about India.
As for her time so far at TNCS, Ms. Mehta says she loves so many things about this special little school. “We’re like a family. We teachers all support one another when we have tough days, and we celebrate together when we have good days. We lean on each other. And we all eat lunch together including with our students, who we get to talk with in a different way while we eat together. I tell my students, ‘Even if you won’t be in my classroom next year, once you’re my student, you’re always my student’.”
Ms. Mehta is not only a very caring and nurturing teacher, she’s also a parent with a 14-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son. With both these hats on, she wants you to know, TNCS community, that she sees your student. “I’m a parent and a native of Baltimore, so I know that students have certain needs and challenges that they may need help with. I see the child with all their nuances. I think a parent’s fear can be that their child won’t be fully seen by the teacher and is just a number.”
In addition to her two children, Ms. Mehta says her family expands during certain times of the year when either hers or her husband’s parents come visit from India. When not hosting extended family or teaching math, she enjoys hiking and photography. She even runs the TNCS photography club after school, taking students on walks around Fells Point to snap pictures. On her own time, though, the setting might be a bit more relaxing.