MAKATCHE KNOWS ALL ABOUT the frustrations of trying to make a difference. As a fifth-grade elementary school teacher in one of Manhattan’s most troubled neighborhoods just outside the Bronx, she feels it every day she walks into her classroom.
“You enter every day feeling like a failure,” says Makatche, 25. “It’s hard because it feels like the world and the system are against me and my students, and I have to be the cheerleader for myself and 30 little 10-year-olds on a daily basis. It’s a joy to do so, don’t get me wrong. But it’s also a challenge. An incredible challenge. Entering feeling like a failure is not because there is a lack of success happening in the classroom. It’s because there is so much left to be done.”
It’s almost 11 a.m., and Makatche’s fifth-graders have just closed their history books and taken out their math materials. Makatche wheels an overhead projector to the center of the room, somehow managing to keep an eye on all 30 kids at once. This has to be done quickly. Efficiently. Their attention is precious and fleeting, and in one fluid motion, she flicks on the projector while uttering these magic words: “OK. One, two three, all eyes on me!”
And then, in perfect unison, her class responds: “One, two, all eyes on you!”
The math lesson is underway.
At Susquehanna, Makatche studied French, Spanish and secondary education, earning degrees in all three disciplines. After graduating, she applied to Teach For America (TFA), a national organization that places recent college graduates in two-year teaching commitments at troubled urban and rural schools. It was TFA that placed her here at P.S. 152, Dyckman Valley School.
Now in her fourth year, Makatche still marvels at the challenges she faces. “Sometimes I sit back and think, ‘I’m an elementary school teacher?’ I never thought I would be doing this,” she says with a laugh. But one would never know it to watch her teach, as the job seems to come so naturally. She is firm but funny; patient but swift; and when there are discipline problems, she handles them without disrupting the flow of her lesson.
But her greatest challenge is not misbehavior; it’s the disparate educational levels at which her students are operating. “It was shocking to see how far behind they were, particularly in light of how intelligent they are,” she says. “Not to say I was shocked at their intelligence. Rather, I was shocked that such bright kids could be so incredibly far behind.”
While Makatche isn’t shy about the emotional, physical and mental strain this job puts on her, she seems strengthened rather than discouraged by the challenge.
“It’s taken me a while to get used to the struggle, but the reason I am here is incredibly important,” she says. “And that has kept me coming back at the end of every year.”