The Karafin School employs thirty nine full time staff members as well as its director. The staff includes an I.E.P. coordinator, two counselors and subject teachers and teacher’s aides. This allows classes to be no bigger than six students and to have both a teacher and an aide. Another invaluable member of our staff is our school secretary.
Karafin has always employed an incredibly diverse group of educators who, as the school has evolved, have undergone complex and deep changes both as a group and as individuals. As the student body has diversified with the passage of time, so has the staff evolved to meet these changes while maintaining a positive working environment for themselves and their students. Many staff members have experienced the school’s changes firsthand; particularly those who have been at the school for long periods. These staff members note the changes that have occurred in the student body as well as how the school has adjusted to accommodate this new student body.
Flexibility is a quality which most of the Karafin staff share and see reflected in each other as something to be admired. An observation that many of the veteran staff members have made is the massive change in the nature of the students being accepted. A decade ago the student body was said to be very “rambunctious;” a rowdy group of students filled the school and, as a result, the focus on academics was much smaller. Witnessing this change and having to live through it has challenged the staff to employ its flexibility.
The faculty of Karafin serves as the backbone for the school’s mission and represents the school’s best qualities. The adjustability of the school allows individual staff members freedom to teach in their own manner with the result that students are exposed to a diverse learning environment. The staff also undergo distinct personal changes because of the extent to which they are able to apply themselves to their jobs. Many staff members have shared similar sentiments – the limits of their patience expanded, and their understanding of others developed positively.
Another result of the staff members’ ability to apply themselves so fully to their jobs is the fact that many of them are then able to relate to the students. Many of them have similar backgrounds to those of the students. Some of them had difficulty getting through school themselves, while others had the experience of completing school with a disability. One aide, who is training to become a teacher, completed a Master’s degree with dyslexia, and finds that this helped him assist his students when they have issues in comprehension. The students are also able to forge emotional connections with the teachers, which allow the teachers to create the most accommodating lesson plan possible. They know whether to give a student space on a particular day or to give an extra push. The approaches to teaching differ slightly based on the individuals, but all staff members generally exhibit the same sort of understanding of their students.
The deeply personal aspect of working at Karafin also generates challenges for staff members. One challenge the staff at Karafin faces is the dichotomy between trying to nurture students in the hope that they become well balanced individuals and rigorously challenging them academically. With the implementation of the Common Core Curriculum and all of the Regents' Exams students need to pass in order to be graduated, measuring success has become a difficult task. Creating a space that is accommodating to every student and allows each one to succeed academically is also a huge task. “Juggling all the levels and the personalities . . . it’s very emotionally challenging for a teacher,” says a math teacher, who often has several students working at different grade levels in one classroom. Other staff members also express the difficulty that comes with working with so many varied personalities and learning styles. Some find difficulty adjusting to student’s attitudes and their different levels of focus. However, regardless of the challenges that each staff member faces, the rewards that they reap are plentiful and make the experience fulfilling.
Many of the staff members describe different rewards that come with helping students reach their full academic potential. Some simply involve the positive daily interactions that they experience; however, many also expressed a great joy at having the chance to help students achieve more than they might have expected of themselves. Helping a student fully understand his or her coursework is considered a success for both student and teacher, and is an important factor for a functioning academic environment. The teachers are what keep Karafin functioning and working toward its founding mission.
Working at Karafin is a hugely personal experience. Each and every staff member has had his or her life changed as a result of working here. Faculty members have varying backgrounds in terms of educational and life experiences before coming here, but a general consensus among them is that working here is an enjoyable experience and one they wish to continue for many years to come.