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Neeloufar “Neelz” Gharavi (’02, ’04) is an English teacher at Sequoia High School, a public alternative school in the Everett School District. This is her eighth year with the school, where she’s worked since she graduated from the UW Teacher Education Program in 2004.
Neelz has volunteered or worked in schools since she was in high school, but didn’t seriously consider becoming an educator until her third year of college when she began volunteering with the Pipeline Project working as a tutor and also tutoring in the writing center at North Seattle Community College. “Experiences with both of these organizations exposed me to some of the best and worst aspects of public education. I began reading about the inequity of education around our country and its subsequent ripple effect reinforcing social stratification. I wanted to teach in order to work towards social justice: to help young people develop the skills and knowledge to improve their lives and the world they live in.”
Neelz is inspired by her fellow educators devoted to improving their practice. “Although I’ve heard of teachers who hoard lesson plans like dragons hoarding their gold, I’ve never met a single teacher who wasn’t eager to share ideas and collaborate to develop lessons and curricula.” Her students are equally as inspiring. “[For them] school is pitted every day against terrifying opposing forces: caring for disabled parents, working graveyard shifts to pay the rent, raising children, resisting addictions. Every day they come to school, they are making a leap of faith for a better future.”
Christine Stickler, director of the UW Pipeline Project was Neelz’s first mentor. “Her thoughts about education and social justice, not to mention her recommended reading lists, were pivotal in my formation as an educator.” Neelz has also been fortunate to work in a district that values professional development and feels a deep debt to the instructional facilitators who continue to share and model best practices.
Neelz’s experiences in an elementary school program for “academically talented” students continues to influence her today. “The teacher for this special program provided me with outstanding educational experiences. She also terrified and bullied me. I learned a lot from her: how to take effective notes, how to think systematically and logically, how to research. I also learned that it is all too easy to justify an autocratic discipline policy in the name of high expectations. Though I later had wonderful instructors in high school and college, I often think back to my experiences in her class, which I attended for four years. In some ways, I’ve learned the most from her, though a lot of what I’ve learned is how not to act as a teacher.”
In Neelz’s classroom, she inspires her students with the mottos: “You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” (Wayne Gretsky) and “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” (Mahatma Gandhi).
Every year, Neelz feels that the graduation ceremony is one of the best moments of her career. “Seeing each young woman and man cross that stage, nervous and proud in their black robe and cap, renews my belief in what I’m doing.”