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Taking the Teaching Road Less Traveled

Doctoral student Ryan Schetelick's wanderlust has led him around the world to -'a lovely little school' in the Bronx
Two photos of a beach in Zanzibar tacked to his office corkboard tell everything you need to know about Ryan Schetelick:  Travel is not mere passion, but a full-blown compulsion.
“The idea of becoming too comfortable with your surroundings is a big issue for me. I like to jump start myself and my ways of thinking about myself,” says Schetelick, a doctoral candidate in the Curriculum and Teaching Program at Teachers College and Upper School Director of the Bronx Charter School for the Arts.
Just how many points on the globe has the New Jersey native lived in or visited? Take a deep breath: “Almost every country in South America, every one in Central America, almost every state in the United States, Western Europe, Japan, Korea, Thailand. I haven’t been to Australia, but I have been to Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar.”
He taught English to wives of wealthy businessmen in Kyoto and high school students in the urban jungle of Guatemala City. He tended bar in Japan to better absorb the country’s rhythms and fell in love with Thailand’s spicy cuisine. These experiences inform both Schetelick’s world view and his approach to education, which in some ways are one and the same.
“It’s the idea that the way you are thinking and the truth that you hold may not be that cemented, that reality is different for different people in different countries,” he says. “Keeping that in mind makes you live your life in a more critical way, questioning norms, asking both teachers and students to dig a little more deeply into beliefs they hold and why they hold them.”
Reality for Schetelick these days is a converted building in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx whose current occupants speculate it might once have been used to store sausage. Now painted in colors evoking the sunny outdoors, the school is home to 300 students from kindergarten through the sixth grade, 30 teachers, and walls filled with youngsters’ artworks.
“It’s a really lovely little school,” says Schetelick, who is midway into his second year on the job as upper school director. The facility’s music, theater and visual arts teachers are mostly professionals turned educators; members of the community serve as artists-in-residents for six to 12 weeks every semester.
“The fact that it’s a small school and that it’s a charter school are two things that drew me here,” says Schetelick, who formerly worked as a literacy consultant in Newark and Manhattan. “Since I began teaching, I’ve looked for small settings, because they offer the opportunity for change.”
At 37, Schetelick not only embraces change, he pursues it. Thus the decision to shift academic focus:  After earning graduate degrees in teaching English and in English education—both at Teachers College—he’s now concentrating on the leadership track.
How does it feel to be simultaneously a consumer of education and a producer? To be honest, Schetelick says, there’s not that much difference between the two roles.
“In my mind, everything is teaching and learning. Even as a classroom teacher and now as a director in a leadership role, my day at work is full of opportunity for learning,” he says. “Every time I’m in a classroom speaking with a student is a chance to learn a little more and at the same time to apply a little learning.”

Published Monday, Jun. 1, 2009