Hi, my name is Manny Zapata and I am a recent graduate of the Master of Arts in Education Policy program, specializing in Law, within the Education Policy and Social Analysis Department at Teachers College. I am a proud NYC native residing in Harlem, NY as well as an Afro-Latino with roots in the Dominican Republic. Prior to attending Teachers College, I worked as a 7th grade English Teacher at an intentionally diverse charter school in Brooklyn, NY. Fascinated and motivated by my professional experience as an educator in a classroom, I came to TC with a desire to further understand the critical problems that affected my middle schoolers both in and out of the classroom, as well as to gain a grasp of the political, legal, bureaucratic, organizational, and social factors that affect both schools and the broader educational enterprise.

The Digital File

This article is part of the TC Digital File, an ongoing series spotlighting the efforts of TC faculty members to adapt and enhance their teaching in a new era of remote learning.

My current research interests focus on urban school reform, race, and equity in the legal context of schooling, and boys of color and identity development in academia. Within my first month at TC, I gained the opportunity to become an Arthur Zankel Urban Fellow, assist a professor on research, and work in the Office of Admission as a Student Ambassador. When I am not in school, I love to travel, read, and catch up with friends.

Q: What have your classes been like online? What was the transition like?

My classes have remained entirely the same regarding content. The only significant difference is how the information is being delivered. I completed a previous master's degree entirely online, so the transition wasn't as difficult for me. My biggest challenge has been the lack of sufficient work-from-home space, which is, unfortunately, a relatable aspect for many people as we adapt to an online learning platform. This entire experience has been one of learning and growth. It has solidified this idea of technical education as a multifaceted way of creating and sustaining community, even in a distanced format.

[Read a story about how TC moved at warp speed to take its courses online. Now the College is redefining virtual instruction.]

Q:  Explain the ways in which you are staying connected with your professors? Your classmates?    

Thankfully my professors have been flexible in understanding the challenges that we are facing throughout this pandemic. I have been able to communicate all concerns regarding course work completion, and many of them have altered their syllabi and increased their availability to accommodate students' needs.

As for my classmates, we are constantly talking through virtual chat. We share resources (i.e., academic, personal, health, etc.) to encourage productivity and safety. Often times we reserve time to catch up, whether it's through a virtual happy hour or agreeing to log into class a few minutes early. This allows us to continue a semi-normal routine in comparison to our campus life at TC.

Q: Have you had any interesting experiences while making the transition?

This entire experience has given me the opportunity to slow down and really tackle things one at a time. While many people are feeling bored at home, I am feeling relaxed and focused on completing the things that I do have control over. I get to have more autonomy on how I choose to be productive on a daily basis. 

Q: Do you have any tips for prospective students on how to be successful in online learning, both generally and in the TC context specifically?

The best advice that I can provide regarding success in online learning, especially at TC, is to always communicate your needs as a person first and a student second. This is a time for understanding and communication above all else. Another big tip:  try to remain organized and schedule manageable goals that you would like to accomplish each day. Don’t feel overwhelmed when trying to maintain the same speed that you normally do. Don’t be hard on yourself if your day is not as productive as you would have liked.