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New Teacher Profiles

Leader of the pack

Mental health counselor-turned-teacher guides her high school students
New York Teacher
Leader of the pack
Jonathan Fickies

Sylwia Nosowicz, a first-year special education teacher at Stephen T. Mather Building Arts and Craftsmanship HS in Manhattan, says "the relationship between student and teacher makes it or breaks it," no matter what the subject is.

Like their school’s mascot, the wolf, the students at Stephen T. Mather Building Arts and Craftsmanship HS travel in packs. Each “pack” of 10-12 students meets daily with a faculty adviser who guides them in social-emotional learning.

Mather’s commitment to student well-being is why Sylwia Nosowicz, a first-year teacher whose first career was in mental health counseling, feels comfortable calling the Hell’s Kitchen school “a perfect match” for her.

Nosowicz, who joined the New York City Teaching Fellows program in 2022, is working toward a second master’s degree in special education, attending classes at Pace University at night while teaching during the day.

“I tell my students all the time at the end of the day, ‘Now it’s time for me to go to school and be the student,’ ” she says. “I understand what they’re going through.”

Nosowicz is learning from her colleagues during her day job, too. As a special education teacher in integrated co-teaching classes, she works side by side with experienced teachers in 11th- and 12th-grade environmental science and geometry.

“Sometimes they’re teaching me, and then I see how I can differentiate or reteach something with my students,” she says. “I love to learn.”

Nosowicz’s background as a clinical mental health counselor is always at the forefront of her teaching.

“I very much enjoy building relationships and getting to know students,” she says. “At the end of the day, high schoolers really want to get to know their teachers. It doesn’t matter whether they care for the subject or not — the relationship between student and teacher makes it or breaks it.”

Those student-teacher relationships run deep at Mather, where each “pack” of students remains together for four years but is assigned a new faculty adviser each year. That arrangement gives the students the opportunity to form close bonds with one another and with at least four different teachers over the course of their high school careers.

During her pack’s daily advisory period, Nosowicz teaches lessons on issues such as self-esteem, respect and stress management — but she allows time and space for students to unwind, play games and go on outings. She’s also been able to integrate her prior counseling experience with activities like leading students through restorative circles.

“They have a very close relationship, and they’re very protective of each other,” Nosowicz says of her pack. “Mather tries to match each pack to a teacher that suits them, so every child in that pack is like a piece of me.”

Nosowicz says she quickly felt comfortable at Mather — a testament to the strong support she receives from her colleagues and her mentor. But her new career isn’t without its challenges.

“It’s figuring out when work needs to stay at work and what to bring home,” she says. “It’s balancing life and school — learning how to be a teacher first, then be a student after school, then a human being when not in either area.”

In her “human being” time, Nosowicz turns to her dog Felix — “my little support animal,” she calls him — and her love of Broadway shows for self-care.

She also finds herself reflecting on her own high school experiences to help her better understand her students.

“As teachers, we may not believe our students when they say it’s hard to be a high schooler because we’re adults,” she says. “But I’ve been thinking back to what it was like in high school. At the time it was all you knew ... and it was hard.”

Related Topics: New Teachers