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New Teacher Profiles

Learning can be a piece of cake

Longtime student now making the grade at front of the classroom
New York Teacher
Jillian Demery
Erica Berger

Jillian Demery feels her accounting background has helped prepare her for remote learning.

It’s funny how we realize we’re finally on the right path. For second-year teacher Jillian Demery, it was a piece of cake.

“One day in science we were talking about mixtures — how in some mixtures the ingredients are invisible and in others you can see the different parts,” she explains. “One of my students said, ‘You know, like a cake. It’s actually both, because the cake is a bunch of substances and you can’t see them. But once you put the frosting on and then another layer of cake, you can take that apart. And I was like, ‘Yes, you got it!’ It’s a rewarding feeling, and I knew becoming a teacher was the right move.”

Demery remembers being in 1st grade and thinking, “I want to be that person standing at the front of the room teaching everybody else.”

But she also loved going to school and got sidetracked, earning degrees in English and accounting, so it was a while before she became a teacher.

Demery started taking courses toward her master’s in education a decade ago while she worked as an accountant. When she became pregnant, her work plus graduate school was overwhelming. Three children later, she’s back at graduate school — she finishes her master’s in the spring — and she’s teaching 5th-grade special ed at PS 116 in Brooklyn.

Why not math? “I’ll tell you a little secret,” Demery said, “I hate math.” 

But her accounting background has served her well. A self-described organizer, numbers, spreadsheets and technology work for her. “I think that’s why I do so great with remote learning,” she says. That and the fact she likes to try new things. For example, she taught herself Google Forms and then trained her colleagues.

The business world taught Demery to multitask, another asset in the classroom. And it showed her that everybody thinks differently. “That applies in the classroom as well,” she said. “Every child learns differently. You have to know which child needs a visual, which child needs something repeated or something read. Seeing it from the adult side, I was able to do it easily in the classroom.”

The communications skills she mastered in the business world have helped her communicate with students and with teachers, including the two general education teachers who are part of her 5th-grade team. “From Day One, they took me under their wing and really helped me grow,” she says. “Their experience in the classroom has helped because they can say, ‘This is what we do in a normal school year.’” 

Then Demery uses her technology skills to translate that for remote learning. She created instructional videos to teach students how to use FlipGrid and the Amplify Science Apps, she implemented Pear Deck and Padlet in lessons, and she created Quizlets for vocabulary help.

Demery, who teaches both remotely and in-person, says remote learning is hard and frustrating — for herself and for her students, who benefit from the structure of school and from interacting with their peers. 

“Sometimes we’ll end a Google Meet and they don’t want to get off,” she says. “They stay on and talk or do homework together. They need that.” 

Whether in-person or remote, Demery says she’s a different person now and much happier. 

“And at some point I do plan to get a doctorate,” she says, “probably in English. I love English.”