“She was like a little sponge,” Betances remembers. “Whatever I taught her, she was able to grasp and turnkey it for the other children. It was like having another co-worker. She demonstrated at such an early age that she was like a little teacher herself.”
Hans, in turn, was captivated by Betances’ dynamic teaching style.
“It was back in the ’90s, when everyone was using workbooks, and Ms. Betances wanted us to read and do authentic writing. That was amazing,” Hans says. “She was the first teacher I felt a real connection to and identified with. She inspired me to become an educator because I wanted to be like her.”Two decades later, both Hans and Betances have gotten their wish. Hans is now a 4th-grade teacher at PS 249 in Flatbush. In May, the Department of Education posted a video to Twitter of Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza surprising Hans at her school with a Big Apple Award.
Betances, who still teaches 3rd grade at PS 131 just a few miles away, was one of the first to tweet out her congratulations.
“I cried,” says Betances. “The greatest joy of being a teacher is to see a former student accomplish so much.”
Betances’ influence on Hans didn’t end in 3rd grade. When Hans had to complete fieldwork in a classroom as an undergraduate, Betances “was the first person I thought of,” Hans says.
“When I was in her classroom as a student, I felt like I had a voice. I felt validated,” she says. “I wanted to learn how she created that environment, and I learned so much from her.”
Betances, who has been a New York City public school teacher for more than 35 years, strives to keep her teaching fresh by keeping up to date with the latest innovations. She frequently tweets out videos and PowerPoint presentations that her students have created.
“When you allow a child to be themselves, they move on to become leaders,” she says.
In Hans’ classroom, 90 percent of the students are bilingual, just as she was in 3rd grade. Each year, she uses many of the strategies she learned from Betances to help build her students’ confidence and encourage them to be engaged.
“At the beginning of the school year, it may be a struggle to get them to participate. I try to do the same thing in my classroom that Ms. Betances did: Everybody has equity of voice, everyone’s capable,” she says.
Like her mentor, Hans is dedicated to her students. In 2018, while she was on maternity leave, she prepared YouTube videos to help students strategize for state tests. She also serves as the grade leader and a model teacher in her school.
Betances, who was a Big Apple semifinalist herself in 2014, says, “Yadira is my award.”
“As a teacher, to have a former student show that something she learned 22 years ago has allowed her to have an impact on her own students, you’ve accomplished everything in life,” Betances says. “I gave her the freedom to process what I was teaching her, and I am mesmerized to see how the engagement and collaboration I built with her allowed her to move on and become an amazing young lady. I didn’t just teach her in 3rd grade. I taught her for life.”