Six new teachers begin their first year at Whitman

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Greer Vermilye

Pictured: Whitman’s six new teachers for the 2020–2021 school year.

By Skylar Chasen

At the start of the school year, Whitman welcomed six new teachers. The challenges for these educators have been twofold: not only have they had to adjust to instructing at a new school, but they must also grapple with the new virtual learning landscape for their first semester at Whitman. 

English

Sophia Vick has been teaching for 11 years. She began her career in Massachusetts before moving to the D.C. area, and taught in the southeast part of the district as well as Prince George’s county. This year, Vick is teaching English 12 and working in the Social-Emotional Special Education Services program, a Whitman initiative dedicated to helping students with their reading, writing and assignment organization. 

Forging meaningful connections with students can be complicated over Zoom, but Vick is ready to meet the challenges of a pandemic and learn more about Whitman’s culture, she said.

Vick pursued a career in education because of an inspiring teacher she had during her high school years. She hopes to provide that same formative role in some of her own students’ lives, she said.

“When I’m able to connect to a student, whether it’s changing their perspective of the world or of English, that’s victory,” Vick said.

Alisa Chin also joined the English department this year, teaching Honors English 9 and English 11. After having a “career crisis” during her junior year of high school, Chin began to consider a career in teaching. It wasn’t until she started working with students at the University of Maryland, however, that she fully realized her career aspirations were in education, she said.

Chin is eager for the chance to introduce her freshman students to the next stage of their lives in high school. 

“It’s so fun to see my students getting excited,” Chin said. “I’m excited for them to be excited and excited to show them the real world.”

Art

After picking up a camera for the first time during her freshman year in high school, Vivian Wingard enrolled in a photography class. She snapped pictures of anything that piqued her interest, and quickly developed a passion for the craft. 

Wingard continued to pursue her creative outlet in college, receiving both a bachelor’s degree in photography and a masters degree in teaching at the Maryland Institute College of Art. 

Wingard joined the art department, teaching Photography 1 along with Digital Art 1 and 2. This is her first year teaching, and she’s already enjoying the experience, she said. 

Now, I get to wake up every day and teach something that I love,” Wingard said. 

Science

Brent Bian has begun his Whitman career this year teaching both AP Physics 1 and Principles of Engineering. Bian attended the University of Maryland, receiving a mechanical engineering degree. He then entered the workforce as a part of the HVAC industry, but went back to college at University of Maryland Global Campus to receive his teaching degree, which was one of the best decisions of his life, he said. 

“I always felt compelled to work with people,” Bian said. “I had always had a passion for the youth from working in church, and so combining that with my background in engineering, I decided becoming a high school teacher would be perfect.”

Though Bian will miss hearing students’ laughter in person, he’s excited to experience the many “aha moments” teaching brings, which still exist in a virtual setting, he said.

“I love when students understand things,” Bian said. “If I’m able to explain something in a way where students are finally able to understand it, that’s a really good feeling.”

Math

After teaching fifth grade at Bethesda Elementary School for four years, Claire Li is joining Whitman’s math department to teach Geometry and Honors Algebra 2.

Li received her bachelor’s degree of science in elementary education with an emphasis in math at the University of Maryland. She initially majored in neurophysiology, but after reflecting on her time as a swim coach and the enjoyment she experienced instructing kids, she decided that teaching was a much better fit. 

Li has had a unique first year teaching high school, but she is already impressed with the Whitman community, she said.

“I’m both in awe and inspired by how teachers and students have risen to the occasion,” Li said. “Everyone is putting their best foot forward. It’s what motivates me to keep going.”

Physical Education

After graduating from American University and teaching English at Thomas Wootton High School for 14 years, Michael Dickel is joining Whitman to teach net games and strength as well as weight training. He is also teaching Honors English 11. 

Dickel is excited to become more familiar with the other departments in the Whitman faculty community and to teach physical education for the first time, he said.

“Personal health, wellbeing, fitness and sports have always been a big part of my life,” Dickel said. “Getting into a different kind of classroom with PE seemed like a great new adventure, and it certainly has been so far.”

While he is disappointed about missing classroom discussions and interactions this year, Dickel is excited to still be a part of his students’ lives, he said. 

“Education can be a game-changer,” Dickel said. “It can change someone’s life trajectory in ways they might not even realize at the time. To be a small part of that is pretty rewarding.”