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Noticing the Need

Limited train access kept students from Epic High School North in Queens from going to a NMSI study session in Brooklyn. Noticing the need, teacher Elena Dhima arranged a bus for her students. This seemingly simple request led to full classrooms from Queens attending the following two sessions.  

The Advanced Placement® Statistics teacher, NMSI’s May Teacher of the Month, focuses on each student’s different needs. When one student missed school while dealing with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, Dhima spent extra time making sure the student caught up. Epic North principal Kristen Breen says Dhima’s students “are reminded they are smart and have brains others would envy, that she gives her Saturdays to them and they want to do extra work because she doesn’t pressure them but supports them.”   

How did you become a teacher?  

I worked in cancer research for 10 years prior to becoming a teacher.  We would invite high school students every summer to our laboratory, and I worked with a few of them training in laboratory practices and protocols. After government funding cuts, I realized I needed a career change. I became a NYC Teaching Fellow (an organization that supports career changers) in 2014 and started working with high school students in under
served urban areas.  I taught high school math to all levels of students.

What’s your teaching philosophy?  

My teaching philosophy is to support all students to experience math in a deep and personal level by integrating math skills with culturally relevant topics. By doing so, students become aware of the world around them (local and global matters) and at the same time have authentic experiences with math and ultimately increase capacity, interest and build aspirations for future goals and careers.  


What gets you up in the morning?  

After every lesson plan and activity, I am eager to see how students will interact with the topic. This gets me very excited.  

What keeps you up at night?  

Apart from our current global, political and economic crises, I would have to say my 1-year-old!  

What’s your definition of success?  

I define success as overcoming setbacks and laying out a path to achieve your personal goals.  

What do you want students to gain from their time in your classroom?  

I hope my students gain a positive outlook and build a healthy relationship with math and ditch the stigma that surrounds this subject.   

How has NMSI shaped your classroom or teaching experience?  

Attending Laying the Foundation and other NMSI workshops has made me rethink and reflect on how to deliver content to many differing levels of students – supporting those who need more foundational skills while pushing those students who need to be challenged more.   

How would you encourage other teachers?  

Be invested and stay invested in your students and your subject. Take advantage of the resources offered to you, study sessions, mentors, curricula, etc. You should not feel alone while teaching a subject. Find and use the expertise of others. We are all shareholders to student achievement.  

Tell us about a favorite “lightbulb moment” you had with a student.  

I’ve had a few this year but I can vividly remember when a student who has very poor attendance was working on a question on hypotheses testing say, “Oh, I have to make two box plots to compare the variability of my data. I remember how to that from back in September.” That was really awesome for me because this student was internalizing what they learned months back, and despite her low attendance, she was able to recall something she saw early in the year. That made me deduce that she had an authentic experience with the topic.  

How has your relationship with your NMSI mentor helped your teaching?  

Mrs. Gail Anderson is an exemplary role model for me. We established early on what kind of working relationship and goals I wanted to have – how to reflect and implement feedback in my classes as well as real-time adjustments to my curriculum.  

Know a NMSI-connected teacher who deserves recognition? Emailmarketing@nms.orgto tell us what they are doing to a make real differences in math, science and English education for their students.