Why I love teaching Middle School: Sam Choi

On March 14, 2018, I found myself walking out of school with MSS middle school students. The eighth grade led us as we peacefully spoke out against gun violence following the Parkland shooting on Feb. 14, 2018. I listened to students as they grappled with what to do, struggled to find ways to honor those who died, and support those who grieved. We silently walked to the gazebo in Hoboken’s Church Square Park, read the names of those who had died, and observed a minute of silence for each person. I was deeply moved. We all were.

Sam and Abby Choi with their older son, Noah

I love teaching middle school students, and the school walk out is a great example of why. Middle school students are capable. They want to engage with the world and confront the major issues of our time. They’re eager to speak, to have their voices heard. And they’re curious. I delight in class discussions, in helping students see the bigger picture. I want students to think about all angles of a problem, whether during a conversation on gun reform or as they design a science experiment.

Life isn’t compartmentalized into different subject areas, and education shouldn’t be either. At Mustard Seed, we have space in the curriculum to respond to student interests or concerns, like the Parkland shooting. And the learning can cross into other areas of school life. On the day of the walk out, we also lit candles during worship to remember those who had died. We had a place to pray and bring our concerns before God.

The MSS interdisciplinary approach allows for constant collaboration among teachers and students. When I work with seventh grade students on their history exhibitions, I collaborate with the language arts teacher who will guide them through the essay component of the exhibition. And the art teacher who will work with students as they construct an artifact to accompany their presentation. This approach takes time and careful planning (and sometimes a lot of meetings!), but it pays off when I see the quality of work that the students produce.

Some of my first Mustard Seed middle school students are now in college or have recently graduated from college. The inklings of who they would become were evident when they were in middle school. That student who just couldn’t sit still? Who was always talking? He’s become an advocate for justice and truth in his college community. The student who thrived when a creative component was part of an academic project? She’s found her artistic voice and uses the skills that she began cultivating in middle school. They’re all thriving.

I value the MSS education. I couldn’t ask for better students or colleagues. I believe in the mission to serve all students, regardless of whether they can afford it or not. This is the school where I want to work. And that I trust with my own children.

Sam Choi

SAM CHOI, Science, History, and Ethics, Sixth to Eighth Grades

Sam Choi has been teaching middle school for over 22 years—11 of them at MSS. He’s married to Abby Choi, MSS Director of School Initiatives and Improvement. Together they have two sons, one at MSS and one to soon follow.