A Conversation with Hrag Hamalian M.A. ’07
Hrag Hamalian M.A. ’07 is the founder and principal Valor Academy, a fifth- through eighth-grade charter middle school in the San Fernando Valley.
Published: November 13, 2013
Hrag Hamalian M.A. ’07 earned a master’s degree in secondary education through the LMU/Teach for America Partnership program in the LMU School of Education. As a TFA corps member, he taught ninth-grade biology at Locke High School in Watts. In 2009, he founded Valor Academy, a fifth- through eighth-grade charter middle school in the San Fernando Valley, where he is principal. Fred Puza ’10 spoke to Hamalian about the challenges of teaching and teacher education.
What is the hardest thing a new teacher faces when stepping into his or her first classroom?
It varies by teacher, but I would say it’s coming in with a vast amount of knowledge and theory that they learned in school, and dealing with the application of that in the context of an actual classroom. There are many things new teachers want to try and explore in the classroom while they’re also trying to figure out their own style and how to manage the classroom.
What are the three most important things a teacher should learn before entering a classroom?
First, a teacher should have a very clear understanding of the content and what the students will be expected to learn in the classroom. Second, a teacher should understand what classroom management looks like and how to do it in a fair and consistent way. Third is differentiation. Teachers should also have a clear understanding of their students. Whether a student needs resource services or is gifted, the teacher should have a lesson plan that pushes each student to his or her individual capacity.
What does someone learn in a school of education that can’t be acquired or learned in any other place?
At LMU, I learned an incredible amount of theory and practice that I could apply in the classroom, everything from curriculum planning inquiry methods to classroom management strategies. All of it was incredibly important in my first few years teaching as well as in leadership.
Is being an effective teacher a question of skills and philosophical approach, or is one more important than the other?
They’re equally important. Teachers need to believe in why they’re doing what they’re doing and marry that with excellent practice. The best schools of education are able to construct both of these things in their students.
Is teaching in the Los Angeles area so different than teaching, for example, in Minneapolis that a teacher should always try to get an education in the geographic area in which he or she wishes to work?
Great teaching is great teaching, whether it’s in Minneapolis or it’s in L.A. But I think teachers need to fully understand the community they’re working in. Whether we’re talking about race, class or something else, a teacher needs to be honed in on what challenges his or her students face and how to best address them.
What is the best way to encourage someone to continue pursuing a career in education?
Most of the people who step into this field do it for something that far outweighs the tangible benefits of teaching. It’s something that wakes them up in the morning and something they can’t stop thinking about at night. These are the rock- star teachers who stay in education for 20, 30 or 40 years.
(Photo by Jon Rou)