Periodically, Gothamist sits down with teachers at different stages in their careers to talk shop. For the first week of school, we spoke with three teachers about why they chose to teach, what they're doing in their classrooms, and their goals for the year.

Arun has been teaching math for 11 years. Currently, he teaches seventh grade at a middle school in Brooklyn. A child of educators, Arun says he saw came to see the value of a good teacher at an early age. He incorporates social justice themes into his lessons to get kids thinking about how they can effect change in the world.

Both of my parents are college professors. My mom is a lit professor and my dad is a biochemistry researcher. Which is a nice balance—very complementary. For me, the idea that being an educator is an important role to play in society was always there. And I respected the work my parents did. When I went to college, I was going to be a computer engineering major. And I just didn't like it, largely because I really wanted to do a job where I was directly working with people. Any time I tutored in college, it felt really good. Working with the kids had a stronger connection to my life.

As much as we try to create objective measures for learning, I think most of the process is subjective. Most of your relationships with other people are subjective, including those you have with students. I liked the idea of a profession where what you do is get to know kids really well and try to support them as they grow into adulthood. I lucked out—teaching was my first and only career, the only adult job I have ever had.

I grew up all over. I was born in India. I moved between Buffalo, Boston and Milwaukee. When I look back on my academic experience, I was lucky—I had really good teachers. My seventh grade teacher, Mr. Borowiec, I remember a lot. I'm a seventh grade teacher now and I really like teaching middle school. One thing I learned from him is that it's really important to love the age group you are working with. In his class, it always seemed like he was having a good time. That's really important in teaching because the narratives around what school is like describe these draconian, cold spaces where kids are forced to learn and it's a battle. But it never felt like that in his classroom. It always felt like he had this talent for being serious and getting the message across that education is important, but he would also make us understand that we should be having fun learning. That message played a big role in my life.

Ms. Barone, my eighth grade literature teacher, had a huge influence on me. In her class we would do journaling, so I would read books and write about what I thought. And she would journal back. I saved all those notebooks. When I became a teacher, I looked back at them and I appreciated how much work she put into each individual student. It is really time consuming to journal back to 30 students every single week. But she did that. I never appreciated that as a kid because I didn't understand how much work that must have entailed. Reading back her notes to me and my responses to her, I was able to watch this process of me becoming better at critical thinking, which is a cool document to have. I'm really glad she made us do it that way. It's obviously stuck with me because I've kept those books—I was 13 then and I'm 33 now.

I teach middle school math in downtown Brooklyn at a very diverse school with about 200 students. It draws from a lot of neighborhoods because it's centrally located, near Jay Street-MetroTech. We have a diverse student body, which is part of what drew me to the school. I had never worked in a school that was not segregated on one line or another, so I jumped at the opportunity.

I have been working there for four years. It's a school that is still figuring itself out. We are going through administration changes right now. But we have a really nice staff, diverse in terms of teaching experience. It's the school I have worked at with the most veteran corps of teachers working at one time. Young teachers are able to learn from veteran teachers and feel like they are supported as they transition into teaching. It can be a nightmare to be a first-year teacher, but I think our school is a good place to start your career without immediately questioning whether you are doing the right thing. We are working on a lot of big questions, like restorative justice, that are really important to me. Working at this school, I realize how important it is to take on those issues, but also how hard it is to implement programs and team build with such a diverse group of people.

I taught high school for a summer and one of the things I learned from that experience was that you lose out on the ability to impact struggling students the older they are. I knew that I wasn't suited to teach elementary school because I don't think I would work well with very small children. And I had had a hard time getting an in with high school students. But with middle school, I felt this nice balance. They were different. They were less resistant to trying out new things because they hadn't yet decided, as some kids do, for understandable reasons, that school wasn't going to work for them.

In middle school, as difficult as they can be behaviorally and emotionally and with all the millions of things going on in their lives, kids are very open to trying things. They will try almost anything you ask, if you can build a relationship where they trust you. You lose that somewhere in between sixth grade and ninth grade. The idea of working with seventh graders appealed to me because it was this stage where kids are transitioning into adulthood and asking some big questions for the first time. And standing up to adults for the first time. That's a cool thing to be able to see.

I like to bring social justice into my classroom when I can. Math gets caught up in the idea that there is always a right answer and there's always a wrong answer. That's true to some extent, but even when you get the answer, there are bigger questions to think about. When we do percentages, I like to bring in wage gap issues and look at them across gender, across race.

Because my school is diverse, you see these conversations that happen as a result of people's lived experiences. And it's also interesting because it creates a connection to home. I find that students go home and, because they have moms and dads who work, they ask their parents questions about their experiences. It helps bring this moment of learning organically outside the classroom. I like the idea of building threads in education where kids are thinking about topics they find compelling and talking about these ideas with people outside of school.

This year, I'm looking forward to working with the same team of teachers I worked with last year. We all agree that our content areas are broken down artificially. Math, science, social sciences, these are subjects that are constructed to an extent—we work within them because it's convenient to break learning down into these pods. But a lot of learning isn't like that, especially in the real world, where you are applying a lot of ideas at the same time. So we are kicking around ways to do units that are more holistic, where we ask a big question and we are teaching things in English and science and math that go into answering that big question.

That's a complex challenge, but it's one of the nice things that you can work on when you have been doing the job for a very long time. Eleven years in, there are still things that are rewarding and challenging about the job and that I'm uncovering, that make me think, "Oh, now I see things a little more clearly, I can do a better job next year." I'm excited about that and seeing how kids look at learning more holistically, more naturally, more organically, instead of approaching these atomized subjects.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Jennifer Preissel is a New York City high school teacher.

Read our entire New York City teacher interview series here.