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.

Angela teaches Spanish to high schoolers in Park Slope. She's been teaching for almost 20 years.

I came from a family of teachers. It was always in the back of my head, the idea of pursuing teaching as a profession. It was not until I got to college, where I met a professor who, out of the blue, came out and said, "You would make a great teacher." I said, "I don't think so. I am shy and I don't think I can stand in front of a classroom." And he responded, "Oh no, you would do well."

He had this program where he would take students to Guatemala to teach school children. He would choose students from his classes whom he thought would be successful. That was my first dip into teaching and I really enjoyed it. Before that, I thought I was going to teach elementary school. But it became obvious to me that my passion was to teach teenagers. I found they were open minded and they were eager to learn. You could have a conversation with them and get a sense of how they felt about things.

I love reading. My parents, my brother—we would all read literature together. My father, after dinner, would read classics, like something by Cervantes. He would read us a chapter and then leave us hanging. The next day, he would pick up where he left off. So when I was training to teach, I told myself, "I want to bring what I love into the classroom, to get the kids involved in reading and writing." That is really important.

My first year of teaching in New York City, I was in a private school and I walked in and I thought, "Oh my god. These kids look my age." I was surprised at how they looked so much like me. I was thinking, "How am I going to be able to get them to be interested in learning a language?" But it became natural for me. I taught in a private school for five years, but I have been in Department of Education schools for 13 years now.

I grew up in different places. New York is the place where I did most of my growing up. This is where I went to college. I went to NYU, got my master's degree. For my parents, it was very important to be in a cosmopolitan place. They thought that you needed to be exposed to different things. I grew up in an environment where New York represented culture, arts, music and all that.

But some kids do not get to experience the city at large. When I started to teach in a public school, I took a group of kids to Rockefeller Center. They were in Bushwick and they had never been to Rockefeller Center to see the tree. And that was a moment where I was like, "Wait a minute. You are in New York, you have access to all these things!" But they don't go there. Their whole lives revolve around the neighborhood. It opened my eyes to the fact that not everyone has the same opportunities. I try to incorporate that into the classroom. Even though my school now is in Park Slope, we have kids who have not really been to Manhattan, have not seen a play, haven't been able to take advantage of everything New York has to offer. So I make it a point for the kids to go to Manhattan and see something completely different.

I think one of the things that a few students taught me last year was the importance of making them believe in themselves, that they can do the work. Last year, I had a kid say, "My mom thinks I can't learn another language, that I'm not wired for it." And the parent would come and say, "He can't learn it." I kept saying, "You can learn. You will be able to do it." He's a whiz in math. But I would see this 15-year-old boy cry and say that he was not going to pass the Spanish Regents, so he wasn't going to take the test. I would say every week, "You're going to do it." "No, no, I can't," he would say. But he would come and spend his lunch or come after school on Friday and we would go over material again and again. I would record my voice with vocabulary words and he would listen to them to practice. And he ended up passing the Regents. The mother had been so adamant that he was not going to do it.

There have been people in my life who have mentored me, helped me to grow. I think there comes a time when you have to give back. In order for society to function, you have to give back.

Jennifer Preissel is a New York City high school teacher.