The Staten Island content creator who dreamed of teaching — and how she made a mid-career switch

By Faye Penn

Zanade Mann always wanted to be an educator, but growing up, she was dissuaded by family and mentors who warned her that teaching was a thankless job. For nearly a decade, the Staten Island native worked for herself as a freelance web developer and social media marketer. Then a stint leading personal-branding workshops at Barnard College’s Athena Center for Leadership Studies and another running an after-school coding program for New York City public high schoolers “scratched the itch to teach instead of creating content,” she says.

In 2015, Mann enrolled in NYC Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification program managed by the NYC Department of Education that allows prospective teachers to earn their master’s degree while teaching full-time. While getting her master’s degree in education at Long Island University-Brooklyn, she got hired at Brooklyn Science and Engineering Academy, where she currently works with special needs students in grades six through eight. Mann talks about changing careers at age 32, what makes her the most proud about her work and her advice for other aspiring teachers.

How did NYC Teaching Fellows help you change careers?

Normally, a teacher would get a master’s degree in education, then get certified with New York state, then look for a position. I already had children, so going back to school while not working wasn’t an option for me. With NYC Teaching Fellows, I got to do both: I got my master’s degree while I earned a salary, so it was perfect. The program allowed a career changer like myself to start in a program where I could study, take exams and teach. If I weren’t able to do that, I probably would not have gone into teaching.

NYC Teaching Fellows makes it work for you financially. The payments don’t start until you get a job, and then they take a portion from your check until you pay it off. Under the Fellows program, I was only responsible for a portion of my tuition, which was divided into two years of payments. You don’t really see it.

My students knew how rigorous the Fellows program was, so when I graduated in 2017, it felt like we all graduated. They gave me a huge card wishing me the best and threw me a party.

Does your background in coding and personal branding ever come into play in the classroom?

Absolutely! I teach my students that they have a brand they must develop, protect and market in order to be successful. Just recently, a student asked what a resume was, and I taught a lesson on the purpose of a resume and how marketability plays a role. I promised them after they take the NY state exams, I would teach a few lessons on resume writing and personal branding! I’m excited that they will have a resume they can use for summer youth employment.

When did you know you made the right decision?

My students knew how rigorous my coursework in the Fellows program was, so when I graduated in 2017, it felt like we all graduated. They gave me a huge card wishing me the best and threw me a party that featured their beloved Caribbean dishes: curry chicken and rice and peas! My paraprofessionals also told me they were inspired by my accomplishments, that they, too, would apply to the Fellows program. With the community that I have built in the classroom and their appreciation of me, I knew 100 percent that I made the correct decision.

What’s next for you?

I’m hoping to get accepted to Columbia University’s PhD program in Anthropology and Education to further what I can do to help the children of New York City and beyond. The program allows you to study how people learn, in traditional and nontraditional ways. My focus would be on education through storytelling.

What advice do you have for women in New York City who want to become teachers?

Find your mission. Be open minded about continuing your degree, wherever you may be in your career, and apply to teaching programs. Have a goal, get yourself a planner, and start planning what you’re going to do to achieve your goal.

Any tips for managing work-life balance?

I dedicate every Friday evening to family. No work, no emails, no planning. I read for enjoyment often. I also make sure to say no if something doesn’t align with my agenda for the week. This summer I plan to travel to Europe with my three daughters.

What are you most proud of about your work?

Allowing kids to express themselves beyond the curriculum. As a special education teacher, I work with students who have many challenges, and I give them project-based assignments. In science, we learned about hurricanes. Instead of just giving them something to read, I had them create models of hurricane-resistant homes. They’re creating their educational journey, and I love that.

Photo by Alex Tutiven.