Nika Grigorian ’23 sat down with Elementary School Teacher Ms. Sarah Hertig, who is teaching second grade this year after spending her first four years at TASIS in the first-grade classroom.
When did you start at TASIS?
I started teaching first grade at TASIS in 2016 and spent four years in Focolare down the hill. Then this year I moved up to second grade, so now I teach on the main campus in Hadsall. It’s hard to believe this is my fifth year already.
What subjects do you teach in second grade?
I’m a homeroom teacher in the American Section. We cover reading, writing, grammar, math, and social studies (Core Knowledge curriculum).
Are you involved with any other areas at TASIS?
I have been involved with the Residential Life program for all five years. I started as a dorm parent in the Middle School dorm my first year. Then I did two years with the 9th-grade boys in De Nobili and a year with the 9th-grade girls in De Nobili before returning to the De Nobili boys team this year.
The boarding program is such a big part of the TASIS identity, so I’m glad I can add that dimension to my job. The Elementary School students are definitely my passion, and I enjoy teaching, but it's nice to have that interaction with the older students and get to know more students I see throughout the year on the main campus.
What do you like most about working at TASIS?
There's a lot to love. I love the small class sizes and the types of students we have. I love their energy and their excitement for coming to school each day. And I’ve also learned a lot from the people I work with. I've had a lot of opportunities to improve myself as a teacher.
And then just being in Lugano, and in Switzerland in general, it's beautiful. I’ve had a chance to travel throughout the country, and I'm trying to learn Italian. I feel like I've gotten to grow a lot as a person.
What did you do before you came to TASIS?
I grew up in Virginia. I majored in history at the University of Virginia, and then I got my master’s in teaching. Then I went back to the town where I grew up and taught in a public school for five years before deciding to move abroad.
How would you describe your teaching philosophy?
As someone who works with younger students, I think the most important thing for me is to build a relationship with them where they feel happy to come to school each day and know I care about them. And once they have that feeling of comfort in the classroom, they build confidence and are more excited to try harder and take risks. My ultimate goal is to help my students not just learn the material but also grow as people.
How has the classroom experience been different this year?
I've definitely had to think about things differently. Because of the various safety measures we have in place, the students have had to do a lot more sitting at their desks than usual, and we’ve done more things as a whole group than we typically would. But one thing I’ve noticed now that I’ve moved up to second grade is how mature my students are. They've handled everything a lot better than I would have expected.
I’ve also been sharing ideas with my colleagues, who are all going through the same things, and we've been able to come up with new ways to play math games or do reading groups, for example. We've all adjusted to the current reality, and I think it's working really well.
You've mentioned that you are most passionate about teaching Elementary School students. Why do you think you prefer this age group?
At that age, I think they still really love coming to school. And they are just sponges that absorb everything—whether we're learning about folktales or how to regroup three-digit numbers. Everything is brand new to them, and you can see how excited they are when something clicks. For example, after we finished a lesson on three-digit regrouping, I asked a student how it felt, and he said, “I feel like my brain just ran a race.”
They're excited because everything is new, and I just get to channel that excitement. I think that's why I love this age so much. I like the older kids too, but with the younger kids I really enjoy how they just soak up everything.
What gives you the greatest satisfaction as a teacher?
I think it's when the kids support each other. I try to take a step back when they're working together, and if I see one of them step in and help out when another student has a question, that is very satisfying. Or if someone's upset, I love to see the others help their friend figure out how to solve the problem. They don't always need me. I get to see them practice that independence, and I think that's really special.
What do you think is important to introduce at an early age?
There are a lot of different things. But I think something we try to instill in them is respect—not just in the classroom but in general. We want them to have respect for other people's ideas and efforts—like making sure they thank the crossing guard, clean up after class because somebody else might be using the room, and so forth. We want them to develop a sense of mutual respect not just for their classmates but for the people they interact with throughout the day and later on in their lives.
How does TASIS compare to the school you taught at before?
I was teaching in a really big public school with 25 students in a class. I still wanted to teach students respect, obviously, but when you have less interaction with the students throughout the day it becomes much more difficult to do so. The priority is just the academics, whereas here, with around 10 students in a class, we’re able to cover our curriculum while still leaving room to help them develop socially, personally, and globally.