Mortar and diploma

A Teacher Like Me

East Side Teacher Deliris Diaz Aspires to Lead Change

As Deliris Diaz moves around the classroom, the first-year physics teacher checks calculations on the gravitational forces in space, encouraging students to trust their instincts. It’s a life lesson, as well as one for the law of physics. At East Side High School in Newark, New Jersey, Diaz has a special understanding of how her students’ world works and what it means when someone inspires you to shoot for the moon.

Diaz was a standout in science and valedictorian at East Side, mentored by teachers in the Newark-Montclair Urban Teacher Residency. Today, that same program guides her teaching, with the residency among the grant-funded partnership Montclair State University has forged to recruit and prepare teachers of color, and provide crucial support in the early years of teaching.

“Growing up, there weren’t a lot of teachers who looked like me,” Diaz says. “So I would say that was the motivation for me to ask, ‘What can I do to be invited in, to include my voice into this space?’”

Diaz switched careers from STEM research, earning her Master of Arts in Teaching in 2019 as part of the residency program. Diaz is seen as one of the best and brightest, winning a prestigious Knowles Teaching Fellowship, which supports early-career, high school mathematics and science teachers.

Reflecting on her first year during an interview in February 2020, Diaz says, “Although my students see me as a very young teacher, they often see me as a very relatable teacher, someone who understands and someone who’s always pushing them to be the very best. That’s what I was asking them in today’s lesson – ‘Are we okay? Are we going to do it? Can we do it?’ – just to show them that physics is not so intimidating, that if you just give it a chance, you are more capable than what you let yourself be,” Diaz says.

Video by Christodoulos Apostolou

Story by Marilyn Lehren