Sophia E. Pappas

Sophia E. Pappas

"Sophia provides invaluable insights for policymakers, administrators, and teachers seeking to shape effective early childhood education programs."

Sophia Pappas began her career in early childhood education as a prekindergarten teacher in Newark, New Jersey. She was a model teacher for novice and veteran pre-K educators in her district. She then led Teach For America's efforts to expand Teach For America's presence in center- and school-based early childhood programs across the country. Sophia earned her master's degree in public policy at Harvard University, where she helped start Bright Beginnings, a forum for the exchange of ideas and perspectives on early childhood development and policy. She has remained active in the larger early childhood community by leading professional development sessions at national and regional National Association for the Education of Young Children conferences. Sophia currently works for the New York City Department of Education.



Q: Your new book, Good Morning, Children, is about your challenges and successes as a beginning teacher with the Teach For America program. What was your biggest challenge?

A: Transitioning from an undergraduate focused on just my own studies to a teacher responsible for the growth and development of a group of children proved more challenging that I initially anticipated. First, I had to develop the confidence needed to assert my authority as the classroom leader. Then I had to create and implement plans that reflected the needs, personalities, strengths, and weaknesses of my students, which required me to become incredibly organized and efficient.


Q: What would you consider your biggest success?

A: As a pre-K teacher, I had the unique opportunity to introduce my students to school and the responsibility of providing them with the enriching and engaging first year of school they deserved. My most significant success was sending my students to kindergarten with a solid foundation of skills and positive attitudes towards themselves, others, and school.


Q: You speak a lot about parental involvement as a critical part of a child’s success in school. Can you elaborate on that?

A: Teachers maximize their impact on student learning by building strong relationships with all individuals who exert influence over the development of young children. Family members are crucial partners in these efforts, given their direct, substantial, and ongoing involvement in the lives of their children from birth. Early childhood teachers should seize the opportunity at the outset of a child’s experience at school to engage families as active players in all aspects of their child’s education to positively influence the trajectory of home-school connections across the pre-K-12 spectrum.


Q: What do you think are the best ways to get parents involved in their child’s education?

A: Family engagement, just like any other component of teaching, is a process that requires sustained commitment to developing certain skills and attitudes. First, teachers can cultivate a mindset conducive to strong home-school partnerships by recognizing the role of family members as a child’s first teacher, an important contributor to the realization of their child’s potential, and a valuable source of insight into student interests, strengths, and weaknesses needed to advance student academic and social growth.

Second, teachers can combine this mindset with specific strategies aimed towards building partnerships grounded in mutual trust and respect that strengthen a teacher’s ability to meet the needs of all learners.

Third, teachers should critically reflect upon their family engagement efforts on an ongoing basis and be open to revisiting old strategies or adopting new ones better able to forge productive relationships.


Q: How do you think Teach For America prepared you for your current and future endeavors?

A: Teach For America fundamentally changed my understanding of both what it will take to ensure all children in our country have equal opportunities in life and how I can best contribute to those efforts. As a classroom teacher in Newark, I saw firsthand both the reality of the achievement gap that starts even before students enter kindergarten and the potential of all children to realize their potential regardless of their birth circumstances. Academic analyses of socioeconomic disparities turned into concrete stories of children too often written off as hopeless victims of intractable factors beyond the grasp of schools.

Contrary to that popular narrative, my ability to foster significant growth with my students despite external pressures and my interactions with other teachers having similar experiences convinced me of the power of highly committed teachers operating as leaders. That success required me to develop a wide range of skills and a strong sense of perseverance and urgency that will prove invaluable in any difficult situation, but particularly in efforts to foster change in the education system. My experience as a corps member provided the insights and conviction I need to be an effective and lifelong leader in education reform efforts.


Q: What advice would you give to those students who are graduating now and embarking on a teaching career?

A: Pre-K teachers have one of the most important jobs in our society. Early childhood educators introduce children to the institution that has the power to significantly influence their life trajectory. You should enter this profession aware of the incredible responsibility you have in laying the foundation of skills and attitudes a child needs to succeed. That task, while seemingly intimidating, can be empowering if you approach each day and the year as a whole as an opportunity to give young children the highly enriching and engaging first year in school they deserve.

Given the high stakes involved, you should become a pre-K teacher only if you are willing to invest the time and energy needed to meet the unique needs of each student. Concern for the well being of children is necessary, but not sufficient to be successful. Similarly, knowledge about child development without a sincere belief in the ability of all children to succeed regardless of their birth circumstances unjustly limits the life paths of children. You need to commit to leading your class toward significant growth in all developmental domains and be willing to reflect critically upon and improve your own practices to achieve that goal.


Q: What are some of the challenges you see in attracting more teachers into the profession?

A:Many people do not realize the complexities involved in being effective early childhood teachers who can identify and meet the needs of their students in all developmental domains. This perspective translates into disparities in salary, benefits and degree requirements between preschool and the K-12 system that deter individuals from the field. Even in cases where state pre-K offers the same salary and benefits and requires the same degree credentials for pre-K and K-12 teachers, pre-K teachers still face misconceptions of their work being like babysitting.


Q: What are your hopes for the new administration with regards to education policy?

A: A system capable of fulfilling the promise of public education must include high quality education during the most critical years of a child’s development. I therefore hope the new administration sustains its commitment to early childhood education as a central element of its larger education reform efforts. These efforts should focus on building a more cohesive early childhood system with greater equity in funding and standards across the pre-K-12 spectrum. The administration needs to provide incentives for and model examples of initiatives that foster collaboration and alignment between Head Start, state pre-K, and private providers. Any proposals to recruit an “army of new teachers” include targeted approaches to recruit and train high quality teachers for early childhood programs in both schools and community based organizations, the latter of which often experience greater difficulty because of low salaries, fewer benefits, and longer hours. Beyond actual funding commitments, the president’s attention to early childhood education can help change perceptions regarding the importance of early childhood education and the level of prestige associated with the profession.

Early childhood education is necessary, but not sufficient to give all children real choices in life. The administration needs to build a more robust and seamless pre-K-16 continuum that makes teacher quality and accountability at all levels a top priority.



"This book brings the voice of a Teach For America teacher and her students into the public discussion around how to provide children with the early education necessary to set them up for long term success. Sophia chronicles her accomplishments and challenges in ensuring her economically disadvantaged students excel and communicates important insights about how to ensure that all of our nation's children have the educational opportunities they deserve."

—Wendy Kopp, chief executive officer and founder of Teach For America


"Sophia provides invaluable insights for policymakers, administrators, and teachers seeking to shape effective early childhood education programs. Her anecdotes and reflections not only reveal what it takes to be a successful early childhood educator, but they dispel the notion that we must choose between approaches that advance children's academic progress and those that promote social skills. It's clear that Sophia's self-reflection and persistence enabled her to improve and to successfully meet the needs of her students. Her process provides vital lessons for any teacher and for all those involved in designing policies and programs to promote the success of early childhood educators and their young pupils.

The book provides a glimpse into the potential of a young woman who will no doubt contribute significantly to early childhood education policy in the future. The candid voice that reveals her missteps and accomplishments introduces to the public an aspiring public leader with a unique combination of persistence, vision, and humility."

—Libby Doggett, deputy director, Pew Center on the States, the Pew Charitable Trusts


"Drawing from her experiences teaching inner city children in pre-K classroom 114, Sophia Pappas speaks directly to educators about her journey from new teacher to teacher leader. Grounded in the vital responsibilities vested in those who teach our very youngest children, Ms. Pappas' book is filled with insightful thoughts on day-to-day life in the classroom and is sprinkled with liberal doses of good humor."

—Kathleen McCartney, dean, Harvard Graduate School of Education Gerald S. Lesser Professor in Early Childhood Development


"Other publications have told the story of young, highly committed teachers in the inner-city. Good Morning, Children goes one step further by highlighting the powerful impact of thriving in such environments on the aspirations and insights of those teachers. Sophia’s hunger for educational equity—born out of the obstacles and triumphs she experienced in the classroom — make her an exciting leader and change agent to watch in the years to come."

—Daniel R. Porterfield, Ph.D., senior vice president for strategic development, Georgetown University


"I found myself engrossed in [Sophia's] day-to-day activities, curious to see how she would face her next battle....Good Morning, Children is an informative yet entertaining read that allows for a bird's eye view of the experiences and struggles of a young, hopeful advocate whose main objective is to fight for a seemingly forgotten population."

—Harvard Citizen, Sabrina Roshan


"Optimistic and inspired young teachers can get knocked sideways in a hurry these days. Sophia Pappas looks to preserve the dew in Good Morning, Children: My First Years in Early Childhood Education."

—Jamie Mason,


"Sophia Pappas isn’t above taking imaginary phone calls from Spongebob to keep her students engaged. These and other playful tactics are woven into the stories Pappas tells in Good Morning, Children, a memoir about her experience teaching prekindergarten as a Teach For America corps member....The book’s amusing anecdotes keep the reader interested, while Pappas’ careful description of best practices gives the book some real substance. "

—New America Foundation, The Early Ed Watch Blog


"EarlyStories was an early admirer of Sophia Pappas, a Teach For America recruit whose blog about her pre-K classroom in New Jersey provided tremendous insight into the lives of children. Pappas now has a new book based on the blog, and it's well worth reading.... The blog, and the book, showed first hand the impact that early childhood education can have and why it matters."


Books by Sophia E. Pappas


Good Morning, Children

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