By Desirée Keegan
Glynis Nau-Ritter is not your conventional teacher.
“I know I’m different,” the Mount Sinai educator said. “I’ve been told that a lot, and I think part of it is I’ve had a lot of experience [which] I try to bring into the classroom.”
In life and in teaching, different can be memorable.
Judith Esterquest, Harvard Club of Long Island chair of the Distinguished Teacher Selection Committee, said she sees how Nau-Ritter has changed student’s lives. After a nomination by former student Seth Brand, now a junior at Harvard College, the 27-year Mount Sinai teacher was awarded the Harvard Club of Long Island’s Distinguished Teacher award.
Nau-Ritter’s experience includes a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s in marine sciences from Stony Brook University. As a teacher’s assistant at Stony Brook, she was stranded on an island while conducting research. The group was soaked, with no food or water while waiting to be rescued. Nau-Ritter said once she told her classes the story, news spread that she’d “lived on Gilligan’s Island.” When she received a teaching position at St. Anthony’s more than 30 years ago, she had no background in education, but Nau-Ritter said it never held her back.
“I was trained in pure science, so I might see things a little differently, but the kids know it and respect it,” she said. “I didn’t need classroom training. You do what you think is right, and it works. Kids constantly say ‘listen to her stories,’ because they’re real world.”
Brand said he thought his former teacher was deserving of the recognition.
“With life experience worth listening to, Mrs. Nau-Ritter is interesting both to learn about and to learn from,” Brand said. “She stands out because she didn’t just connect to elite students, she has taught nearly every type of student our town produces. She’s the zany teacher who painted life into the study of life. She’s the heart of our district.”
Nau-Ritter has run the gamut as far as subjects and levels, teaching Advanced Placement biology classes, A.P. environmental science, marine coastal science, chemistry and earth science, even special education students. She is also an adjunct professor at Stony Brook and Syracuse universities. Her work as a graduate research assistant performing studies in marine environments led to six articles being accepted by research journals. She was an avid diver and now a snorkeler.
“She’s the zany teacher who painted life into the study of life. She’s the heart of our district.”
— Seth Brand
The Port Jefferson Station resident also helped Mount Sinai’s Ocean Bowl team repeat its first-place win in the Bay Scallop Bowl this year, an academic competition testing students’ knowledge of marine sciences, and represented New York in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl. Active in advising many extracurricular activities, Nau-Ritter is also involved in the school’s environmental club, among others, and rolls up her sleeves for an annual Cedar Beach cleanup each fall, coordinating school efforts with the Ocean Conservancy.
“Mrs. Nau-Ritter understands that academia is not confined to the four walls of the classroom,” Mount Sinai High School principal Rob Grable said of the Mount Sinai fixture. “[She is] the consummate educator and professional. She is well aware of the academic expectations that await students at the college and university level, and she prepares our high school students accordingly.”
Nau-Ritter is the second consecutive Mount Sinai teacher to be honored with the recognition. Gary Kulik, a calculus teacher, received the distinction last year. The science teacher said knowing Kulik for many years, she knows they both focus on getting their students to a higher level of thinking.
“The kids know you’re dedicated,” she said. “I’m there well past the afternoon bell, and I think that’s what truly makes a good teacher. It’s about being there for kids when they have questions that need to be answered. They want help in their careers or want to understand science topics.”
The Queens native also likes to bring news into the classroom, driving home her philosophy of applying the real world to her classroom.
“I’m very much into observing and noticing everything on the outside,” she said. “I like to infiltrate science in any way I can, and I love when I see the lightbulb go off when they get it. I never thought I was going to be a teacher. I was always very much into research, but seeing these kids so excited about learning, I guess I got bit by the bug to be a teacher. Looking back, I know I’ve made a difference in many lives, and for that I’m grateful.”
Nau-Ritter and the 11 other honorees will be recognized at a ceremony at Heritage Club at Bethpage April 15, and Harvard Club of Long Island will announce the distinguished teacher who will also receive a scholarship for a “Harvard experience” at Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“Devoted teachers like Mrs. Nau-Ritter offer Long Island students deep expertise, extraordinary talents and countless hours of attention,” Esterquest said. “By capturing the minds and imaginations of our children and preparing them for challenges that were unknown even a few decades ago, these teachers shape the future of our country.”