Category Archives: Teaching

Erica Mariola, New Orleans KIPP Teacher, Takes Home the Fishman


The Fishman Prize is an annual award that honors the nation’s most amazing public school teachers who work with low-income families.

It is given by TNTP. Four teachers are awarded the Prize each year.

The Prize consists of a $25,000 award, a seat at the Fishman Prize Summer Residency, and lifetime participation in the Fishman Prize Alumni Program.

This year, the prize was given to .005 of applicants.


Erica Mariola, a teacher at KIPP East Community Primary, is one of the four Fishman winners.

On average, students enter Erica’s class in the 20th percentile in math nationally. After a year with Erica, they rank in the 90th percentile. This year, they’re on track to be among the top kindergarten classes in New Orleans in learning growth.

Previously, Erica conducted research in a neuroscience lab for four years and lived and worked in Cameroon as a surrogate mother for orphaned primates.

Afterwards, she worked in development for Teach For America before joining the program herself, ultimately teaching for six years as an elementary special education teacher in Atlanta Public Schools before making the move to New Orleans as a founding teacher at KIPP East Community Primary.

As a part of her school’s Louisiana Autism Spectrum and Related Disabilities (LASARD) team, Erica also works closely with students with severe academic and behavioral needs.


I would have loved to interview Erica for this post, but she just found out about the award this morning, and I didn’t want to get out-scooped by the journalists who should be descending on her classroom as we speak.

So I’ll end on this: to date, there have been 16 Fishman prize winners.

3 of them have been New Orleans teachers.

That’s a 19% win rate for a city that serves that about .001% of public school students in the country.

New Orleans is incredibly lucky to have teachers such as Erica doing amazing work for children across the city.

What’s tougher: Being a teacher at a high poverty school or being a private sector consultant?

Friends of mine have moved into teaching from consulting, as well as into consulting from teaching.

Two friends recently relayed stories about moving from teaching into consulting. In both instances, someone asked the following question: “Has the transition to the consulting work been tough?”

In both cases, the person who asked the question was implying that the long hours of consulting must be difficult to handle after working in a field where you get summers off.

This leads me to believe that there is some ambiguity around the answer to the question: is it tougher to be a teacher at a high poverty school or a constant in the private sector?

Assuming someone has the skills to excel at both positions, it is much, much, much tougher to be a teacher at a high poverty school than it is to be a private sector consultant.

The hours, on average, are probably about the same.

But, as a teacher, you’re working with students who have grown-up in extremely difficult situations; who often have significant mental health needs; and who are depending on you to help them achieve in a world that has, for the most part, written them off.

As a teacher, getting bad news means one of your students might have been killed.

As a teacher, the problems you’re trying to solve are an order of magnitude more difficult than the typical corporate strategy problem. The problems of a high poverty school lie at the intersection of instruction, leadership, and poverty, and these problems are interconnected with our nation’s historical inequities. At times, such problems are nothing short of overwhelming.

As a teacher, you are performing live every day for 5-6 hours a day. Every day is an all day client meeting, and while, at the core, the clients share similar goals as you, on many days their behavior might not be aligned to achieving these goals. And it’s your job to change that.

At best, you might be earning 50% of what you’d be making as a consultant. At worst, 5%.

At best, you might have 50% of the status you’d have in a private sector field. At worst, your peers and parents think you’re wasting your potential.

So let’s put this issue to bed. Being a teacher at a high poverty school is much tougher work than being a private sector consultant.

Unfortunately, most of our society doesn’t understand that this is true.