Beloved English teacher departs after four years

Sophia Hosford

No matter the day of the week or the time of year, English teacher Natalie Zuravleff’s door was wide open, inviting students into her colorful classroom. Her ability to reach across cultures and backgrounds to connect with students will be nothing but an asset when she moves to Guam with her wife this summer, for two years.

Zuravleff came to Wilson after spending two years teaching in Mississippi as a member of Teach For America, a program in which teachers apply to teach for two years in a certain location. When ranking her choices, Zuravleff knew she wanted to go to a rural area and somewhere where there was a teacher shortage. 

“Mississippi is one of the highest-needs areas that Teach For America serves, so I pretty much suspected that I would end up there if I gave them the freedom to kind of put me wherever,” Zuravleff said. “I’m really glad that that’s where I ended up going.”

While in Mississippi, a fairly poor state, Zuravleff learned a lot about the importance of integrating herself into the community, rather than thinking that she could “fix” it. 

“You have this opportunity, that these people are allowing you into their community. It is your responsibility to become a part of that. To live and breathe that,” Zuravleff said. 

Following her time in Mississippi, Zuravleff wanted to relocate to DC because her girlfriend, now wife, was going into her residency at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda.

 “I was really interested in teaching in DC Public Schools,” Zuravleff said. 

When searching for schools to apply to, Wilson caught Zuravleff’s attention because of the student body and student organizations like The Beacon. 

 “It just looked like an amazing place to teach.” In the summer of 2017, she was offered the position at Wilson and was thrilled. As she had learned in Mississippi, inserting herself into the community and getting to know her students and their families was important. 

At Wilson, Zuravleff continued to emphasize the importance of making lasting connections with her students. Senior Piper Hattenbach was in Zuravleff’s AP English Language class, which she described to be “a warm and accepting environment.” 

“I absolutely adored Ms. Zuravleff’s AP Lang class and I truly think she was the best English teacher I’ve ever had,” Hattenbach said. 

Wilson alumna Anna Dueholm agreed, describing her former teacher as caring, dedicated, and innovative. Dueholm, a former SGA Representative, took AP English Language with Zuravleff and was part of her SGA class.

Dueholm was also part of a group of students who would spend STEP with Zuravleff. “[Those lunches were] definitely a consistent highlight of my day,” Dueholm said. 

Zuravleff and Italian teacher Simona Spicciani-Gerhardt created the SGA class together and served as the advisors. The two took students on a trip to a high school in Virginia that had a student government class to help model Wilson’s class. Dueholm expressed that Zuravleff pushed the SGA students and encouraged them to persevere. “SGA, and Wilson as a result, wouldn’t be the same without Ms. Zuravleff,” she said.

Junior Kelly Cantarero-Flores also expressed that Zuravleff fostered a welcoming environment in her English I class.“She was very open about herself and her personal experiences. It made me feel safe sharing stuff about my life with her,” Cantarero-Flores said. 

Junior Calvin Gidney echoed similar sentiments. “She was very understanding and easy to talk to,” he said.

Zuravleff and her wife will be leaving for Guam in July. She and her wife, an OB-GYN in the Navy, will be stationed there.

 “We could have gone to California, Japan, or Guam,” Zuravleff said. “We actually ended up ranking Guam as our number one.” They liked the option of Guam because it has an international airport, making it easier to meet up with family in the States.

In August, the couple will welcome a baby boy who will be born in Guam.

During her first year in her new home, Zuravleff will be earning her Master’s degree. She plans to return to the classroom once she and her wife return to the U.S.

Reflecting on her time at Wilson, Zuravleff emphasized the importance of not only connecting with students, but also forming connections with fellow teachers.“The people who you work with, the staff at the school that you work at as a teacher can be so formative,” she said. 

“I didn’t know to look for that before and I just kind of lucked into it at Wilson. The community in the English department… all these folks who just in some way or another, have pushed me to be better.” •