Benjamin leaves Wilson after 24 years

Leah Carrier

Angela Benjamin leads the SciMaTech academy, teaches one of the most difficult courses at Wilson, and has won numerous local and national education awards. And now, after 24 years as a physics teacher at Wilson, she is preparing to retire.

Benjamin’s teaching career was born when she applied for a job at the daycare of a Seventh Day Adventist School. Ms. Starks, the kindergarten teacher, looked at Benjamin’s resume and college degree, saw that she was overqualified, and hired her as a classroom assistant.

“[Ms. Starks] taught me how to teach,” Benjamin recalled fondly. “Preparation and love. Get to know the kids individually. Learn their personalities. Keep your passion, and just play.”

And then, about 25 years ago, Benjamin’s grad assistant was out jogging and ran into the principal of Wilson. Decisions were made, papers were signed, and Benjamin, who had been teaching in DCPS for 6 years already, became a physics teacher at Wilson.

Teaching students to become “comfortable with being uncomfortable” and “problem-solve in the face of uncertainty” has been a hallmark of Benjamin’s educational tenure. Much of this teaching philosophy stems from her own experiences at school.

“When I went to high school,” she recalled, “everything was so easy. I used to do my homework in front of the television every night.”

But when she transitioned to college, it wasn’t so easy anymore. She failed two classes, including calculus, and was put on probation.

“After that, I had to work to get my GPA to a 3.0. Because when you start off bad like that, it takes a long time to raise your [it].”

“I feel like it’s my duty to make kids cry in high school,” she said. “Make them hurt their heads while they’re still in high school, where they can be nurtured.”

Benjamin’s current students adore her. Junior Ashley Redhead spoke of her kindness and care, which she extended even during virtual classes. “We had the class in the morning,” he said. “She understood that we would be tired [so] she gave us extra minutes, or [told us to] go take a nap or spray cold water on [our] faces.”

“[Physics C] is obviously a hard class,” Redhead said. “But I think Ms. Ben did a really good job of teaching us because she focused more on our conceptual understanding… She made a safe environment for everybody to learn [in].”

Eleanor Gallay, another student in the AP Physics C class, said that Benjamin “knows when to push people. She knows what questions to ask, and how to prompt people to solve whatever we’re doing on their own.”

Gallay also noted Benjamin’s open-minded nature, saying, “She’ll doubt the textbook answer if we provide a different explanation. She’s always open to our ideas.” 

When Benjamin was a teenager, teaching was already a part of her character. Born in Alabama but raised in California, she excelled in tennis during high school. Thus, her gym teachers always chose her to be a team captain.

“I would pick all the good girls first,” she recalled. “But then I would pick the worst girls to be on my team and help them get better.”

Gallay, one of two girls in her 16-student Physics C class this year, said that Benjamin continues to model inclusive leadership in her science classroom.

“At the beginning, I emailed her a couple of times saying I wasn’t sure if I should actually be in the class,” Gallay said. “I was kind of regretting it.”

Benjamin convinced her to give it a try. A year later, Gallay is a convert. “Physics is just really cool,” she gushed. “I’m so happy that I did it, and I feel really lucky that I got to be in [her] class.”

Commenting on the course’s gender gap, Gallay explained that having a female teacher was a source of inspiration. “Seeing her be so commanding of everyone’s respect and attention made me feel like I belonged in the class,” she said.

Redhead, who will be the president of Wilson’s SciMaTech academy next year, also emphasized Benjamin’s advocacy for representation in STEM. “She tries to really encourage and uplift the different minorities in the field,” he said.

As for her plans upon leaving Wilson, Benjamin assured me that she won’t be retiring from education altogether. “Yeah, I’m not going to get to sit on the porch in a rocking chair,” she said.

Instead, Benjamin intends to continue work in the area training new prospective teachers through DCPS or a university. 

Benjamin met her Physics C students for the first time last Thursday. She took them on a field trip to the City Ridge Roadside construction site on Wisconsin Avenue, located at the historic Fannie Mae campus. For Gallay, it was a bittersweet moment.

“It was really cool to actually meet everyone in person. I was so happy to meet [Ms. Ben], she’s so friendly,” she said.

“But it also made me sad afterwards,” Gallay continued, “because that’s what the class would have been like all year.” •