Justin Engles headshot photo

Justin Engles

Science/Data Team
Special Education Teacher
Bronx Academy for Software Engineering

Tell us about your work/research. What kind of things do you do?

I work as a special education literacy teacher with high school students in the Bronx, New York. I differentiate instruction and content for every kind of learner, which means I study how students perceive and process information, but also what motivates and inspires those students. I create opportunities for multiple modes of expression, representation, and engagement.

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

Growing up with a brother who had dyslexia meant having an early awareness of what it could feel like to be stranded on the outside of language. My brother experienced language as a barrier that separated him. And at the same time, he was struggling with the isolation that attended his learning disability, I was learning that I had an affinity for words and that I could use them to earn praise and approval. Education is a birthright, but my brother did not receive the support he needed in order to access that education. A through line in all my work has been an attempt to address that first injustice. I teach now because literacy is the agency, and the agency is what I want for my students.

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

I've been working with the same cohort of students for three years now. Their first year of high school was my first year as an educator. My students help me to continuously see with a fresh perspective. We learn together, and they encourage me in that learning.

What element of your work/study do you think is the most fascinating?

I think the young people I work with are the most fascinating part of my work.

What other jobs led you to your current career?

My path to teaching has been a meandering one, across state lines and disciplines. I've been an editor, a writer, a barista, a bartender, among countless other jobs. I'm lucky to have found a career that is dynamic enough to support my growth and captivate my attention, but I'm also lucky to have gathered some stories on my way to finding that career.

What are your degrees and certifications?

Bachelor of Arts in English Literature -- University of Miami 2010; Master of Fine Arts in Fiction -- University of Miami 2012; Masters of Education -- Saint John's University 2017; Hollyhock Fellow at the Center for Excellence in Teaching -- Stanford University 2017

What are your hobbies?

I'm a reader, a writer, a listener, and a runner.

What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?

Special education is not traditional education. Traditional education was not designed for diverse learners and students with disabilities. My advice for someone who wants a career in this field would be to create opportunities for all students to learn. This means framing instruction in terms of student strengths, conveying material through multiple modalities, and conceiving of a student as a holistic person who has a context as well as ambitions, needs, distractions, and dreams. To a certain extent, this kind of education involves some guesswork. Based on what we know, we make a guess as to what kind of education will best serve our students. I see this as akin to making a promise. Educators promise students what will be most useful to them, what will help them to navigate their reality, orient themselves in an unfamiliar place or text, and connect when they are isolated. Ultimately, this work comes down to relationship-building. Trust is primary, everything else (including teaching) follows.

How did you get involved with the Nautilus Exploration Program? How did you get on the ship?

A representative of the program contacted my school network, and my principal recommended me for the position.


Justin participated in the following Ocean Exploration Trust expeditions: