The Visionaries: Nicholas Ferroni

If you are lucky enough to have had a teacher who inspired you, someone who helped get you on the right track, and whose name you still recall, you might recognize similar traits in Nicholas Ferroni, an educator of 16 years whose profession is clearly his calling. The former actor puts his thespian skills to good use teaching History and Cultural Studies at Union High School in New Jersey, and his innovative methodologies, such as integrating pop culture and music into his lessons or employing social experiment techniques, are all geared to keeping his students engaged.

Outside the classroom, Nicholas has received a number of accolades. He’s been named one of the 25 Fittest Men in America by Men’s Fitness magazine—you might also want to check out his Preach What You Practice PSA, calling out the hypocrisy of top athletes who endorse products that contribute to childhood obesity. He was featured in the 100 most influential people in America for his Teach the Truth campaign, calling for minority figures and women to be included in Social Studies, and his commitment to education reform, while his advocacy and support for LGBTQ youth earned him Upstander of the Year by the HRC (Human Rights Campaign). And then there’s the Sexiest Teacher Alive award in PEOPLE magazine’s Sexiest People Alive issue, which gained him access to the chat show circuit, and another platform to further promote the causes he holds dear. There are many great teachers out there, but not all of them have 34.5k followers on Twitter and 24.2k on Instagram in which to champion America’s public education system and promote ways it could be improved.

We invited Nicholas to the Zachary Prell showroom to try on some of our clothing, and discuss the teachers who inspired him, learning through experience, and helping to change how society sees, values, and even pays teachers.

You were an actor before you went into teaching, including a stint on All My Children. How did one lead to the other?

My cousin was a very successful agent and sent me out on a few castings while I was waiting for a teaching job to open up, and I ended up having a little stint on a soap opera. However, I left the moment a teaching job opened up at my alma mater. I went from putting on one show a day to putting on six shows a day to an audience who didn’t always want to be there. And I say this with absolute certainty: Not all amazing actors would be amazing teachers, but all amazing teachers would also be amazing actors. Teaching is performing and students know when their teachers are passionate about what they are doing.

Nicholas tried on two looks from the collection, the Luca shirt, the Aster pant, and the Quincy sweater. He also wore the Samir shirt and the Plymouth sport coat.
Some of us are lucky enough to have had an inspiring teacher we’ll never forget. Did you?

Whenever I meet anyone, especially celebrities, and they find out I’m a teacher, they instantly go on to tell me about a teacher from their past who made a lasting impact. Behind every successful person you will often find a teacher (or teachers) who believed in them. I am doing everything I can and using my platform every way I can to ensure that we recognize and celebrate teachers all year round. I was very blessed to not only have amazing parents, but to have amazing teachers. I had teachers who believed in me, nurtured me, encouraged me, challenged and inspired me, and I try to do the same for my students. From Mrs. Martino, my preschool teacher, to Mr. Caliguire and Mr. “Weez,” my History teachers, and Mr. Monaco my mentor and coach—I’ve had so many remarkable educators and role models throughout my life.

And staying with that idea … when your own students look back at their school days, what do you hope they’ll remember most about you as their teacher?

Being a high school teacher, I still have the pleasure of remaining in many of my students’ lives. I train former students, mentor former students, and I try to include them in all my opportunities. I feel bad for elementary school teachers because they have to wait nearly 20 years to find out if they did a good job or not. I get to carry those relationships into their college years and beyond. I hope that my students say that I cared and that I never gave up on them. To quote my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Martino: “Students will often forget what you teach them, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

As a teacher you’re also on a mission to include LGBTQ history in classrooms. As a cisgender, straight man, what led you down that path?

I am a straight, white, Christian man who believes that we indirectly teach children to be racist, sexist, and prejudice by downplaying the roles of minority groups and women in school books. It is imperative to teach children that all groups, especially LGBTQ figures, contributed to this world and bettered society. I honestly believe that if children learned that every group contributed, it would eliminate racism, sexism, prejudices, and phobias. The only people who should learn more about LGBTQ history than LGBTQ people, are straight people. The only people who should learn about women’s history more than girls and women, are boys and men. And the only people who should learn about the history of minority groups more than minority groups, are white people.

You include social experiment techniques to help your students learn through experience, in the same vein as Jane Elliott’s Brown Eyes-Blue Eyes experiment. Can you expand on that and explain the areas you’ve found it most effective?

When I was in college, my professor showed us Jane Elliot’s Brown Eyes-Blue Eyes experiment and it changed my life, my thoughts on race, and the type of teacher I wanted to be. After watching that experiment, it made me realize two things: racism and prejudice are learned behaviors and experience is the most effective and powerful way to learn. So I always try to use social experiments to teach my students about historical and topical events. I did a social experiment on gender inequality in Congress that went viral because it allowed my male students to experience how women, who only represent 20% of Congress [at the time of this interview], feel in the U.S. Congress. I strongly suggest every woman and man watch it.

There are many impressive educators out there who are extremely committed to their students, but you take it to another level. Just one look at your Instagram highlights the initiatives and collaborations you’re involved in, in addition to teaching. What do you think drives you?

I appreciate that, but every day I meet amazing teachers who are far better, more committed and more passionate than I am. Every teacher I meet inspires me to use my platform to ensure that society knows about the amazing work they are doing. Though I am a good teacher, it’s being named Sexiest Teacher Alive by PEOPLE magazine, which tends to get me all the attention and press. Believe me, I am not complaining because it gives me a platform to celebrate teachers and share all the obstacles that teachers are facing. The last person I talk about when doing interviews is myself. I am always celebrating teachers or students, and I will continue to do so. I am working on a digital series where celebrities go back and surprise former teachers, as well as a line of greeting cards for teachers with an amazing greeting card company for a Teacher Appreciation 365 campaign. I want to help change how society sees, values, and even pays teachers, because so many go above and beyond for their students knowing that they will not get the pay or the recognition. That has to change.

You tried on two looks from the Zachary Prell collection. What did you think, and would they work in the classroom?

I loved both the looks. Everything fit perfectly and gave me a look that allows me to step from the classroom to a charity event without having to change. Zachary Prell’s line is casual and cocktail casual at the same time, and is so comfortable that I can be on my feet teaching our youth without any limitations.

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