Needham follows winding path to Grady

The Southerner

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By Harrison Wilco

Aspiring doctors, journalists, lawyers and even artists can easily be discovered while walking the halls of Grady High School. Programs such as the Small Learning Communities, with their attendant career pathways, usher more and more students into career paths at early ages. The theory is that if a student doesn’t know exactly what he or she is going to do as an adult by the time they begin freshman year, when SLC’s have to be chosen, they will lose many opportunities to succeed in their chosen path of life.

Nalin Needham had his life completely figured out in high school. He and his band would become famous musicians, sidestepping college to move to New York City and make it big. That is, of course, until his parents stepped in.

“My parents basically forced me to go to college,” Needham said. “They made me a deal: ‘Go get a degree, then do whatever you want to, and we’ll never give you any grief for it.’”

Eventually, Needham would settle into a teaching career, but initially that push to go to college made Needham contemplate a new goal in life: to become a doctor.

According to his fellow Grady teacher and friend, Mario Herrera, Needham’s initial career goals are still impact his teaching.

“He wants to assist people when they need assistance — to challenge them to become better than they think they can be,” Herrera said.

Needham’s drive to help others in the field of medicine was not unlike his current goals as a teacher. Freshman Noah Hammond, a student in Needham’s ninth-grade literature class, says Needham pushes students to the next level, and always focuses on improving their knowledge and understanding, just as a doctor would help to improve quality of life and health.

“He picks out his own material to teach, and you can tell he really cares about it,” Hammond said. “He knows his stuff, so I always feel like I can go to him when I need help.”

Needham, however, faced struggles of his own while in college.

“I planned on going into college as a pre-med student, and I did that for about a semester until I took one class: college chemistry,” Needham said.

Although chemistry was not his forte, Needham did not lack the work ethic or drive to focus on a tough career. After realizing that medicine was not the right avenue for him, he decided that he would go into another field where he could aid others and make serious money.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in English from Oberlin University in Ohio, Needham decided to attend law school.

“It was really a money decision to go into law,” Needham said. “I saw something I was good at that would allow me to be successful.”

Though Needham excelled in law school, he still felt as though he was lacking something, and began to realize that he couldn’t stand the process of law. He had chosen law for the wrong reasons, and that fact quickly became an issue as he was forced to consider new directions.

The answer to this dilemma came in the form of two opportunities: a tutoring program and a substitute teaching program that he worked in during his free time. He discovered that he loved working with students while in these two programs and this led him away from law, and toward teaching instead. In fact, Needham discarded the idea of a career in law so thoroughly that he decided not to even take the bar exam that would have certified him to practice law.

In 2011, Needham enrolled in his third college in six years as he worked towards his Master of Arts in Teaching at Emory University in Atlanta. A student teaching program through the school finally landed him at Grady High School.

While teaching at Grady, Needham has had the opportunity to develop his teaching style, which he describes as a Frierian style: at the core of his teaching is the idea that the students and the teacher should share the role of the pupil and educator. As an educator, Needham has thoroughly enjoyed his role at Grady.

“Grady is wonderful for teachers,” Needham said. “We have a very supporting and understanding administrative staff.”

Needham points to teachers of his past as the main inspiration for his teaching style today. He remembered that his most impactful teachers were those who worked to form bonds with their students and works to emulate that at Grady. He tries to get respect and participation through challenging questions and by engaging students.

“Mr. Needham clearly cares so much about the material he teaches, and so it’s so easy to see that he genuinely likes teaching us, and connecting with us,” said sophomore Chloe Citron, a student in Needham’s tenth-grade literature class.  “I think that’s why we all love him so much.”

Needham also assists students outside of school, sponsoring and leading Grady’s literary magazine, The Unmasking, and helping to host Grady’s debate team and the Grady Education Enhancement Club in his classroom.

Although Needham has pursued many unique career and life paths that could have taken him in numerous directions, he does not believe he wasted any of that time. Focusing on music taught him the value of loving what you do, the study of medicine convinced him that he wanted a career that involved helping people in medicine, and he learned the value of hard work and time management in law school. All of his different choices have helped make him the well-respected beloved teacher that he is recognized as now.

As Needham’s fellow musician at heart John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”


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