[ teaching & learning ]

‘Social billionaire’ named state’s top teacher

By Matthew Hamilton



or Billy Green, teaching isn’t about his students learning from him. He’d rather learn with them.

“The kids should feel validated, they should be talking in the classroom, they should not be sitting there for 45 minutes listening to me,” the effervescent Green said. “If there’s 30 kids in a classroom, I should have heard 30 voices in 45 minutes.”

An unabashed rebel with a self-described Ph.D. from UCLA — “University of the Corner of Lexington Avenue” — Green’s chemistry class is as much about the voice of the youth as it is the periodic table. For one student who nearly flunked his class, Green challenged him to write a rap about the content on the midterm he had missed. The aspiring rapper not only demonstrated proficiency, he got hooked on chemistry.

It’s a career of anecdotes like this that led to Green being named the 2023 New York State Teacher of the Year by the State Board of Regents. An infectious, passionate personality, he’s rotated himself through a series of overlooked New York City schools because of a personal commitment to validating students who are growing up like he did. He’s now at A. Philip Randolph Campus High School in his native Harlem, the neighborhood where he began teaching — as a 12-year-old homeless student.

“My first day as a teacher was in an abandoned building on 119th Street between Lexington and Park Avenue,” Green recalled of the “school” he started for his younger siblings and cousin. “I had three students, and I had my own schedule, they had their five subjects, but most importantly I would do the arts.”

A West African dancer, Green’s affinity for the arts shines through otherwise dense scientific material in his class. But it’s the students who put on a performance, engaging in passionate discussions in which they must defend a scientific theory or sketch out molecular structures before checking each other’s work.

Green is quick to call out teachable moments, including when they involve a tough social issue that he may have experienced himself as a homeless LGBTQ student.

“Billy’s strength is really creating that community, making every single kid feel welcome,” Randolph principal David Fanning said. “You need to keep it real with kids, and Billy keeps it very real with kids.”

NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango called Green’s commitment to learning from his students and creating a collaborative environment in which he guides students in their own learning, inspiring.

Despite his knack for providing impromptu professional development sessions to his colleagues, Green is clear about his disinterest in seeking an administrative position. As a kid, he discovered mentorship from key teachers, both schoolteachers and life teachers alike. Teaching is how he relentlessly pays that forward.

“I could have easily become an investment banker … and probably amassed millions on Wall Street by 35 and then retired like many of my classmates,” said Green, a Williams College, New York University and soon-to-be Columbia doctoral program graduate.

“I chose teaching because I am a social billionaire through every single act of love that my kids put out there.”

TOY Seal 2023
Billy Green
El-Wise Noisette
Congratulations to the following teachers recognized by SED as 2023 Teacher of the Year finalists: Lori Atkinson, Copenhagen Teachers Association; Andi Cammer, Jefferson TA; Vanessa Jackson, Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers; and Zachary Arenz, Rochester TA.