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Teaching seemed like an obvious path for Sam Worthen—modeling, less so. Raised in Milton, Massachusetts, his mother, also a teacher, sparked his interest in mentoring children. While at Brown, he took what, on paper, looks like the ultimate sensitive-dude path—studying English non-fiction writing, honing his French, Italian, and Spanish skills, and composing his own music (he's played trumpet and classical guitar since elementary school).
After graduation, and a summer spent teaching history classes in the Bronx, the 23-year-old landed a full-time position as an eighth grade English teacher at a school in Bushwick, where he's the youngest faculty member. The majority of his students are Hispanic, and Worthen sometimes finds himself going over two lessons at once: one in English, and one in Spanish for recent immigrants who are just learning the language.
But back to that Bronx summer. That's when he was scouted not by an agent scanning the subway for impressive cheekbones, but by a male model. "I was coming home from teaching summer school, and this guy approached me on the F train," Worthen recalls. "I was taken aback and flattered, but also kind of incredulous. ‘Does this guy know what he's talking about?' He was just like, ‘Hey, you're a model, right?' I said, 'Noooo, I'm a teacher, dude.'" The stranger snapped a picture of Worthen (who had just buzzed off his sternum-length, curly blond hair) on his phone and sent it to his agent; a couple weeks later, he gave him the verdict: "Yeah, my agent George liked you, but your hairline's receding a bit."
"I just remember doing the finale for McQueen and limping offstage and being so relieved I didn't fall."
After mulling over this indirect rejection, Worthen thought taking some initiative might not hurt—what was there to lose? "I can't remember why I decided to try it," he says. "Summer was winding down, I was going to be in a classroom, full-force; and I was like, if I'm going to try this, it's going to be now." His roommate took a few photos, and Worthen walked into RED NYC during one of its weekly Wednesday open castings. "I just went in and asked for George, and he signed me a few days later.
For someone who started his first-full time gig just as his modeling career began to pick up steam, Worthen has managed to pull off some miraculous feats of time management. "My agents have been pretty great about understanding that teaching is my priority, and they've gotten me jobs that require me to miss little or no school," he says. "I did the Alexander McQueen show—that was my first real show—over a weekend. I flew out to London Saturday evening, did the show, and then flew home immediately after; so I was in London for 12 hours."
And while the model certainly looked composed on McQueen's runway, in his red velvet suit, he was in serious pain. "I was nervous for one very concrete reason," Worthen remembers. "On New Year's Day, I walked from my house [in Bushwick] to the Bronx. I wanted to traverse Manhattan, I don't know, I just woke up feeling inspired. I felt fine when I was doing it—I guess because of the adrenaline—but I got home and realized I really hurt my knee. I just remember doing the finale for McQueen and limping offstage and being so relieved I didn't fall."
So far teaching hasn't hurt Worthen's modeling prospects—in some cases, big-name designers are even willing to rearrange their schedules to accommodate him. "My very first paid job was a lookbook for Alexander Wang," he says. "And I just got this series of frantic texts from my agent: ‘They want you tomorrow!' And I told him, I absolutely can't miss school tomorrow. Teachers call in sick and stuff [day of], but there are just some days [you can't miss]." Although, for every job he lands, there are loads more the model turns down—like a chance to walk for Louis Vuitton in Paris.
"I don't think I have anything to gain from my students knowing I'm a model."
Worthen figures that it's a lot easier to replace a model than a public school teacher. "There are tons of dudes who can do whatever they want me to do on camera with equally satisfying results," he says. "As a teacher, it just takes so long to build up the trust and rapport and routine with your kids." And as a part of maintaining this trust, it's important to Worthen that he keeps his two worlds apart—for as long as he can. "I don't think I have anything to gain from my students knowing that I'm a model. They know I'm a musician; you know, kids Google their teachers. But because I model under my mom's name—so far, so good."
If no one is onto the fact that the model leads a double life, maybe it's because he's not walking around Bushwick dressed like a dude in a GQ editorial. "Before getting signed, my wardrobe was ‘hand-me-ups' from my younger brother, a lot of sweaters from my grandma, some T-shirts that I've made—and my one suit that I wear to school." Worthen has now added some trade clothes received as payment for walking in shows, though he only wears them outside of the classroom, mostly for castings. "It's cool because I love having a story behind anything I wear," he says. "And with these, I have the memory of the show."
Wardrobe perks aside, the only real change to Worthen's lifestyle since that day he walked into RED NYC has been his newfound ability to grow his classroom's library. Like many public school teachers, Worthen ends up using personal funds to make up for what the school's budget lacks. "I buy a book for my students pretty much every time I'm in the city, now that I have a little bit of disposable income," he says. (The model posted his latest book haul on Instagram.) "Yeah, it takes me from my kids a couple days a year, but it makes me not think twice about buying materials I know will help them."
It's clear that when Worthen takes something on, he commits to it wholeheartedly—this is a guy who recently developed tendonitis after overexerting his arms from rigorous classical guitar practice. "Teaching is something I believe one should only do if one can give oneself entirely to it," he says. "As difficult and frustrating as teaching can be, the relationships I built with my kids keep me going. And modeling—I'm used to having worked so hard for everything in my life, and this is something that sort of happened, and I'm really grateful for it."