Sam Worthen, 24, walks for some of the biggest names in fashion – but keeps his career a secret from his students
Sam Worthen has a secret – and none of his students know it.
By day he is an eighth-grade English teacher in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, but on nights and weekends Worthen walks in fashion shows for top labels like Diesel Black Gold, Alexander McQueen and DKNY.
“I definitely think of myself as a teacher who happens to model, rather than a model who happens to teach,” Worthen, 24, tells PEOPLE. “Teaching has been on my mind since I was about 14.”
Raised in Milton, Massachusetts, Worthen graduated from Brown University in June 2014 and immediately moved to New York City to start his life in front of the classroom. A few months into teaching he was riding the subway home when a “handsome dude” approached him. “He asked me a bunch of practical questions – how tall are you, what’s your ethnicity, how much do you weigh – and gave me his number,” recalls Worthen.
At first Worthen didn’t know what to think of it. “I was skeptical because I am not model material!” But he had a friend take some photos anyway and walked into an open casting a few weeks later. Before he knew it, Worthen had been signed by RED NYC.
Because Worthen models under his mom’s name – which is different from his teaching name – he’s been able to keep his glam career under wraps. “To my knowledge, I’m still incognito at school,” he says.
So what’s it like juggling these two very different lives? “Relentless, but not in a bad way,” he says with a laugh.
Between running to Barnes & Noble to handpick books for his classroom library to jetting off to London for 12 hours to be back in time for the morning bell, Worthen stays true to what’s important to him.
“When I miss a day of school it feels like a day lost, so I avoid that at all costs,” says Worthen. “My agents know my schedule and respect my priorities.”
A little luck helps, too – his school’s winter break happened to coincide with New York Fashion Week in February, so he was able to walk in four shows.
But, as much as Worthen likes modeling, he’s not sure it would provide long-term fulfillment. “It’s pretty clear to me that models are replaceable. I don’t think there is anything special about me in that regard. But you can’t replace a classroom teacher. My kids would not react the same way with other adults because they haven’t had the time to build up that trust.”
And that’s what keeps him going: “I can say there’s at least one deeply joyful moment every day I teach,” says Worthen, who, along with speaking French, Italian and Spanish, also composes his own music. “A couple of my kids write rap lyrics, so I brought in my microphone and let them record. It was cool to see them listen to themselves and to realize how expressive their work is, even at 13 years old.”
Lately, Worthen has even started to notice a few similarities between teaching and modeling. “They’re both hectic professions,” he says.
And apparently they both require at least a little acting: “My kids say hilarious things that are inappropriate, and I have to keep a straight face or pretend like I didn’t hear them,” he says. “In the same way, I have to be cold and uncaring on camera, since the modeling standard is generally deadpan. So in both cases I have to conceal my personality.”
That’s not easy for a guy who says his natural mode is to smile and be expressive. But he expects his love for teaching to trump all: “Modeling is something of the moment, and I appreciate that,” he says. “But I know it’s not something I can do for life.”