NYC Teaching Fellows

Jan 31

Write a Greek Inspired Teacher Myth!

Since the beginning of the year (January 2014), students in my class have been reading Greek myths and exploring the Greek pantheon of gods. Students also explored the reasons motivations behind why mythology was told. My students also learned the conventions of Greek mythology — usually the tragic sort — and were tasked to write their own. This is their second self-written myth, each about a teacher and the lesson she or he learns from the gods due to some rather undesirable character traits. Do they become better teachers as a result? Will you learn from their mistakes? While not every single myth is complete, read on to find out what happens to “bad” teachers!

—Binh, NYC Teaching Fellow

The Adventures of Aene and Spirodermus

In an ancient Greek classroom, there was a beautiful teacher named Aene. She was new and didn’t know how to adjust the lessons for the kids. Alternatively, Aene tried the “old fashioned” way which is asking them to take notes on what she said. One child, Spirodermus, who had a creative mind was fast asleep in the first few minutes of class. Aene said with a stern voice, “Class, pay attention the principal is coming to see how we work!” The kids were so bored that if they didn’t doze off they were praying to Hypnos, the god of sleep for them to doze off. Shortly after, Aene was shouting her head off for them to wake up and pay attention. The first child to wake up was named Zeno an average child and Spirodermus woke up and he said, “What is going on here?” Aene replied with a hint of sarcasm, “You are in your bed and dreaming. No you’re in class learning.” Soon after, everyone woke up and they were bored again. They decided to throw papyrus around and ink. Moments later, all the kids’ togas were drenched in ink with papyrus that they were supposed to take notes with in their inky hands. Just moments after that, it was lunch and the principal called Aene out for a special meeting. The principal said, “Aene, your class has been in a frenzy asleep and throwing around ink, what are you doing in that class?” Aene replied, “I am just telling them to take notes of what I say?” The principal said, “It is like Sparta in there. Your class is unruly! You need to find a way to make it more interesting or you’re fired!” Aene squeaked, “Yes sir, I will try to make it better.” Right after lunch, Aene came in the class asking, “Class, what would you like for me to do to make the class more fun for you?” The class replied, “Less work.” Aene apologized, “Sorry class I can’t do that for you. Anything else?” “No!” Soon after, most of the class fell asleep but the awake ones were throwing anything they could find. When the class was dismissed, Aene said to the principal, “Am I fired?” the principal nodded. That one nod made Aene lose hope. She sprinted home sobbing and prayed, “Athena, since you are the goddess of wisdom, please give me some advice.” The next day the principal came in and said, “Aene, you can work at the school but you will be a cafeteria lady serving the kids food and calming them down.” Aene was in total shock she would have a job; with crazy kids hungry and running around throwing things. Aene yelled with pride, “I will come back!” The following day, Aene came back and Spirodermus’s eyes lit up and he questioned, “Why are you back, Aene?” Aene replied, “I missed working here, teaching the kids and well, not much else.” The day went on and by the end of the day, Aene was spattered in ink and blood (long story). She wanted to quit but right after Aene thought that someone came in and said, “I am Athena, the goddess of wisdom. I have come to say that you should go to the principal and ask for your job back. Give the kids a quiz on what they want some kids will help you revolutionize teaching forever.” The next day, Aene got her job back and gave them the quiz. During lunch, she checked the quizzes and they all had the same answers which was that they wanted interesting ways to learn. When she finished eating Aene looked up the face of the one and only Spriodermus was there and said cheerfully, “I am here to help you because I thought you could be a great teacher and I had some ideas of what to do to make this a great class!” Aene said, “Thank you, Spirodermus, you will be a great help to me and the class.” Over the next few days, Spirodermus told her what he would have liked and then Aene would tweak it to the lessons. After a month, no one was asleep or fooling around but, they were learning and having fun. At dusk, the principal came in and said, “Aene, look what you did I will show every teacher in Greece what you are doing.” Moons later the mayor of Athens came and said, “Aene and Spirodermus you are heroes! You shall have all the wealth Athens can supply!” Many days later, the kids got a new teacher, because Aene had to teach teachers, and the ink came flying back with some blood in it. Spirodermus became a successful playwright in Athens and wrote a play about going to the school and meeting Aene. Aene wanted become a politician but, due to the fact that women had no rights, she became a principal and helped some politicians lead in education. Aene and Spirodermus would meet every month. Aene would teach Spirodermus and Spriodermus would help Aene make the teachers of her school be more creative and kid-friendly.

Jan 21

Creative Ways to Engage Students

A great way to engage students more deeply in the act of self-reflecting and self-managing their work is to involve them in creating rubrics—guidelines by which work can be graded. In this image, one of my students is working in a small group to create a rubric in student-friendly language that aligns with the Advanced Placement (AP) essay rubric. Students also love making posters! It’s a way to involve students who might be more visually oriented in learning. (And if you are not artistically inclined, the kids will often do a better job than you will!)

The Hawthorne Effect refers to the effect that simply being observed can have on a group. Many students love to have their pictures taken and love showing off their work—use the occasional shutter time to motivate students to do their best and build group cohesion! This is another shot from my previous entry on student-generated rubrics; as you can see, this group of students made a beautiful poster to illustrate the high standards for a domain of the AP rubric. And even though you can’t see their faces, you can see Conor (on the right) hamming it up for the camera. The more you can inspire students to work together and take pride in what they produce, the more they will learn—and the more they will respect you, even as you push them to do more than they ever thought possible.

Abigail, New York City Teaching Fellow

Dec 11

Bringing The Holidays Into Your Classroom

I love incorporating the holidays into my classroom. Even though this may seem more challenging with older students (my students are in high school), they still appreciate a little holiday cheer!

One way I always bring in the holidays is in the Do Now. A Do Now is a short writing prompt at the beginning of a lesson. The point of a Do Now is to get students focused, working, and writing immediately when they come into the classroom. For Thanksgiving this year, my English co-teacher and I asked students to write what they appreciate in our classroom and in their personal lives. In previous years, I have asked students to write about family traditions and meals, favorite Halloween costumes, and New Year’s resolutions.

The day before a holiday break, I always plan a holiday themed lesson. In Algebra this year, this has really been a hit. I find holiday themed connect the dot activities in which students have to plot points on a coordinate plane and connect them to create a picture. For Halloween this year, students plotted and graphed a bat, witch’s hat, or pumpkin. For Thanksgiving, they created the Mayflower, a pilgrim hat, or a turkey. I also always find a holiday themed logic puzzle. Students have to use logic, reason, and teamwork to figure out what person brought what dish or what their favorite candy is using clues. Students love our holiday days and have a good time showing off their work or working together to solve a challenging puzzle. In English, we usually do holiday story starters. Students read the first sentence of the story, then add on a sentence. Next, they pass the story to the next person in their group. The process continues. At the end, we share out our crazy holiday stories. They can be pretty hilarious.

The best thing about holiday themed lessons is that students think we are just having a good time, but in reality, they are still using their math skills, working as a team, improving their writing, sharing in front of the class, and getting to know each other. Holidays really bring families and friends together, and they also bring my students together!

Corey, NYC Teaching Fellow

Dec 09

Using the Holidays to Teach Culture and Tolerance

As a teacher I have learned that the holidays are the perfect opportunity to teach my students about culture and tolerance. It is very easy for my student to see the differences between them and other races and cultures. Many of them have not experienced anything outside of their communities, therefore, I use the holidays to expose my students to the world’s communities. Celebration of similar holidays is something all cultures have in common such as Diwali, Chinese New Year, Hanukkah, Dia de Los Reyes, and of course Christmas.

I like to take the last two weeks of school during December to teach daily lessons on how children (my student’s age) celebrate their holiday. I bring in decorations that are typical for each cultures holiday, and show pictures of children dancing and celebrating just as my students celebrate Christmas. On the last day of class before winter break, I along with other Fellow teachers bring food that represent the different holidays as our student presents on each culture’s holiday and how it is similar to the American Christmas. It has become our school’s holiday tradition and the kids enjoy learning about it every year.

Marilyn, New York City Teaching Fellow

Nov 25

A Fellow Tells Us What She’s Thankful For

I am thankful that I am a New York City Teaching Fellow for many reasons. I love being a teacher in a high-need school. I also enjoy working for the Fellows in various roles. Finally, I have met many people and developed lasting friendships with other Fellows.

I love working in a high-need school. Every day, I truly feel I am making a difference in the lives of children. I love designing engaging and interactive lessons that will get my students excited about learning new things. I cherish the moments when students thank me for my help, go up to the board to solve a problem, or give me a big smile when they earn a great grade on a test. I am thankful that I have the opportunity to work with my students each day.

I am also thankful for the opportunities I have had through the Fellows program. Two summers ago, I was a coach and last year I was a session leader in the Spring Classroom Apprenticeship. As a coach, I observed and gave feedback to Fellows in their summer school placements. In the spring, I met with a group of Fellows once a week to teach them new techniques and strategies and share what I was doing in my classroom. I loved working with new teachers, answering their questions, and sharing my experiences and student work. I am thankful for these opportunities because I learned a lot through the training and working with them, as well as developing many lasting friendships and relationships.

Finally, I am most thankful for the wonderful people I have met through the Fellows program. When I was in the Fellows program, I became close friends with the people in my graduate classes. To this day, we still have reunions, reach out to each other about jobs, and always run into each other at various DOE related events. I also still see the Fellows from the summer and spring, and we try to meet up every few months. I have met some of the most amazing people and developed great friendships through the Fellows. I am very thankful for that. —Corey, Fellow since 2008 

Nov 12

Tips for Inspiring Your Students: Get Them Excited to Learn

I love when students truly get into and excited about a topic I am teaching. In order for this to occur, I usually start out by asking my students what they want to learn.

During my first and second year of teaching, I taught self-contained special education students global history. Self-contained special education classes are smaller classes that provide students with more support and structure. My students were very interested in belief systems and had many questions about Judaism. I asked them to write down their questions and hand them in. I told them I would do my best to answer them along the way. Their questions inspired me to find pictures, movies, articles, and even plan a trip to the Jewish Heritage Museum. Students were excited to learn new things and have their questions answered.

During my third year of teaching, I taught self-contained science. I had to teach body systems. Again, I had students ask questions that they had. Their questions shaped my unit. I found videos on injuries and diseases, showed them the birth of a baby, created awesome experiments and projects, and concluded with a trip to the Bodies exhibit. I was so proud when they were pointing out organs, naming their functions, and discussing how they worked together while at the exhibit.

Over the years, I have learned that I need to get students excited about the topics I am teaching them. As I mentioned above, I usually start with finding out what students know about a topic and what they want to learn. Along the way, I try to reach them and present material to them in a variety of ways. Finally, I always try to end a unit with a field trip or a project. It gives students something to look forward to as well as to show off or synthesize their new knowledge.

Corey, Fellow Since 2008 

Nov 04

Good Teachers Impact Lives: A Student Story

Nine years ago I had my first day as a New York City Teaching Fellow. I started my career in the classroom by leading a class of first year high school students through an introductory lesson on biology. Up front and center sat Angel, who was a commanding presence in any classroom he was in. He has a big body, a big voice, and a big personality that filled every session in room 326 with energy.

His all-around bigness could sometimes be a challenge to work with. His strong opinions and natural lack of reticence often led to disagreements with teachers and classmates, and he wasn’t shy about testing the strength of his ideas through debate. Some kids and colleagues just weren’t sure how to take him. Sometimes, he would get frustrated and shut down in class, disengaging himself from others in frustration. My instincts (since I didn’t have a lot of experience to draw upon) led me to think that Angel’s natural intellectual restlessness was an ideal pick for the lock of the unknown. All he needed were questions big enough to match his outsized need to assert himself. What he needed was philosophy.

Following my hunch, I offered a course on western philosophy in my second semester, to share something I loved and to put an undergraduate minor degree to work. I bought books in Angel’s native Spanish to help make the abstract texts more accessible. We organized the class around discussion, to engage with the ideas, and create a space for student voice. More than I would have hoped possible, Angel ran with it. Soon, he was expressing his own questioning sensibility in terms of the Socratic Method. He cast classroom rules in terms of Kant’s categorical imperative. He started reading Nietzsche on his own time, lingering at lunch to discuss passages from books he borrowed from the classroom library.

Lately, many of my first-(and lately second-year) students have returned home as college graduates, having navigated the demands of both high school and university, and Angel is among them. Angel studied philosophy at Bard, and found work in the City University system. He is living the life of the mind he yearned for, even all those years ago. It is humbling to know that even in the earliest days of one’s teaching, you can have such a profound effect on the shape of a young person’s trajectory.

Anthony, Fellow since 2005 

Oct 28

The Things You Learn Your First Year Teaching

During my first year of teaching, I was very nervous about making students present in front of the class. I remembered being a student and feeling scared about reading in front of my classmates or going to the front of the room to perform. I assumed my self-contained special education students might feel the same (self-contained special education is for students that require more structure and support in a smaller setting).

So, I was very surprised when I invited to a guest speaker to my class that wanted to have my students role play without much preparation or planning. The guest speaker was the HealthCorps Coordinator at my school. HealthCorps is an organization in schools that teaches students about being mentally and physically healthy. His presentation was on peer pressure and decision-making. His plan was to teach a lesson, and then have students pick scenario cards, and role-play how to resist peer pressure and make good decisions. I told him my students had never done anything like this before and may feel uncomfortable, especially with a new person in the room. He told me not to worry, and that he would come with a back up plan, but he planned on sticking to his original idea.

The day of the lesson came. The students responded well to his lesson. When it came time for them to role-play, he had the first student act out a scenario with him. It was fun and hilarious. Everyone applauded. Students were jumping out of their seats to be next.

After the lesson, I let him know how impressed I was with him and the students. He told me, “Sometimes, if you just give the kids a chance to do something new, they’ll surprise you”. He was right.

After that, I let go of my worries. I gave my students more chances to be in front of the class, think on their feet, and shine. I still incorporate this thinking into my lessons and classroom all the time, and my students always exceed my expectations.

Written By Corey, Fellow since 2008 

Oct 15

Deadline today October 15th!

Six years ago, Kaia Nordtvedt was studying for an Master’s degree in Arabic and struggling with a sense of unfulfillment in her program. After visiting the NYC Teaching Fellows website, she immediately realized this was the opportunity she was looking for.

“I knew that this was the challenge that I was meant to take on,” Kaia recalls. “Having worked in high-need communities, I believed that each and every child deserves a quality education and an educator who believes in their potential.”

Kaia spent 5 years as a middle school math teacher. Last year, she planned, proposed, and founded a middle school in Brooklyn, where she started as principal this September.

Joining her at Liberty Avenue Middle School are several Teaching Fellows from her own cohort, as well as many first-year Fellows who will start their careers at Kaia’s school.

Kaia is one of the nearly 400 Fellows who continue to amplify their impact as administrators in the NYC Public Schools.

Where will you make your impact? Apply by October 15th.

Oct 02

A Trio of Top Students

Over the past three years, I had a group of students that liked to go by “TUV”. Tanner, Ugo, and Victor are three best friends that went through middle school together and began high school in my self-contained (small special education) math and science classes.

During my first year with “TUV”, I noticed all of them had very strong math and science skills, but had other circumstances holding them back from being in a general education class or passing the state tests.

Ugo was excellent in math and science, but struggled with focusing and sitting still for long periods of time. Because of this, I would always sit Ugo in the front of the class (free from distraction) and let him be my classroom helper whenever possible. He loved to run errands and pass out and collect papers. This helped him to use his extra energy in a positive way. Ugo ended up passing the state math test that year and moving on to general education math and science classes, where he passed both state tests. He still came back to me for extra help and to say hi.

Tanner would get very nervous and overwhelmed when taking tests, even though he was probably one of my strongest math students. He knew the basics well and excelled at multi-step problems, but could not handle the pressure of high-stakes testing. To help him, we began setting goals and taking full-length state practice tests once a month. This helped him to develop endurance, get used to the proctor reading the test (a test modification special education students can have), and feel more comfortable in a test setting. Although he did not pass the test on his first try, he did on his second. I still remember texting his mom and reading her reply. She said how excited she was and thanked me profusely!

Victor loved science. He always loved my video clips about the human body. He was excellent at studying and learned new vocabulary quickly. During the second year that I had Victor, he was in an ICT or co-taught Living Environment with myself as his special education teacher and another teacher as his content teacher. I always encouraged Victor to raise his hand and participate. As a result, his grades in the class improved. Everyone was confident that Victor was going to pass the state test at the end of the year. Unfortunately, he missed it by one point! I e-mailed Victor and his sister to let them know that I would be happy to tutor Victor over the summer. Victor and I met at the Starbucks by school. I brought him books, review packets, and sent him websites to study from. He retook the test in August and passed!

“TUV” was one of my favorite groups of students. I am very proud of them and look forward to watching them walk across the stage at graduation this year.

- Corey, Fellow since 2008