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
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
“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.
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
In 2004, I was at a crossroads. I had been working over five years at a job I didn’t love, and felt that my time was slipping away from me. I was ready for a meaningful change, and the NYC Teaching Fellows helped to make it possible.
As young people, we all have big dreams about the kind of adult we want to grow up to become. I’d dreamed of finding a purpose in my work that went beyond supporting myself to allow me to care for others. After working as an internal cost accountant, I wasn’t satisfied that I’d lived up to the promise of that dream of service. Though I was the author, I was unhappy with my own life’s story.
I thought about what I felt the most deeply about, and came back again and again to memories of the classroom, or tutoring younger students, and of the support I felt from my teachers. Feeling I had only one chance to make such a dramatic career change, I knew that teaching resonated deeply enough to abide me through the challenges of changing jobs, moving to a new city and making a fresh start. I submitted my application to the Teaching Fellows, and life began anew.
Nine years after that fork in the road, I can take comfort in knowing that I chose wisely. Teaching provides the opportunity to learn and be a part of daily transformations among the students you serve. It offers the chance to grow personally and professionally among a deeply committed group of colleagues. Before the Fellows, I couldn’t imagine what my life was to become. Now, I couldn’t imagine where I would be without them.
- Anthony, Fellow since 2005
“I love the people who I’ve met in this program. I am so proud and thankful to be with such wonderful, hard-working individuals who have a burning desire to teach children.”
While there were many, many lessons I learned (about myself and about teaching) from those beginning days of my career, the most prominent example relates to my focus in the classroom. Having spent a lot of time thinking about being a teacher before finally taking the plunge, and a lot of effort in the summer training to prepare, I was very self-conscious about what I was trying to do as an instructor. I thought about what I said, what I did, and the activities I asked the kids to complete. In a lot of ways, it felt as if I was at the center of a bright spotlight, and it was difficult to see much beyond the margin of the beam’s intense glare.
But day by day, the edges softened, and I was noticing more and more about my students. I began to figure out what things I did that worked, and went through the difficult process of letting go of seemingly good ideas that simply didn’t connect with my kids the way I thought they would. I considered my words and moves less in terms of my ability to undertake them, and more for the effect they had on the young people they were intended for. The most important thing I learned in that critical first year was that what you say is less important than what your students hear, and what you do is less important than the learning students take away from it.
- Anthony, 2005 Fellow
The 2014 New York City Teaching Fellows program application will open on Tuesday, September 3rd. Create an account in Teacher Track to receive updates about the application!
Growing up in Florida, my childhood exposed me to beaches and orange groves and phosphate mines, all of which inspired in me a deep love of the living world, particularly for marine biology and the fossils I would collect. Years later, these passions resurfaced in my classroom with units based on the ecology of Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, and boyhood collections of ice age bones I’d found being passed from hand to hand among my students. Connecting one’s lessons to personal experiences evokes your interest. It personalizes both the content and those who teach it. Since many of my great experiences were orchestrated by my own science teachers, such sharing adds a satisfying link in a chain of continuity from one generation to the next. We teach best when we add something of ourselves in our lessons.
- Anthony, Fellow since 2005
As a special education teacher, I annually write each special education student’s IEP (or Individualized Education Plan). This plan includes academic, social, and physical information about the student, as well as goals, related services, and classroom setting recommendations. I use these meetings to touch base with the other teachers about how the 9th grade special education students are doing in their classes, what supports they may need, and to help general education teachers to be aware of the services and accommodations special education students should receive in their classroom. General education teachers also give me their feedback and help me to write the IEP.
One of my favorite students this year was Ethan. During middle school, Ethan was in smaller special education classes. For high school, he was moved into ICT or co-teaching classes, meaning he would be in a general education classroom with two teachers (a special education and general education teacher). I had Ethan for ICT English, ICT Algebra, and Algebra support. Right away, I realized Ethan had trouble getting all of the notes down. I suggested guided notes (notes Ethan could fill in) so he could focus on the content rather than struggling to copy everything. The 9th grade teachers loved the idea and Ethan began receiving guided notes to fill in for all classes. All of the 9th grade teachers are blown away by Ethan’s progress.
Working together as a team, we have helped many students like Ethan. I love being part of a teacher team so I can help the general education teachers better understand their special education students and the supports they may need.
- Corey, Fellow since 2008