Classroom Management is Number OneI am a brand new Special Education Teaching Fellow, proud to be joining cohort 24. I am a career changer, coming from years of music theatre performance, to join the ranks of the NYC Department of Education. I had the incredible opportunity to participate in the 2013 Spring Classroom Apprenticeship. As an apprentice, I spent 10 weeks working with an amazing cooperating teacher at a middle school in the Bronx. I was placed in an 8th grade general education classroom, and I taught over 125 students on a daily basis.
The most important thing I learned during my time as an apprentice was that classroom management is number one. If students are not focused and engaged, they are not prepared to learn. My Cooperating Teacher has fantastic classroom management. She regularly uses two phrases during her lessons. The first is, “One voice,” meaning only one voice should be heard at any given time. If someone is speaking, no one else should be talking. This promotes a classroom culture of respect, where every person’s thoughts are important. My CT self-interrupts her own lesson if students are talking. Even though she has never read Teach Like a Champion, I saw her using the techniques often. In cases like this, she uses Strong Voice to square up and stand still, silently waiting until all talking in the classroom stops. Who knew that silence could be so powerful?
The second phrase my CT uses is, “Pencils down, eyes on me.” Simply put, if students are writing, they are not listening. This phrase became my absolute favorite, because it really works! I learned to give the students specific directions for when it was time to take notes. I like to give my students the go-ahead to take notes by saying, “What you see is what you write.” This way, I could make sure they were completely focused when it was time for the Direct Instruction part of my lesson.
It is incredible to think that in just three short months, I will be in my own classroom, creating my own set of rules. I am excited to start from the very beginning with my students, and to learn how I must differentiate my instruction based on the needs of each individual. Above all, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to help narrow the achievement gap for each and every student I teach.
- Raisa, 2013 NYC Teaching Fellow
Wherever the Road May LeadTeaching is rewarding work, and the first days in a classroom are exhilarating. The job’s purpose, the energy of the students and one’s own love of learning make for a heady mix. But while the work can be absorbing, it is at the same time incredibly challenging. If you haven’t spent time on the other side of the teacher’s desk, it’s hard to appreciate the variety and number of decisions that occur in each moment of each lesson. In the early days of one’s practice, it’s easy to become overwhelmed or bogged down in all the details of the day. It is at times like these that the support of one’s colleagues and school can make a crucial difference.
An analogy for getting started as a teacher is that of learning to drive a car. Behind the wheel for the first time, we contend with a flood of inputs on the speed and pattern of traffic, the road conditions, traffic signals and local rules. Having a guide can make a huge difference, especially because the decisions made in teaching and driving are both so time-sensitive and consequential.
In my first days, the school I started with offered the support of a teaching coach, who offered to observe my lessons, share curriculum ideas and review the materials I prepared for my students. It wasn’t only a benefit to me, but to my first classes of students to have someone to clarify my intentions and shape my practice to fit them.
This support was reinforced by an instructional team structure in which the math, history, science and English teachers all see the same students in the same class configuration. This allowed for frequent formal sharing (instructional and guidance meetings) as well as informal exchanges over lunches and in sharing one another’s classrooms. There was also a lot of observing and being observed in the act of teaching. Periodically, I was invited to watch the work of successful teachers not only in my own school, but on other campuses as well. My school leader checked in on me to see how I was progressing and to offer encouragement or constructive feedback. Between peers and coaches and administrators, I was observed by someone so often that I quickly grew comfortable having others in my room. It could be revealing to struggle with my colleagues so close at hand, but in the end, I believe that maintaining that level of openness to feedback truly accelerated my growth as an instructor.
Finding a school that offers a variety of supports to its staff and establishing the professional habit of seeking and acting on feedback are critical steps in establishing a long and productive career in the classroom. Just as one grows in confidence behind the wheel, with time and careful constant effort, classroom adjustments come more and more naturally, like reflexes. With the self-assurance that comes from experience, you can truly enjoy the journey, wherever the road may lead.
The City as a ClassroomI love teaching in New York City because of the field trips I can take my students on. Usually, I try to plan field trips at the end of a unit because it really enhances the trip when students have prior knowledge and a strong interest in the material being presented. In previous years, I have taken my dance class to a Flamenco performance, my special education science class to the Bodies exhibit and the Museum of Natural History, and my special education history class to the Museum of Jewish Heritage.
This year I was part of the 9th grade teacher team at my school. With about 40-50 freshmen for each trip, we went to the Museum of Math, The Highline, NY Hall of Science, the movies, CitiField for a college day and Mets game, and more. My favorite trip of the year was to CitiField for the college day. This was the first time that many of my students went to a professional sports game. My students’ faces lit up when they saw the inside of the stadium. My student, named Kenny, looked around the stadium, and said, “Miss, this place is amazing” with a huge smile on his face. My other student, Jamie, made me happy when I glanced over to see her taking notes on her smart phone about college websites and resources.
After the college presentation, we then showed our students our seats and let them go on their own for an hour and a half to check out college booths, get lunch, and explore the stadium. We cheered, we danced, and we caught t-shirts. We taught the students about baseball rules, statistics, and players. They had the time of their lives. We, the teachers, had the best day of the school year. It was a truly awesome way to end our year.
Working in New York City allows my students and I lots of opportunities to apply our knowledge and learn outside of the classroom. I am thankful that I have many resources and opportunities for my students because I work in a big city.
- Corey, Fellow since 2008
Embarking on the Journey
My name is Alicia Green, and during the spring I had the opportunity to participate in the Spring Classroom Apprenticeship (SCA). SCA is a 10 week program that gives fellows a chance to experience being in a classroom setting prior to pre-service training. I was very content when placed in a special education classroom. Having many years of experience working with this population in the social work field; I was eager to work with this population in a different setting. My cooperating teacher was a middle school ELA teacher who taught sixth, seventh, and eighth special education and one general education eighth grade glass.
The morning of the SCA I remember being filled with mixed emotions. I was excited to embark upon this journey, but I was also nervous about the unexpected. Because this was my first time in a classroom setting to this capacity I was unsure about my role as a teacher. However, I made a conscious decision to always have a positive, student-centered attitude regardless of how challenging this experience may become.
During SCA one of the main things I learned was that if a teacher sets high academic expectations and creates a structured learning environment for students they will ultimately rise to those expectations regardless of the situations they may be facing. The “Teach like a Champion” techniques help to make this type of environment and expectations possible for students to reach. When working with a student named Daniel I noticed he would often display distracting behaviors that would result in him having a difficult time staying on track and reaching the academic expectations. When I would address the behaviors he shouldn’t be doing it would only send him further off track. Once I began using the “What to Do” technique to focus on what he should be doing; he managed to stay on track a lot better and reach the academic expectations.
SCA has been a very insightful, challenging and rewarding experience overall. My advice for fellows going into pre-service training is to always keep a positive student centered attitude, embrace feedback (which will be given to you often), and to appreciate the value that each component of pre- service training has to offer. This training platform will build the foundation for your roles as teachers. I believe this is a key factor as you too embark upon the journey to become successful fellows and great teachers who are committed to raising student achievement and closing the achievement gap in high needs schools throughout NYC.
- Alicia, 2013 NYC Teaching Fellow
Coaches and Fellow Advisors are Ready for Training!I was lucky to have the opportunity to observe some of our stellar Coaches and Fellow Advisors preparing to meet their Fellows at Pre-Service Training.
I was impressed with the great work these fantastic teachers are doing to ensure that their Fellows will receive high-quality, practice-based support and training this summer. I heard them discussing, “the power of practice” and the importance of reflection throughout the day.
I can’t wait for the Welcoming Event and the start of Pre-Service Training on Monday!
Fellows, your Coaches, Fellow Advisors, and students are waiting for you.
- Anna, NYCTF Staff Member
A Day in the LifeA day in the life of a special education teaching fellow is anything but typical. There are a few things that are constant, the time I start work and the exciting challenge to teach a new skill to the students. I meet my students while they eat breakfast to interact with them and set a positive tone for the day. The morning is actually the most important time, because it is the first opportunity give a warm greeting and see how the students are feeling. I remember having a student named Diamond who never wanted to greet me and seem to always be upset — there were times he would enter the cafeteria and immediately get into conflicts with his peers on a weekly basis. I was not sure what was happening to Diamond before he came to school, but I decided to go out of my way to greet him even if he rejected my morning smile.
One day he asked me, “Why are you always smiling at me?”
I told him that, “I noticed you’re always upset, and I want you to know that whatever happens outside of the school or during your morning, when you arrive at breakfast you can always start new, and I just want to make your morning better. You can always talk to me if you are upset while you eat breakfast.”
Little by little Diamond began opening up to me and sharing his feelings and what his mornings were like. He was usually awakened by a sibling fight, harassed by a neighborhood bully, and was always running to school trying to avoid violent areas. Then he would arrive at school only to be mocked and teased by other students in the cafeteria.
I couldn’t change everything in his life, but I could at least help change his mood and get him ready to learn. My little ten minute conversations with him improved our relationship and pretty soon Diamond was the one looking to brighten my morning with a big smile.
During a normal day, I teach four to five classes in core subjects such as English, Language Arts, social studies, and math. ELA is the best subject because it is where you often see the greatest progress in special education. In special education, many students are performing below at least two grade levels. Helping a child read is the greatest challenge and reward a teacher encounters and the impact that reading has on the child’s self-esteem makes all the work worthwhile.
The students leave by 3pm and then my preparations for the next day begin. In the classroom, I straighten the room and gather materials for the next lesson. As a special education teacher I have the unique challenge of creating a lesson that is creative and interesting for the students while still addressing their different learning needs. For example, in the classroom I will have students with academic skills on grade level and others from two to four years below their grade level. Therefore, in order to differentiate the lesson (or modify according to student needs) I separate the lesson activities into groups. Each group activity will reinforce the lesson objective with a task that is on their academic and cognitive level. If I need the student to read and answer questions on a text, the reading will cover the same topic but on varying reading levels. One group can write short answers to the questions, another can be given the questions in simpler form and highlight key ideas, and another can get more assistance from me or my paraprofessional. It may seem complicated, but this kind of planning allows me to help build my student’s individual skills without sacrificing the lesson objectives. Looking at my typical day I realize that it does not always end at 3pm, but the satisfaction lasts forever.
Marilyn, Fellow since 2006
Teaching Fellows Honored With Big Apple Award
Two NYC Teaching Fellows, Patrick Berry and Erika Bogdany, are winners of the inaugural Big Apple Award. This city-wide award recognizes teacher excellence in the public school system. All award recipients receive a $3,500 classroom grant to deepen their work with students.
Erika and Patrick were commended by Chancellor Walcott and Mayor Bloomberg during a ceremony at Gracie Mansion. “Great teachers are a school’s most valuable asset, and we must recognize their skills and the impact they have on our students – even beyond the classroom,” Bloomberg said. “I am thrilled to present these awards to honor and celebrate these inspirational educators.”
Patrick and Erika were selected from over 2,000 nominees and participated in an application process that included being nominated, interviewed, and observed in the classroom. Patrick Berry teaches 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts at J.H.S Whitelaw Reid in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Erika Bogdany teaches high school English Language Arts at Brooklyn Bridge Academy in Canarsie, Brooklyn.
Congratulations to our stellar Fellows! Read more about their accomplishments here.
Observations from the Spring Classroom ApprenticeshipMy name is Nathaniel Shelness and since moving to NYC in 2009, I have worked with public school students in a variety of settings, including at museums, as a classroom tutor, and during afterschool programs. This spring, I participated in the NYC Teaching Fellows’ Spring Classroom Apprenticeship (SCA), where I trained for 10 weeks in the classroom of a master teacher at a Brooklyn middle school.
Although I bring some experience in education to the Fellows, the SCA program put me in the shoes of a teacher during the school year. This showed me first-hand some of the ways—both expected and unexpected—that master teachers ensure students are learning in their classrooms.
Although a classroom’s decor might not seem like it should be a priority for a teacher in a high-need school, I have observed how the layout, organization, and decorations in a room can contribute significantly to classroom routines and student learning.
My host teacher’s classroom was well organized and all students knew where to handle their needs, from sharpening or borrowing a pencil, to getting a tissue, to finding a reference book. This greatly reduced interruptions during the lesson, maximizing the amount of time we had to cover difficult science concepts.
Students also created most of the posters decorating the classroom’s walls. To conclude a unit, students would carefully draft charts, make drawings, and create posters that displayed their knowledge. Then they presented their poster to the class, and some posters were hung on the walls. Students took great pride in having their posters displayed and used as references during the next unit. Making the posters also engaged them in higher-order thinking skills, such as how to organize and communicate concepts.
As I observe more teachers, I make sure to note how they have arranged and decorated their rooms, and how that relates to class routines and learning. I watch how students respond to their spaces during the lesson, and pay attention to how the teacher directs classroom routines efficiently.
There is a lot to take in when working a high-need classroom. You see different techniques for commanding a room, structuring a lesson, breaking down a concept, and dealing with off-task behaviors. I would encourage Fellows to also pay attention to the classroom’s organization and decoration, and to ask master teachers to explain the creative ways they use their physical spaces to help raise student achievement.
Nathaniel Shelness, 2013 Fellow
A Day in the Life
My teaching day starts at 8 am and ends at 2:57 pm. I co-teach 9th grade English and 9th grade Algebra. These classes are Integrated Co-Teaching (“ICT”) classes, which means up to twelve special education students are in the class as well as general education students. I also teach an 8th grade all girls dance class.
During the day, I teach many different subjects and work with many different teachers, but it is very helpful to see my students in a variety of settings. My favorite class of the day is my Algebra support class.
In the beginning of the year, my algebra co-teacher and I realized that some students needed extra help and support in math. We went to our Principal and she fully supported the idea. Now, I have a 12 student class in which I preview and review math concepts.
This is my favorite part of the day because I get to really help every student on an individual basis. I quickly present the topic for the day, giving specific steps and examples that my students can follow on their own. Then, I give them a variety of questions and activities to choose from to practice the topic. I may have four students working on some practice problems together, two students playing a game, and four students working with me. I always have an answer key so I can quickly check if my different groups of students are on track.
I had a student named Jeremiah who was struggling in Algebra. He needed to pass math to be on the basketball team. His dad came into parent/teacher conference very worried. I told him I was going to be starting a small group support class and I would make sure his son would be a part of it. I also told him not to worry, and I promised him Jeremiah would be okay in math. Now, after receiving six months of individualized support in algebra, Jeremiah has an 85 average, comes up to the board regularly to present his work, and can often be found pulling up a chair and explaining math problems to other students. I am very proud of his progress.
I like being a special education teacher because of the strong relationships I have built with my students and some of their families. I truly believe for a student to succeed, they must feel safe and supported. They also have to trust their teacher. My students know I am there for them and I will do whatever it takes to help them.
Corey, Fellow since 2008
To Teach Science, Be A ScientistYoung children are born scientists. They ask questions about the world around them. They pick up interesting rocks and leaves, explore the grounds of their local parks and obsess about dinosaurs or horses or sharks. There is a natural, innocent fascination that is both passionate and extremely delicate. By the time many of our students arrive in high school, they have somehow come to the mistaken beliefs that:
a. Science is too hard. b. Science is boring. c. They are not ‘good’ at science.
One cause of this loss of connection to one’s inner scientist is the flawed way that science frequently is taught. Blackboard lectures may be efficient at communicating complex explanations of natural phenomena, but they are hardly inspirational. NYC’s own Nobel laureate Richard Feynman described the allure of science as “the pleasure of finding things out.” The science educator’s challenge is to nurture (or even rekindle) in mature students that same sense of natural wonder that inspires young children.
Let them discover. Science isn’t just about explaining, but questioning as well. By presenting the discipline as a series of explanations without encouraging questioning we misrepresent the enterprise and lose its essential spark. One of my colleagues overcomes this by structuring short investigations to model the skills needed for the experiment, and then opening the work for students to try answering their own questions. For example, we learn to culture bacteria on a plate before turning kids loose to find the ‘dirtiest’ surface in the classroom. We practice collecting DNA, and then allow kids to collect and compare their own samples. Let them grapple with questions that haven’t already been answered. By incorporating students’ inquiries, we not only give a truer representation of what scientists do, but grab and hold their interest. They aren’t just receiving knowledge - they are creating it.
Your own passion for science serves as an inspiration to your students, like a torch relay from one generation to the next. To teach science well, be a scientist. Real research frequently involves confounding results and experiments that produce inconclusive data. Sustaining kids through these challenging moments requires you to model the attitudes of resilience and creativity that all great scientists have. But by giving students the chance to ask and answer questions, by serving to feed their curiosity, they will learn that they are naturals at science, a field that is never boring or difficult, so long as they have your support in playing with the questions for themselves.
Anthony, Fellow since 2005