A Dramatic Career Change

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

The Fellow Community

NYC Teaching Fellows are like-minded, passionate individuals who are expanding educational opportunity in New York City.

“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.”

Advice for a First Year Teacher

There is nothing to compare with the rush of being a first year classroom teacher. In the opening weeks of your career, everything will happen so seemingly quickly except when it seems speed is required, in which case things will slow. Every high feels higher, and the lows can feel especially challenging, especially when one’s initial burst of enthusiasm and energy is doesn’t yield the results you’d anticipated. Throughout everything, you must be resilient, and ever mindful of the positive progress you are making, day by day.

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

Sharing Your Personality With Your Students!

As teachers, we’re blessed that whatever it IS that we are good at, it can be brought to bear purposefully and productively in the classroom. Are you analytical and a whiz with numbers? There’s a way to use that. Are you crafty? The kind of person who likes to make the gifts they give? We need those kinds of teachers, too. Can you tell a story? Are you good at summarizing texts? We need you! Do you readily offer a shoulder to cry on? Do you mind telling corny jokes? Are you a fierce advocate for social justice? Can you speak another language? Whatever ability or asset you have, your kids will draw it out of you and put it to work. This job will stretch not only your expectations for students, but your sense of self as well. What inspired you to love the subject you teach? Don’t be shy about sharing that part of yourself!

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

Collaboration = Success

As a special education teacher, I am often collaborating with general education teachers to help my students. This year, I really loved working with the whole 9th grade team at my school. Twice a week, all of the 9th grade teachers and the 9th grade guidance counselor would meet for a general meeting and a “kid talk” meeting. During these meetings, we talked about what we are currently teaching, met with families, met with students, planned field trips, planned in-school events, and discussed general issues or successes in the classroom or with students.

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

Opening a New School

July 1st marked my last day as a teacher and the first day serving as the founding Principal of a new high school for recent immigrant students who are just beginning to learn English. We are scheduled to open its doors in Queens this September. It is bittersweet to leave behind a profession that I have loved, but it also is an honor to take on the awesome responsibility of establishing a new school.

For eight years, I worked as a biology teacher with hundreds of students. The whirl of experiments and lessons and guest speakers and science fairs made for the most engaging, meaningful and fulfilling work I have ever done. Every day challenged and inspired me, and pushed me to be the best possible version of myself. It is an endlessly fascinating challenge to unearth each student’s potential and to help them through life’s journey. The time I spent with them changed my life for the better.

Content as I was in my role, I was increasingly aware of the scope of the need outside our small school. Each year, we reached capacity before every family seeking to enroll could find a placement. There were teachers willing to meet the challenge, but few willing to leave the classroom to coordinate their efforts. Making a bigger difference meant that I would need to step up to the greater responsibility of creating a new school, modeled on the successes of the one where I thrived as a teacher. I also relished the opportunity to leverage my experience in the life sciences to create a new school focused on careers in healthcare. As the son of a family of first responders, how could I resist the opportunity to bring my personal and professional lives together in a new mission?

Beginning this new stage has been a time of reflection on my earliest days as a teacher. As then, I am facing the challenge of a new role in the schoolhouse. But unlike before, I enter the work with a clear sense of my mission and the benefit of the many years of positive classroom experiences to inform and inspire me in the next stage of my work.

- Anthony, Fellow since 2005

Did you know? Since 2000, over 380 Fellows have gone on to become principals, administrators, and school founders in New York City.

NYC Teaching Fellow Rachael Goeler is a candidate for a Hometown Heroes in Education Award. Rachael teaches at Q233, a school serving students with disabilities at Metropolitan High School. She uses art, music, and dance activities to enhance the communication skills of her students with autism.

Rachael is quoted as saying, “There’s something so pure about this population. When they’re happy, you know it’s not disingenuous. And to be that person to make them laugh or smile has always been unbelievably motivating.”

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/teacher-hailed-helping-autistic-students-article-1.1407263#ixzz2a0SduqER

Building Relationships with Students

During my first year, I had a student named Candace. Candace received ICT or co-teaching services, and I was the special education teacher in the room for her algebra class.

I got to know Candace very well because she struggled in class from the beginning of the year. She particularly struggled with focusing. I would often take walks with Candace during class so she could get out some energy and not wander the halls. She also needed to sit by herself so other students would not distract her. She could complete multi-step problems, but needed support and reinforcement after every step.

One day, I saw her writing a letter to someone in class. I asked her to put it away, and she obliged, but I stopped her at the end of class. She was writing to a friend that was in a juvenile detention center. She also talked to me about her family and her love of sports. That is the day I knew that Candace and I would have a difficult but positive year because we were building a trusting relationship.

At the end of the year, my co-teacher, as a surprise, had the students make a giant poster for me before I came to class. On the poster, Candace wrote, “Thank you for everything. I’m going to miss you out of all teachers. Thanks for being here for me.” I treasure this poster and my time with Candace.

In June, Candace had to take the algebra Regents (the state test). I knew she could do it, but she needed to be encouraged and take breaks. My co-teacher and I went by to wish her luck and reminded the proctor to allow her to take breaks or stretch. Candace passed!!! My co-teacher and I were ecstatic.

Candace, like most of my special education students, had the ability but needed to learn in a different way. She needed lots of one on one attention, prompting, refocusing, breaks, and trust. I still remember this today, and really try to look at each student as an individual with individual needs. It helps me to be a better teacher for my students, and to have more success stories like Candace.

- Corey, Fellow since 2008 

NYC Teaching Fellows Participate in the Fund For Teachers Fellowship

New York City Teaching Fellows Cari Wallace, Lauren Shookhoff, Christina Martini, Eyal Wallenberg, and Dena Zamore will spend their summers traveling abroad as part of the 2013 Fund For Teachers Fellowship. The Fellows will conduct research, analyze programs, collaborate with other teachers, and bring their learning and experience back to their classrooms to enrich their teaching this fall.

Congratulations to Cari, Lauren, Christina, Eyal, and Dena!