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.

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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

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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

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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!

Summertime Begins

As the weather begins to warm up and spring gives way to summer, I begin the process of making sure my kids all have something fulfilling to do in the summertime. New York City offers an incredible and diverse menu of options for students to explore, and it only takes a little time and anticipation to match students to them. Some of my students travel to spend time with family and others choose to work. Some of them need extra support from the school to master the content of a class or to increase their scores on one of their culminating exams. Our school even has students around in the warmer months interning as tutors or getting hands-on work under the supervision of our IT staff. The school itself stays busy, even when classes aren’t in session.

For those students without much to do, I’m ever vigilant for flyers and emails and notices of summer offerings. This city is known for the richness of its cultural institutions. Everyone is familiar with how wonderful the Natural History Museum and MoMA and the Met are. What is less evident to the average museum visitor are the number of programs these institutions offer for students in the summer months. Kids with an interest in art or history or science can apply for opportunities to pursue these studies in depth when classes aren’t in session. They can extract DNA, create performance art pieces and conduct community surveys. One summer, I even worked one-on-one in a university laboratory with one of my sophomores to complete a cell biology experiment that was subsequently shared at a conference.

Most of these opportunities are local, but occasionally, kids have even more exciting chances to learn away from the city, too. In the last few years, our school has had students on safari in Tanzania, conducting research on insects in Louisiana and touring factories in Korea. It’s hard to imagine another city with the concentration of resources that New York has for promoting student learning outside of school. There is something for every learner. All it takes is the right teacher to unlock the opportunity.

- Anthony, Fellow since 2005

A Fellow Recalls Her Pre-Service Training Experience

Pre-Service Training was one of the intense times in my life. I still remember getting off the train and heading to Long Island University for the welcome event. It was exciting to meet the other Fellows and my professors, and I couldn’t wait to begin Fellow Advisory sessions and learn skills to make me a better teacher.

My favorite part of PST began a few weeks in: summer school. I was fortunate to find a job before PST started, and was able to complete my “student teaching” at the school I would be working at in the fall. I worked with a global history teacher for first period and an English teacher for second period. As a special education teacher with a generalist license, I am able to teach or co-teach any subject, so it was nice to work in two subject areas during the summer.

It was also interesting to work with two teachers with very different styles. The ELA teacher was strict while the history teacher was more laid-back, and I would say my style is now a mix of both of their styles. The most important thing I learned from them during summer school is timing. By two weeks into training, I was able to plan a whole lesson (with my cooperating teacher’s help), write out time frames in my lesson plan, carry out the lesson sticking to the time restrictions, and have a plan in case a lesson did not take as long as expected. Every second counts in the classroom, and in summer school and my current practice, I am always well planned in order to best help my students rise to the next level.

My other favorite part of PST (and the Fellows program in general) is the people I have met and the relationships I have formed. I still talk to some of my professors from LIU, I now work with my Fellow Advisor from my summer training, and I work with a Teaching Fellow that I coached last summer. I still hang out with Fellows that I met through the program! The Fellows is a really special family that I am fortunate to be a part of.

PST is really exhausting and challenging, but it prepared me for my first year. My university really helped me during my first and second years. And every year, my co-Fellows and work colleagues have been there for support and advice. During PST, make sure to get to know your university staff and co-Fellows, and reach out to them if you need a hand. They will be the best support system during your first few years.

- Corey, Fellow since 2008

Opportunities Inside and Outside the Classroom

I became a special education fellow in 2006 (cohort 12), and was excited to begin a new career in teaching. I applied to the program because I knew it provided a fast track to teaching with the opportunity to work while earning a master’s in education. I knew that the pre-service training program would prepare me for the classroom, and that the people I would meet and work with within the program would provide a support system for my first year. The program would send me newsletters sharing ideas for the classroom, and ways to get more materials for my students. They even kept me up to date with what other fellows were doing, and how to become more successful in teaching.

However, I had thought that after graduating and receiving my initial certification my relationship with the Fellows program would end. The truth is that my relationship with the Fellows had just begun. After working two years as a teacher, the program not only continued to share resources and vital information about my career, the Fellows then started to share more opportunities outside the classroom. They shared new grants and scholarships such as the Award for Classroom Excellence (an award exclusively for teaching fellows) and the Big Apple Awards.

They also offered me job opportunities outside of the classroom to work as a Fellow Advisor during their summer pre-service training. As a Fellow Advisor I conducted workshops that taught new fellow members how to close the achievement gap for their future students, lesson plan, and establish behavior management that included practicing conducting lessons and addressing real life classroom scenarios. It also provided me the opportunity to share my experience and what strategies and techniques have worked best in my classroom.

I also became a Fellow Ambassador (in recruitment) for prospective applicants. It is important to note that all these jobs were conveniently designed to work with my teaching schedule, so as to add to my career and not take away from it. Along with sharing professional development workshops, the fellows provided me with another opportunity to work as an adjunct professor with their University partners. I currently am teaching education methodology courses in special education to new Fellows who are in their first and second year teaching. These courses provide a blueprint on how to best teach a subject such as English Language Arts for students with disabilities. This gives me the opportunity to share my experience as a special education teacher, student, and fellow with the new cohorts.

It has been about seven years since I became a fellow, and the opportunities and support continue to grow. I am most grateful for the chance I was given to teach children with special needs, because nothing can compare to that experience and privilege. Yet, it is a wonderful gift to know that I am a part of a fellowship that continues to help me develop in and out of the classroom. I am doing more today than I ever thought possible, the opportunities in teaching through the NYC Teaching Fellows Program are endless, and that is why I am proud to be a part of this organization.

- Marilyn, Fellow since 2006

Classroom Management is Number One

I 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 Lead

Teaching 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 Classroom

I 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