I am just wrapping my ninth year of teaching. I am surprised that I have found a career that has provided such a consistent amount of challenge and reward, right from the start.
As a teacher, much of my day-to-day decisions are unique to the context of my teaching and the lessons I have learned from those experiences.
About My School
Currently I teach at an alternative school called City-As-School in New York City. It is a very unique school and one that probably needs a little bit of an introduction as there are a number of things that make the school special. The one thing that I enjoy the most about the school is the appreciation for creative instruction and effort towards getting students to be successful.
The students in our school are all transfer students meaning that they leave in their junior or senior year from previous schools around the city. We end up with a student population that demographically represents the entire city with a diverse range of races, classes, and genders. For a student to arrive in my algebra class it is safe to say that they must have failed algebra at a previous school, but it is never clear exactly why. Teaching in a transfer school, therefore, has an interesting layer of gaps in student learning that differ from class to class. I go down to the middle school and blame their previous year’s teacher. I can’t create a curriculum map and expect the entire city to follow, either. This means I need to accept that my students are going to come in on a variety of levels and I have to figure out how to make my teaching adapt to the student’s needs.
Our school operates on quarters, with classes being changed entirely every 8 weeks. The classes are asynchronous meaning students who are in my eight week class in cycle 1 might not be in my class cycle 2, and might just show up again in cycle 4. This means each of the 8 week segments are one big unit which is both able to be taught standalone, yet still fits inside of a larger curriculum that doesn’t overlap.
The primary goal of our school is to provide students with a real world experience. Our school has a set of internships which have been studied and replicated across the country and in Europe. Students spend over half of their week at internship, and take classes the other days, either (usually either on MWF or TH). As a Math teacher, it is difficult to incorporate outside of school experiences into my “Equations and Patterns” class like the people in the “Documenatary Filmmaking” class, but that is something I hope to improve on.
Opting Out Of Testing
My school is also part of the New York State Performance Standards Consortium, which are a group of schools who, thanks to a New York State court ruling, substitute the standardized tests with their own performance based assessment tasks. These tasks have to be presented, graded on a rubric ( based on the NCTM process standards) and scored by outside teachers. Presentations are open to outside evaluators who come to ensure that they are rigorous. One of the challenging parts of the job is coming up with portfolio tasks that are actually worthy of the rubric. It is a good challenge, though, because it forces you to really create something worthwhile.
Last but definitely not least, our school really requires a lot of inter-personal relationships. Students at my school are often there because something at their previous school made them unsuccessful. Sometimes no matter how hard you try with the curriculum, students won’t do any work in your class until you convince them that it’s ok to trust you, and that they can be proud of themselves if they finish. You may discover that, in fact, the opposite is true, that Students who really believe in you, and in themselves, will be successful no matter how hard the curriculum is. Certainly the most challenging and rewarding thing I do all day is talking with kids and figuring out how to engage, or re-engage, them so that they can be successful.
P.S. If you want to come live the dream, let me know. We’re hiring!