A Blooming Taxonomy: Beyond the Pyramid

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“Ms. Byron, thank you fir teching me obout nouns with people, places, and things. You are my favarate person,” accompanied by a drawing of a colorful daisy, was an unexpected note I found on my desk. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have such a strong relationship with the students I work with every day, but this simple, genuine note of encouragement, proves that the student connections are inevitable and real. With this job, the truth is, that fifteen years from now, you will be someone these one day freshmen in college will remember as one of their third grade teachers. A conversation will happen, and your name will come up. That right there is called a lasting impact.
Admittedly, as someone who applied for the ATR program during my second semester of my senior year in college, the time was scarce to truly internalize what I was about to embark on. Simultaneously, I had decided to embark on this journey in which I would be getting a Master’s degree, teaching credential, and full-time teaching experience, all in one year. The thought seemed overwhelmingly impossible, but for some reason, I was determined to set out and do everything in my power to make it happen. It turns out that that reason I was so determined was actually a deep rooted desire and passion to help mold and impact young minds, to use my creativity, and to make wonderful friends with my colleagues and fellow residents.
Given that I am smack in the middle of my residency year, I can openly say that this is one of the most challenging and rewarding endeavors I have ever set out on. I find that going through such an intense program, not only does one learn more about oneself every single day, one also learns how to balance the different important aspects of life that make us who we are. You balance your graduate school assignments, your classroom responsibilities, your home responsibilities, spending time with friends and loved ones, and most importantly, you learn to take care of yourself. I say this not to scare anyone out of this unbelievable opportunity; making the Aspire Teacher Residency year your whole world can definitely take a toll on you emotionally and physically. However, through this experience, you learn how to become a responsible adult, you learn about self-care, and you learn how to care for your classroom of twenty-four students.
The challenges that are posed don’t mildly compare to how rewarding this program is. Each night, when I reflect through my day, I find myself smiling at the student who finally understood how to round two digit numbers, the student who asked with utter excitement if they could sharpen pencils at the end of the day, and the student who comes in every morning asking “How was the rest of your day yesterday, Ms. Byron?”. It is those exact spontaneous interactions with the students that drives my passion and motivation to teach. There is something about the students’ naïve curiosity and bucket of questions that I feel unconditionally connected to, and wanting to fill with more questions and a yearning to explore.
This is not the program for everybody. This program takes focus, dedication, time, and SWEAT, metaphorically and sometimes physically. Being responsible for a classroom full of students is not an easy task. In fact, sometimes it feels like a full-fledged work out, running from one side of the classroom to the other. However, if you know that you have the drive, desire, motivation, and passion to become an extremely effective, fun, engaging, and personable teacher, the marathon is worth it! Having the opportunity to change the lives of students, while they change yours, is the ultimate gold medal.
Today I can openly say that, despite the long hours of work, the nervous waves I get before teaching a difficult lesson, and the amount of preparation required for each day, with every moment that passes by in this program, I become more proud, more excited, and more humbled by this incredible experience. I have the privilege of waking up in the morning and having the awesome feeling that my actions are making a difference in the students’ lives. How many other people can say that about what they do?
This program is so efficient in getting you to where you need to be; the support provided to us as residents are plentiful, directly applicable, and relevant. Starting out on my very first day, I knew that my mentor Rachel Grimes would be an amazing role model. Her positivity, support, and passion for teaching instantly radiated and I KNEW I was going to have an incredible year working by her side. The mentor-resident relationship is the most productive and powerful learning experience I could have asked for. As I continue to grow and create my own effective and engaging teaching style, Rachel’s brilliant classroom management, organization, and preparedness will continue to inspire and motivate me.
This program, in actuality, is very representative of a colorful daisy. As a beginning resident, you are a tiny seed planted in the ground that needs LOTS of nourishment and sunlight to grow. With the support of your wonderful cohort, school site, and mentor teacher, a beautiful light is cast upon you, making you stronger, feeding you knowledge, and providing you with the necessary tools to bloom into a fantastic teacher. With every day that goes by, I physically, emotionally, academically, and professionally feel myself blooming and valuing what I do more and more. I knew the day I found that adorable and touching note on my desk, I was in the right place.

Written By: Lexi Byron
Third Grade Teacher Resident
Aspire Junior Collegiate Academy

 

4 Truths Only Aspire Teacher Residents (and Alumni) Will Understand

The journey I took to get where I am at as a first year teacher is similar to participating in a marathon. The residency year is the training year. You have a coach (mentor teacher) and you learn different strategies that will get you ready and be successful in the marathon and make it to the end of that 13 miles, or in terms of teaching, the end of the school year. As a resident teacher, you have some good days where you feel great because you feel like you really bond with your students and actually get your students to understand that one math standard. It’s like being able to run further than the day before and you keep getting better each time. Then there are the bad days. You feel like breaking down and feel like you don’t want to go to work the next day because your lesson blew up in your face. In running, it’s like not being able to run as fast as the day before or you don’t hit the distance goal you had for that week. However, everyone who has gone through the program knows that they would not be where they are as teachers today if it wasn’t for learning from the challenges and hardships they experienced in the classroom in the residency year. In the next 4 truths I’m going to tell you about, every resident teacher and alumni has, one way or another, gone through something similar.

1. The residency is A LOT of work, aka goodbye social life.
It’s expected. When you apply for the Aspire Teacher Residency, you know that as a student and a teacher you will be doing a lot of work. My life was dedicated to this program for a year and took a lot of my time. Most teacher credential programs and master programs are two years, but in this program, that two years is jammed into one year. I still remember the countless number of weeknights I had to give up in my social life to make sure my assignments for each class was turned in before or by Sunday. Each week, an assignment, reading, project or a combination of was assigned. As a teacher resident you’re balancing an overlap of these class tasks while completing your delegated classroom responsibilities from your co-teacher and grade level team at your campus site. Yet, despite the busyness, it’s a rewarding year because at the end of all of that work, you receive a master’s degree and a teaching degree simultaneously.

2. You’ll have tons of challenges, but it makes you a better teacher when you have a classroom of your own.Pic 1

Each resident encounters a different challenge in their residency year, but there are some common challenges that usually trend. For example, the students that refuse to do their work or the behavior challenges of students who don’t have self-control. Then, there is always the challenge of talkative students. Whatever the challenges that come up in the classroom, it definitely has made me a better teacher in my first year. When I was a teacher resident, I remember being challenged by a fifth grader who questioned my authority as a teacher in the classroom. Although, it tested my patience throughout the year, it gave me a lot of perspective on equity for students’ needs and taught me different strategies I can use to work with student behavior. Even though I feel equipped with more strategies from the challenges I had as a resident teacher, I still can’t completely prepare for the different challenges I have as first year teacher since each student is different and has their own needs and interests.

3. There are tons of opportunities to make mistakes, but all you can do is learn and get support to fix those mistakes.

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The residency year with my mentor teacher, Taleen, was liberating in a sense that it was like riding a bike. With a mentor teacher, you have training wheels. When you have training wheels, you are more likely to take risks and are able to experiment with your teaching. What I mean by this is that my mentor teacher was my coach, through the good, the bad and the ugly. Even when I made mistakes, she encouraged me to try different strategies in my instruction and behavior management. Like training wheels, she was there to support me when I needed help on differentiating for a group of students or when I lost my train of thought in the middle of executing a lesson. She challenged me to make the mistakes during my residency year, so that when it was just me in the classroom, I already had a few strategies in my back pocket that I could use. As most residents are, I am thankful for my mentor teacher because without her, I probably wouldn’t be an effective first year teacher right now.

4. It’s totally worth it.

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This year, as a third grade teacher, I finally see all pieces starting to come together. Each challenge, each classroom experience, and each assignment has made my first year as a teacher much easier than it would’ve been in any other program. For instance, each data project or lesson plan assignment in the residency year allows you, as a teacher in your own classroom, to create wholesome lessons, differentiate for various students’ needs and analyze students’ data with ease. The program is structured where you are given a coach and a director who will guide you and set you up for success. I wouldn’t replace my experience in the residency program for anything and I am grateful today to have been part of it.

Written By: Kimberly Sazon
3rd Grade Teacher
Aspire Gateway Academy

Team Work Equals Dream Work

Just like the teams we represented on our Spirit Day, who know how to work together to obtain their goals, Heidi and I are an amazing team. Our goal is to embraces Aspires work around equity, and service our children and their families as the unique individuals they are. We just finished a hectic month of assessments, report cards, and student led conferences. But through all these lenses we continued to see more hidden treasures about each of our students and their families. These treasures will allow us to meet their individual needs. Having two teachers in the classroom is gives us more opportunity to meet each of our student’s needs. We are able to address confusions, modify a lesson immediately, and be a cheerleader during whole class instruction. We are able to pull more small groups for guided reading, guided math, guided writing, or any other time differentiated groups are needed. Individual needs can be met because we have more time to listen and observe with two of us being focused and driven to make sure that everyone gets what they need to be and feel successful. Rigor is the key to our student’s development and educational success. Guiding them at their own pace with two teachers in the classroom is a much easier task. We have been able to encourage growth mindset with our students based on the time we are able to spend one on one with them. It is this great teamwork that will lead and guide our student’s growth and ready them not only for second grade, but for a life time of possibilities.Diana and Heidi

Written By: Diana Puccio
K/1 Teacher
Aspire Vincent Shalvey Academy

 

Living our Mission: Aspire Alumni Commits to Giving Back to Community

Aspire Flags

If you were to ask me eight years ago where I would be now, I would have never guessed that I would be where I am today. I was born and raised in Richmond, CA and lived there for ten years until I moved to Reno for five years.

My first two years of high school, I attended a highly-regarded Catholic high school in Reno. But during those first two years, not once did I feel like the teachers truly supported me, nor did they ever really instill in me the idea of pursuing a higher educational path after high school.

Once I moved back to Richmond my junior year, I had no knowledge of what my GPA was, what colleges/universities were out there, or the requirements I needed to apply for college. But then I enrolled at Aspire Cal Prep.

The moment I first stepped into Cal Prep, I immediately felt and saw a difference compared to my old high school. The idea of college was on every wall. In every class, for every subject, the teachers were so supportive.

For as long as I can recall, math had always been one of my worst subjects. I never got anything higher than a C in that subject. My math teacher at that time, Mrs. Salazar, changed that my first year at Cal Prep. I can recall feeling motivated by Mrs. Salazar to always try my best and she answered every question that I had. I truly felt that she cared about me and my education and that was enough to motivate me to attain my first A ever in a math class.

During my senior year, Cal Prep really helped me throughout the college application process.

Before I started my junior year – I did not think of college as an option for me. Once I moved to Cal Prep, I started to believe that I could actually attend a four-year university. I started to believe that I was actually going to be the first in my family to attend college.

Due to all the support and aid I got from Cal Prep throughout the process, I was accepted to five universities. I enrolled at UC Santa Cruz, and graduated this past May with a BA in a combined major of Sociology and Latin American Latino Studies.

While at Santa Cruz, I became involved in an organization called Plaza Comunitaria in which I helped individuals prepare for their naturalization exam. Through my volunteer work, I became interested in pursuing a career in education.

I decided that there was no better place to look for programs than Cal Prep.

I went back one day before the end of my senior year in college and they informed me of a program Aspire runs that gives individuals an opportunity to obtain their Masters in Education, as well as their teaching credentials. Individuals are placed in a classroom with an experienced teacher for a year – it’s called the Aspire Teacher Residency program.

I was lucky enough to be accepted into the program and I’ve been placed at my former high school for this school year with one of my favorite former teachers.

I can’t say enough about how great it is to be back at the place that helped me get where I am today.

I am so grateful to be giving back, not only to the Cal Prep community, but also the Richmond community. I want to inspire todays’ student to go on to achieve their goals, and to return and give back to their community.

Written By: Stephanie Alejandre
10th-12th Grade History
Aspire California Preparatory Academy

Embracing Love Languages

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The ATR residency program is hard work. Neither the resident nor mentor would argue that. At the beginning of every year there are countless demands where we find ourselves working diligently to make sure we are building strong relationships with the community, planning endless amounts of lessons, and figuring out the various needs of each individual student in our class. So where do we find the time to make sure we are building a trusting relationship with each other?

Over the past three years, the ATR director has built time into our orientations for each mentor/seminar pair to explore their love languages in the work place. The five love languages are: quality time, acts of service, gifts, words of affirmation, and touch. These are introduced to us in the hopes that we can use them to effectively communicate encouragement and appreciation for another.

The last two years as a mentor teacher, I was aware of my residents’ love language; However, I often forgot what those languages were come October. This year, I’ve made a conscious effort to honor my residents’s love language and make sure she feels appreciated on a regular basis. Knowing she prefers words of affirmation, I make an effort to write a card, a positive email, or express a verbal compliment at least twice a week.

As soon as my resident was aware that an act of service was what I appreciated most from my co-workers, she has gone out of her to help me out in any way she can. She even made sure this was recognized in our scared meeting norms: “Be willing to help even when it does not serve you”. Our trust in each other has flourished knowing how much we appreciate one another. By starting the school year strong with our mentor/resident relationship, we can now dive into instruction and management to better serve our students.

Written By: Laura Strait
4th Grade Teacher
Aspire ERES Academy

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Master’s Degree in Education – with a Double Major in Resilience and Passion

Emily Ko

I never pictured myself teaching kindergarten.

I came into the field of education in baby steps: volunteering first as a reading buddy at a local school, then tutoring part-time at a handful of non-profits, and then leading my own classroom of students as an After School Educator at Aspire Firestone before finally applying to the Residency Program.  Most of my experience had been working with third graders, and they were hands-down my favorite.  When I found out I would be a Resident in a third grade classroom for the 2014-2015 school year, I was elated.  How perfect!

But when the time came to apply for full-time teaching positions in the spring of my Residency year, options were limited. I had a big question to answer for myself:  Was it more important to stay at the school I had come to love, or to stay with the grade I was comfortable and confident teaching?  I couldn’t have it both ways.

So I thought about my year and everything I had learned.  I had learned about Doug Lemov and Lee Canter’s behavior management strategies.  I had learned about constructivism and how to create a 5E lesson plan.  I had learned how to analyze DRA data and scaffold reading instruction and teach about invertebrates and fractions and contractions.  I had seen all of this unfold in the world of third grade, and it worked.  It clicked.

But I also learned that I can handle more than I think I can.  I learned how to ask for help.  I learned how to fail, and do so gracefully.  I learned how to love feedback, because it made me better.  I learned how to be uncomfortable, or nervous, or frustrated, or unprepared — and to teach anyway.  To love and care for my students anyway.

I was able to learn these bigger, more important heart lessons because of my mentor, Rachel Grimes, who walked by my side throughout an otherwise impossible year, making me feel understood, valued, encouraged, and strengthened every step of the way  …and because of my Resident cohort, a precious group of kindred spirits who somehow always understood exactly what I was feeling  …and because of my colleagues at JCA who supported and encouraged me from day one, despite my being “just a Resident.”

So I decided to take on the challenge of a new grade.  And OH BOY, was it a challenge.  Teaching kindergarten my first year called into question so many ideas I had formed of myself as an educator.  Am I really cut out for this?  Can I handle this many 4- and 5-year olds?  Why isn’t my positive narration working?  Did he really just put an eraser in his mouth?  Has anyone seen my sanity?

But it gets better.

If you know yourself, and you know the people you can count on – it gets better.  This is what the Residency taught me.  Soon, the tears of frustration start to fade, the moments where you want to crawl under your desk and hide come less frequently, and you start to love your kids like they are really yours.  They bring you their rock collection (a.k.a. an envelope full of pebbles) and say, “For you, Ms. Ko.”  Or you’re a few minutes late to class one day and you hear a chorus of “I missed you!” (and also, “I love your rainboots! I think you are beautiful!”)  Or you watch quietly as one of your kids who didn’t know the alphabet the first day of school is now sounding out and writing the word “mwnstr” and you realize – because you are now a real kindergarten teacher – that that is the word “monster” and that is amazing progress.

You know you’re in the right place.

Heading into the third month of my first year as a full-fledged teacher, I can say without a doubt that I am glad I stuck it out.  Each day, I am only more grateful for the uniquely immersive experience I had as an Aspire Resident and the relationships I built along the way.  I know I have found what I love and am learning every day what I am capable of, and I am surrounded by other educators who are doing the same.

Written by: Emily Ko
Kindergarten Teacher
Aspire Junior Collegiate Academy

It Makes all of the Difference in the… Educational World

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When I stepped into my classroom this year as a first year teacher at Langston Hughes Academy in Stockton, California, I remembered to check off the necessities of what it takes to be an effective educator: Motivation, check… Grit, double check…supplies, well, almost, an intrinsic sense of confidence in my craft and openness to continual development? My thoughts rested in a place of gratitude because due to the experience gained during the Aspire Teacher Residency program, I felt at home in my new environment, even on the very, first day.

As a recent graduate from the ATR program in Central Valley, and the mother of a five week old and three-year-old, I knew that my precision and attention to detail would make all of the difference in my first year, resulting in either burn out or in exposing the passion that burned within me for teaching students to express themselves through writing.

During her recent Ted Talk, Angela Duckworth motivated further inquiry: “What we need in education is a much better understanding of students and learning from a motivational perspective, from a psychological perspective…” and goes on to say that “grit matters, especially for students at risk of dropping out” (2013). I believe that the theory of grit applies to everyone present in the classroom, especially the educator. The beauty of the structure of the ATR program shines in the cultivation of continued motivation.

This cultivated motivation and grit extends to my classroom culture. My 7th graders know that they are part of a community when they step through our door and know better than to submit incomplete work, even if it is just one “?” on an Academic Vocabulary Assessment because the acceptance of opting-out for one question can lead to an overall acceptance of defeat when a student either hasn’t prepared, or doesn’t feel prepared. When these expectations were first communicated to students, I faced my share of rebellion:

“What if we just don’t know, Ms. Guzman?” Hands shot into the air like a swarm of silent protests.

“Is an educated guess better than giving up? A blank response communicates that you didn’t try. Having an incorrect answer is okay, then we know where to go from there, but you have to try,” I encouraged.

During student led conferences, one parent asked me if I thought my expectations were too high of writing snapshots and coursework completion. I communicated that if expectations lead to motivation and to ensuring that students not only reach college, but are successful in college, I feel that they are not only appropriate, but essential.

During my time as a teacher resident, I was surrendered to a barrage of expectations—to fifty-hour work weeks with a side of scholarly essays to write each weekend, to trying to achieve a state of work-life balance among the commotion of expectations, and of responding to parent concerns while meeting the needs of an array of learners. Because of the experience I gained, because of the focus on grit, and because of the Aspire Teacher Residency program, what once seemed like chaos is now my solace.

When I was a little girl cycling through an environment of adversity and dimly navigating through drop-out factories, the classroom was my sanctuary. The encouragements of teachers that told me I mattered, were my scripture. When I decided to leave my career in insurance to pursue my dream of becoming an educator, I reviewed many programs, some that even boasted as little as one-month of time in the classroom  in order to earn a credential, but none seemed as thorough or as effective as the Aspire Teacher Residency program. None of them would have prepared me to feel as at home in the classroom as I had as a child, and as I do today.

ATR influences and reinforces the importance of grit as Duckworth’s research has: “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint” (2013). And focus on cultivating grit and a growth mindset, makes all of the difference, in the educational world, for the students, for the teacher, for the changes needed in education.

Resources:

Duckworth, A.L. (2013, April). Angela Duckworth: The Key to Success? Grit.

Retrieved from:

https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_the_key_to_success_grit?language=en#t-170056

Written By: Nena Weinsteiger-Guzman
7th Grade Humanities Teacher
Aspire Langston Hughes Academy