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