Don’t Lose Yourself

An invaluable lesson that I’ve learned this year, albeit the hard way, is: don’t forget that you are a human first, teacher second. Teachers are a passionate, dedicated, patient, encouraging, inspiring group of people. They devote their nights, their weekends, their wallets, and oftentimes their sanity to their students. Teaching becomes more than just a job, it becomes a lifestyle. While it is a blessing to have a job that you are passionate about, it can quickly become all consuming. Finding the balance is key to long-term success.

The other day at my church, I met a young girl who had also just moved to Memphis this year for teaching. We recognized each other right away from another teaching event, and so as we shook hands, she said “You’re a teacher right?”
“Yeah, I remember seeing you the other week. I’m Jenessa.”
“I’m a second grade teacher at Cornerstone.”
“And your name is…?”
Then we laughed about how we automatically define ourselves by our career. Before she even thought to tell me her name, she was talking about teaching! We forget that we’re Sarah, Keith, or Tyra first, Ms. Thompson, Mr. Daniels, and Mrs. Osby, second.

My greatest advice to any aspiring teachers, beginning teachers, and even career teachers who have been doing it for decades: Don’t forget to take care of yourself. If you don’t, you’re ultimately doing a disservice to students, because a cranky, worn-out, tired teacher is not who can get the job done. So, go be a human and have fun this weekend! Close your laptop, hide your guided reading books in the cupboard and put on some heels.

Written by:
Jenessa Hefler
Resident Graduate (Cohort 3)
3rd Grade Teacher, Aspire Hanley Elementary School

Because I’m Happy!

Let me start by saying that this is a very exciting time of year! Since the beginning of the residency, we have heard about the PACT and the oral exams. I would say that these were the two biggest tasks required of our course work with the University of the Pacific. I devoted a lot of time to writing my PACT and studying for the oral exams. I stayed home many weekends to write and study because I wanted to feel prepared and complete my work to the best of my ability. And now I am happy to say that both of these tasks have been completed! In addition, there are only days left to complete our college courses. I am excited to have reached this great milestone in the program.

And now that I have more free time, I have started two dance clubs at my school. Today was our first day of dance classes. I am working with the after school program, and it is so much fun. There is one dance club for grades two/three, and one dance club for grades four/ five. Teaching dance to the after school program enables me to share my passion for dancing and teaching. It also enables me to meet and work with more students at my school. In addition, I am teaching a dance to our kindergarteners. They are going to perform it at their graduation. The song that they are dancing to is Pharrell’s “Happy.” When my mentor, the other kindergarten teacher and I played the song for them, their faces lit up and they began singing. A room full of kindergartners smiling, dancing and singing “Happy” will make anyone’s day bright! I feel so grateful for my experience this year as an Aspire Teacher Resident. I can’t believe that in one year I will have earned my Master’s Degree and preliminary teaching credential. I can’t believe that I have had the opportunity to get so much experience teaching. I am grateful that I had a mentor to guide me, and a director to support me. The learning is not over, it has only just begun. But as my college course work winds down, I just want to dance and celebrate “because I’m happy, happy, happy!”

Written by:
Karen More
Teacher Resident
Aspire Junior Collegiate Academy

A New Outlook

I was never one who took the time to reflect on the long journey I have taken and the accomplishments I have made along the way. Anyone who knows me (from my mother to my past teachers) can tell you that I was always the person to be focused on the now—and by now I mean what needed to be done, what I was missing, what I should be doing but didn’t do; all these thoughts were what clouded my head. I was a literal busy bee, a bee who only focused on moving forward and who never rested on the flowers of her successes and took the time to appreciate them. I sadly focused on the wrong—the misdeeds that took place on my life, the rocks and pebbles that caused me to stumble and fall and made me worry; worry about the bad things, the negative aspects of my actions and to ponder only on the worst possible outcomes.

It wasn’t until I passed my master’s orals that I sat, teary-eyed from the nerves of it all and talking on the phone with my mother to share the news, that I realized I have accomplished a lot. After wiping my tears, my mother only replied, “Congratulations—you do realize that you’ll be 23 really soon right? You’re going to be 23 with a master’s. What are we going to do with you?” and chuckled, saying her goodbyes and hanging up the phone. I needed time to just stand there in order for the information to sink in, because it never dawned on me just how much I had accomplished. At that moment, I wanted to turn to my then ten year old self, pat her on the back and say, “You will make your dream come true. You will be the first in your family to go to college,” because in that moment after my phone call, I realized that I did. I realized in the beauty of it all that I had made my dream come true, despite all the pebbles and rocks that stood in my way. I had done it. And if the sheer fact that I passed my orals wasn’t proof enough, as my mother would state, I don’t know what is.

I have learned from this program that I am my own critic, and that yes, this can make me a better teacher but if I dwell too much on what went wrong—I forget to celebrate what went right. I forget that these insecurities are never meant to be held onto so closely and that mistakes and bad days in the classroom may belong to now but at midnight they belong to then. Those satisfying moments where a student smiles because you pushed them past their struggles or they hug you because you are you—that’s what matters. These moments are what tell me I can do it, and having those twenty third graders and awesome mentor cheer me on along the way also helps. 

So, as I look back and wait for the results of my first demo lesson and interview, I am not thinking of the worst that could happen. I’m thinking instead and enjoying the fact that that opportunity was given to me. And I will be sure to celebrate every dream I make happen, not just my own dreams but also the dreams of my third graders—because in the end, they are the ones that helped me become the teacher I am today. So thank you Arizona Wildcats, for helping me grow and helping me see all that I’ve done. You are my greatest accomplishment.

Written by:
Bianka Mariscal
Teacher Resident
Aspire East Palo Alto Charter School

Where does time go?

Diana Puccio's Class - 3.31.14

Where does time go? Residents and mentors are coming into the final stretch of their school year. It’s been a partnership that has embraced a whole year of commitment to one another, our students and our community. The residents have finally finished their PACT. Spring courses are up and running and the job hunt is on. April and May are a busy time for residents as they refine their classroom instruction and demonstrate their knowledge from their classroom experience and coursework with Master Orals. They prepare for their two week take over. As a mentor it’s like watching your child go from walking to running independently with expertise. Graduation at University of the Pacific is a celebration for everyone involved in the program. The mentor/residency program forms a bond with the mentor teacher and the resident that can only be described as unique and life changing. We can take great pride in the fact that our residents are going to build the strength of our organization and touch lives with College for Certain in mind.

Written by:
Diana Puccio
Lead Mentor Teacher, Kindergarten Teacher
Aspire Vincent Shalvey Academy

Rounds

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to travel with ATR to Denver to participate in instructional rounds with the Urban Teacher Residency United (UTRU.) UTRU is a not-for-profit network of urban teacher preparation programs. The network includes participants from cities across the nation like Boston, Denver, Chattanooga, New York City, Memphis, Chicago, and more. During the instructional rounds, we participated in non-evaluative on-site classroom observations of two residency programs, Colorado Boettcher Teacher Residency Program and the Denver Teacher Residency. Attending the session in Denver allowed me to see firsthand the highlights of both programs.

In addition to observing multiple classrooms, we also reflected on the successes and challenges that these residency programs have faced with implementation and teacher effectiveness. We focused our observations on a specific problem of practice as determined by the Colorado Boettcher Teacher Residency Program and the Denver Teacher Residency. The rounds allowed me to step outside of my own instructional space and engage in conversations with other residency programs on ways to inform our own programmatic improvement at ATR and ultimately my own efficacy as a mentor. The experience was invaluable.

As a result, when I found out that this year, ATR had been chosen by UTRU to participate in instructional rounds, I was elated. I knew from experience that having residency programs from across the nation visiting resident-mentor and resident alumni classrooms, gathering non-judgmental evidence would only help to improve ATR.

I am eager to see and hear how ATR will be taken to the next level because of the observation and analysis resulting from the instructional rounds.

Written by:
Ami Hanaoka, Lead Mentor Teacher
Aspire Berkley Maynard Academy

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

100-days-smarter-starFebruary was a very busy and productive month. One of the highlights of the month was February 7 which was the 100th day of school. I am in a kindergarten class, and we have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of this important day. Every morning leading up the 100th day, we counted each day that we had been in school. As we got closer and closer to the 100th day, the students’ eyes would light up with excitement. During the morning assembly, my mentor Maria Vizcaino made a special announcement. She congratulated all of the students on their 100th day of school, and gave a special acknowledgement to the kindergarteners who were experiencing their very first 100 days of elementary school. When our students entered the classroom, the room was decorated with balloons. The students were extremely excited, and they took out their bags filled with 100 items. Throughout our day, we did lessons and activities that incorporated the number 100. I felt so proud of our students. Looking back to their first day of school, I am amazed by how much they have learned and grown.

On this 100th day of school, I also reflected on my experience in the residency program and the kindergarten classroom. One year ago I was applying to the residency program and being interviewed. I can’t believe how much I have learned as an Aspire Resident. I am incredibly grateful for everything that I have learned from my college courses, mentor, resident director, principal, and teachers at my school. I know that there is so much more to learn, and I am excited to gain more experience and continue to practice what I am learning in the classroom.

Looking ahead, I have some big projects coming up for my credential and master’s degree. I am working on the PACT, Performance Assessment for California Teachers. I am also thinking about the oral exams that are coming up in a month. In addition, I am starting to get ready for job interviews. In the resident seminar, we are doing a mock interview which is a wonderful way to get prepared. Tomorrow I am teaching my lessons which will be recorded for the PACT. I have been revising my lesson plans and preparing materials all weekend. I have been working on these lessons for a couple of weeks, and thinking about them for months. I can’t believe that I am finally teaching them tomorrow.

Looking ahead, I am very excited for my students as they are getting closer and closer to graduating from kindergarten. It’s such an exciting time. My parents were planning a trip to California (from Florida) to visit me. I asked if they could come for the kindergarten graduation because I want them to meet my students, mentor, and everyone at my school. And I want them to share in the excitement that we all feel as they reach that milestone of graduating from kindergarten. Tonight, my dad confirmed that they will be here for the graduation. I am looking forward to it, and appreciating each day.

Written by:
Karen More
Teacher Resident
Aspire Junior Collegiate Academy

The Boy Who Lived…

Harry Potter pic - Bianka Blog, 3.4.14

…Was the boy who sparked my continuously growing imagination. Every time I picked up one of these books, I could not wait to dive into the candle lit dining room of Hogwarts, fly alongside Mr. Potter on his broomstick as he zoomed around for the golden snitch and dream up a Patronus (as child I always wanted a butterfly) that would protect me in my darkest hours and darkest times. The boy who lived and J.K. Rowling engraved into me the most important message, the most precious words that a child could ever hear: Magic is real and imagination is how we bring it to life – and the only way to ignite our imagination is by reading.

This message, engraved into me by all my teachers, is a message I want my third graders to see. Although it is not easily understood, reading can open doors and push boundaries like no other. It can paint colors and weave together worlds we lock deep in ourselves and give us the words, the voice, we need to articulate and bring these worlds to life. Thanks to my teachers and the numerous authors who sent their books into the world like monarchs in the air, reading has certainly made a difference in my life. However, despite my enthusiasm for reading and my students’ enthusiasm, I didn’t see too much of that spark – that sudden revelation that the act of reading can make a difference, and it made me feel as though promoting reading and literature wasn’t my strong suit.

However, someone once told me that if I can make an impact on one person’s life, then I’ve made that difference. That one person to me was my third grade boy, Uriel. It began with the first Harry Potter book, in which I would see him come up to me and ask a few questions about the book and how I came about to read them. But with each passing Harry Potter book, I saw him become more engulfed in each page and spoke with him more often about what chapters he was on, what he thought about the characters and other Harry Potter related books he could read. I saw a passion that I had gained when I was his age – I saw this spark that I had been waiting for. I had made some impact on this child and, unbeknownst to me, had nurtured his love of reading.  Each time I shared some information about Harry Potter and his friends, and suggested books that Uriel could read, I was helping his passion for reading grow – one chapter at a time. To this day, Uriel comes to me to talk about Harry Potter and is reading at levels that are higher than that of a third grader. He is my own little version of Matilda – only his power is the power of curiosity – the power and the want to know more and devour one book after another.

So on that note, although the boy with the lightning bolt scar is no longer the topic of conversation amongst young students, he is still (to Uriel and me) the boy who continues to live. He is the boy who has taught us that magic is real and that making a difference start with one.

May the boy who lived live on and may he always show that magic is real – it just takes some imagination and a book.

Written by:
Bianka Mariscal
Teacher Resident
Aspire East Palo Alto Charter School

Together We Can Do So Much

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” –Helen Keller

ATR is built upon this premise – that true learning occurs not in a vacuum, but alongside other highly-effective, dedicated teachers. However, the collaboration does not end after that first residency year. In this, my second year of the residency, I have learned to appreciate and embrace collaboration more than ever before.

Teaching is a profession that can easily be isolating – each teacher, spending the day in their own classroom, with their own students, teaching in their own way. In fact, I believe many good teachers have taught this way for years. In a way, it’s easier to keep to yourself- there’s more than enough to keep you busy in your classroom. However, I have seen how much growth can happen when teachers work together. Collaboration takes many forms at Aspire – from Data Talks, to Dropbox folders full of resources, to shared lesson planning, teachers are constantly sharing, questioning, and helping their colleagues. Personally, I am so thankful for my first grade team this year. I know that whatever the need, I am welcome in their room; no request is too large or too small.

Another benefit of the ever-growing Aspire community is the ability to share best practices across the regions.  I look forward to the monthly “Coach’s Corner” full of ideas from Kindergarten classrooms in LA, 3rd grade classes in Stockton, and the 5th grade team at EPACS. There are so many talented, thoughtful teachers in Aspire! I still take advantage of the wealth of resources at the school where I did my residency year and I love that every time I ask any teacher there for help, they promptly reply with a wealth of information, knowledge, and good wishes!

Teaching is a job that can be done alone, but really shouldn’t. Helen Keller got it right- though we can do it alone, “together we can do so much” more and I believe our schools and our students are better for it.

Written by:
Jenessa Hefler
Resident Graduate (Cohort 3)
3rd Grade Teacher, Aspire Hanley Elementary School

The Residency Will Change You

Olivia pregnant, 2.13.14

In preparation for maternity leave I am typing pages and pages of notes. A daily skeleton, lesson plan tips, behavior and learning modifications, incentive and consequence systems, instructional guidelines. I am on page 15 and I am not done. Explaining to someone how you do your job really puts things in perspective. Teachers do a thousand things every day. Teachers at Aspire probably do two thousand, or at least it feels like it.

This whole process has reminded me of how lucky I was to be a resident teacher. I cannot imagine what summer training and those first months on my own would have felt like without watching and practicing for an entire year. So many of my tricks I got from my mentor, or at least borrowed until I came up with tricks of my own. Walking away, even if just for part of a year, is more challenging than I imagined. I worked so hard to set-up my classroom. I feel proud of my systems and routines. I am bonded to my students and my coworkers. It is only February, we still have more learning to do, but it is going to happen without me!

The residency ingrained Aspire into my identity, a strange realization as I prepare to add a new dimension to who I am. Last night, my doula asked me to describe the most difficult feat I have ever accomplished and soon I found myself describing my year as a resident teacher. When I introduced a fellow resident graduate to my mom at my baby shower, my friend commented, “Yeah, we’ve been through some serious stuff together.” I often laugh to friends that teaching has changed the way I will raise my children, with more patience and a stronger voice than I ever had before. 

The truth is, teaching has changed me. It has made me tougher in a way that benefits every other part of my life. And, it all started with a program that kicked my butt. To all you residents and future residents out there, it is worth it, not just for the job you will do, but for the person you will become. Abigail Adams said it best, “It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed.”

Written by:
Olivia O’Bryon Mackey
Resident Graduate (Cohort 1)
4th/5th Grade Teacher, Aspire Alexander Twilight College Prep Academy

Highs and Lows

When I’ve talked to other residents about their take-over weeks, I received pretty similar responses. Most said something along the lines of: “It went okay. Not too many exceptionally good things or bad things happened. So, I can’t complain. At least I got through it!” Well, I wish I could say the same about my take-over week. Going into my take-over week, I spent many hours planning science activities that I thought would be interactive and fun for my students to learn about our body’s organ systems. I reviewed the math lessons tirelessly, so that I would be comfortable presenting multiple ways to drive home the day’s objective. I prepared homework and handouts, and I organized my time each day to make sure that I accounted for everything. With a little bit of anxiety and a lot of excitement, I felt ready to take on the week.

Fast-forward to my take-over week, the preparation only went so far. I teach two cores of 7th graders in math and science. I taught my first core with a fellow resident, Jennie Wu, and in my second core, I was on my own. The very first day of class, a student noticed that our mentors were not there and exclaimed “Yay, no teachers today!” Panic flooded my mind. I questioned whether the students would see me as an authority figure and respect me as their teacher, and not as a substitute. With no time to dwell, we continued the day’s lesson, frequently stopping to manage behavior. Throughout the period, a lack of motivation lingered among my first core of students. This worried me, but I had to direct my attention to making sure that everything would go according to plan in my second core. And, that it did! My second core went amazingly. My students were engaged and on task with very few redirections, they were asking a lot of question and completing the tasks that I presented to them. Ending the day with these little successes in my second core made me feel excited to take on the rest of the week.

As the week progressed, I was having polarizing experiences with my two classes. The productivity and motivation of my first core continued to decline, despite many conversations about scholarly behaviors and practices. I grew frustrated because I had to stop so frequently in order to ensure that I had the attention of all students. When tasked with working in their groups or independently, very little progress was made. In the whole group setting, only two familiar hands would be in the air for each question that I presented to the class. A science lesson that was only supposed to take one day ended up taking a full two days to complete. On the other hand, in my second core the week that I envisioned and planned for came to reality. The students tested the boundaries a bit, but got right track when I addressed their behaviors. We were able to get through all of the math and science lessons, and I really felt like I was getting into my teacher groove. I felt confident and that I was really acting naturally in front of my students. It felt real, and I think that was the most exciting part of this experience.

Thursday, however, was definitely the climax of my take-over week. Not only was it nearing the end of a long week without my mentor, but also it was the first day of rain in Los Angeles. If you are familiar with LA, you know that 1) it rarely rains here and 2) rainy days breed a bit of insanity due to its unfamiliar nature and the students being held indoors all day long. In the first core, I had to send four students out of the classroom for separate defiant behaviors. Their disruptive energy controlled the focus of class and I was at a loss. It felt like I was stopping every two minutes to correct a behavior or wait for 100%. There came a point where I did not know what to do to pull my students out of this funk and get them to invest in their learning. Once that period was over, I consulted with the dean, assistant principal, school psychologist and my partner teacher about the morning’s events. I felt like so much was out of my control, and I hated that feeling. I felt defeated. I couldn’t understand why there was so little respect for me and Jennie as their teachers, for themselves and their learning, and for their classmates. I was definitely at my lowest point, and I feared that my mood would affect how my second class went. All I could do is shake off the experiences and the frustrations of the first core, and begin my next class with a clean slate. And I am so glad I did. I planned a competitive, sorting activity for my science lesson that day and it was a hit! The students really got into it and worked together with their teams to assemble matching organ systems with their organs and functions. I am a competitive person, so I loved witnessing the spirit of my students. So many laughs were shared and lots of learning was happening; it was incredible. This was definitely the highlight of my week.

It is crazy to think that the highest point and the lowest point of my take-over week were experienced on the same day. This day allowed me to realize that I had so much support from my colleagues at OUP and how attitude and perspective is so important when teaching. When asked how my take-over week went, I can definitely say I got through it. But, unlike other residents, I’d have to add that I had BOTH exceptionally good and exceptionally bad experiences in the classroom. Honestly, I am glad that I had both (now that it’s over) because I learned so much about myself through the process. While I have a lot to work on, I know that I am doing great things. I also learned that no matter how perfect and organized my planning is, things will always run awry. I just have to accept it and adapt!

Written by:
Lara Heisser
Teacher Resident
Aspire Ollin University Preparatory Academy