teacher prep rally

On day one, how six educators planned, worried, and geared up for a new year

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Aristotle Galanis has taught physical education and health at Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers for the last decade.

Before New York City’s students headed back to school, their teachers were organizing desks, planning introductions, and worrying about the year to come.

The city’s 73,000 veteran teachers and new hires spent Tuesday in schools across the city for a day of training and frenzied preparation. Chalkbeat spent time at a few schools in lower Manhattan to see how teachers were gearing up for their first day. Here is a sampling of what teachers were thinking as they got ready for the 2015-16 school year.

Mixing methods

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Gary Cruz teaches algebra at the Urban Assembly School for Emergency Management in Manhattan.

Gary Cruz walked into the Urban Assembly School for Emergency Management on Tuesday with a T-shirt that said, “I’m a mathematics teacher.”

This year, though, he’s preparing to teach reading skills. One of the school’s goals is to work literacy into each classroom, he said, which will mean teaching vocabulary alongside algebra in his ninth- and eleventh-grade math classes.

His plan is to have students underline words that they find confusing so he can help with definitions and use “vocabulary rings” with definitions, examples, and synonyms for mathematical terms.

His colleague Naomi Sharlin, who teaches algebra to special education students, is preparing for the same challenge. She knows students need to improve their literacy, and has already made vocabulary flashcards for her students to use as terms like “linear” and “function” become part of the everyday language of the class.

Sharlin said she has “a little bit of a stress headache” from all that she has to do. But, she said, “I’m excited. Ready to go.”

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Naomi Sharlin teaches algebra to special education students at the Urban Assembly School for Emergency Management in Manhattan.

Practical solutions for real-world survival

Zaileen Washington, who teaches business subjects at Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers, said she hopes her classes on entrepreneurship, marketing, advertising, and financial literacy will help students prepare for life after high school.

She said teachers should be concerned about not just getting students to graduation, but whether students have the practical skills they need to succeed afterward.

“We can get them out the door, but can they survive?” she asked.

She hopes that her lessons on student loans and credit cards are part of the answer.

“All of it leads to finance,” Washington said. “As much as we like to be ‘earthy,’ everyone wants to be paid.”

Over the years at Murry Bergtraum — a school dogged by low graduation rates, violence, and disruption in recent years — Washington said her students have become more informed about efforts to improve education in New York City. Students sometimes ask teachers whether they have a lesson plan prepared, she said.

“They’re more educated about their rights,” Washington said.

Old rules, new students

Aristotle Galanis, who has taught physical education and health at Murry Bergtraum for a decade, said that the first-day teacher meeting and the atmosphere at the school were just the “same old stuff.” Teachers spent the day tracking down supplies, preparing their rooms, and learning about school rules.

It’s the new crop of students, not a new set of meetings, or changes to his teaching style, that excite Galanis.

“I don’t have to do anything new,” Galanis said.

He said his fellow teachers are a dynamic bunch, but had less love for his school’s administration. “There’s one group that doesn’t contribute to the education system,” he said. “They’re called administrators.”

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Corey Carpio is a paraprofessional at P.S. 2 in Manhattan.

Keeping a live imagination

Corey Carpio, a paraprofessional who works with students at P.S. 2, an elementary school near Chinatown, said the best part about teaching is learning from her students.

“I like their wackiness,” said Carpio, who hopes to be an actress in the future. “They have an imagination which we tend to lose at 12 years old.”

Carpio complimented the school, saying that those who work there are always striving to improve. She attributed their gusto to old-fashioned New York City competitiveness.

The staff is “really engaged,” Carpio said. “They always want to prosper.”

‘A little effort every day’

As she starts her second year of teaching, Sara McCarthy is determined to focus more individual attention on her students. McCarthy, who teaches English and social studies to eleventh and twelfth grade special-education students at Murry Bergtraum, said building relationships with students is the best way to help them learn.

“Talk to them about things unrelated to academics,” McCarthy said. “The sports they like, or how many brothers and sisters they have.”

Like many educators, McCarthy has a daunting mission, since she said she works with about 150 students over the course of the year. Her answer to this conundrum is simple: take your time.

“The school year is long,” McCarthy said. “You put in a little effort every day.”

talking SHSAT

Love or hate the specialized high school test, New York City students take the exam this weekend

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
At a town hall this summer in Brooklyn's District 15, parents protested city plans to overhaul admissions to elite specialized high schools.

The Specialized High Schools Admissions Test has been both lauded as a fair measure for who gets accepted to the city’s most coveted high schools — and derided as the cause for starkly segregating them.

This weekend, the tense debate is likely to be far from the minds of thousands of students as they sit for the three-hour exam, which currently stands as the sole admissions criteria for vaunted schools such as Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech.

All the debate and all the policy stuff that’s been happening —  it’s just words and there really isn’t anything concrete that’s been put into place yet. So until it happens, they just continue on,” said Mahalia Watson, founder of the website Let’s Talk Schools, an online guide for parents navigating their school options.

Mayor Bill de Blasio this summer ignited a firestorm with a proposal to nix the SHSAT and instead offer admission to top middle school students across the city. Critics say the test is what segregates students, offering an advantage to families who can afford tutoring or simply are more aware of the importance of the exam. Only 10 percent of specialized high school students are black or Hispanic, compared to almost 70 percent of all students citywide.

For some, the uproar, coupled with a high profile lawsuit claiming Harvard University discriminates against Asian applicants, has only added to the pressure to get a seat at a specialized school. Asian students make up about 62 percent of enrollment at specialized high schools, and families from that community have lobbied hard to preserve the way students are admitted.

One Asian mother told Chalkbeat in an email that, while she believes in the need for programs that promote diversity, the SHSAT is “a color blind and unbiased” admissions measure. Her daughter has been studying with the help of test prep books, and now she wonders whether it will be enough.  

“In my opinion, options for a good competitive high school are very limited,” the mom wrote. “With all the recent news of the mayor trying to change the admission process to the specialized high schools and the Harvard lawsuit makes that more important for her to get acceptance.”

Last year, 28,000 students took the SHSAT, and only 5,000 were offered admission. Among this year’s crop of hopeful students is Robert Mercier’s son, an eighth grader with his sights set on High School of American Studies at Lehman College.

Mercier has encouraged his son to study for the test — even while hoping that the admissions system will eventually change. His son plays catcher on a baseball team and is an avid debater at school, activities that Mercier said are important for a well-rounded student and should be factored into admissions decisions.

“If you don’t do well on that one test but you’ve been a great student your whole career,” Mercier said, “I just don’t think that’s fair and I don’t think that’s necessarily a complete assessment of a student’s abilities or worth.”

Teacher's tale

Video: This Detroit teacher explains how she uses her classroom to ‘start a real loud revolution’

Silver Danielle Moore, a teacher at the Detroit Leadership Academy, tells her story at the Tale the Teacher storytelling event on October 6, 2018.

Silver Danielle Moore doesn’t just see teaching as way to pass along information to students. She views teaching as a way to bring about change.

“The work of us as educators is to start a real loud revolution,” Moore told the audience this month at a teacher storytelling event co-sponsored by Chalkbeat. “The revolution will not happen without resistance, and social justice classrooms are the instruments of that resistance.”

Moore, a teacher at the Detroit Leadership Academy charter school, was one of four Detroit educators who told their stories on stage at the Tale the Teacher event held at the Lyft Lounge at MusicTown Detroit on October 6.

The event, organized by Western International High School counselor Joy Mohammed, raised about $120 that Mohammed said she used to buy a laptop for a student who needed it to participate on the school’s yearbook staff.

Over the next few weeks, Chalkbeat will be posting videos of the stories told at the event.

Moore, a self-proclaimed “black hip-hop Jesus feminist” opened her story with a memory of leaving a teacher training session four years ago to travel to Ferguson, Missouri, to be part of Labor Day weekend protests after Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American man, was fatally shot by a police officer.

“There was so much grief but also so much fight in that place,” she recalled. “I will never forget the moment I stood at the place that Mike Brown was killed. I will never forget the look in his mother’s face.”

She recalled bringing that experience back to Detroit and to her classroom.

“Imagine, after that weekend, returning back to the classroom on September 2nd,” she said. “I fought that weekend for Mike Brown … but I also did it for the 66 kids I would have that school year and every child I have had since then.”

Watch Moore’s full story here:

Video by Colin Maloney

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