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.
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.”
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.”
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.”