When Will started the school year in my ninth grade Math class at Chelsea High School he had significant gaps in his math skills. He is one of the 16 million children in our country growing up in poverty and, like too many other children in similar circumstances, had fallen behind because of years of systemic and personal challenges. By December, however, Will had demonstrated mastery on each Algebra One skill covered in the first three units and was working hard to become proficient at solving systems of linear equations. He had the intelligence and ability to succeed in school all along but needed a strong team of adults committed to doing whatever it takes to get him on a path to success.
Will has shown me what my all of my students prove every day – that the achievement gap that exists between students growing up in poverty and their more affluent peers is a solvable problem.
As a new teacher working to give my kids the excellent educational opportunities they deserve, I rely on the support of my fellow teachers, both novice and veteran, and my school administrators every day, but I feel incredibly lucky as a first-year teacher to have a number of formal support systems to provide me with ongoing coaching.
I am in the enviable position of having not just one source of instructional coaching, but two. As a Teach For America corps member I have a member of the Teach For America staff assigned to observe my classroom and help me identify what is working and what I can improve. Teach For America also provides a wide range of resources and ongoing professional development in my content area. From Chelsea Public Schools, I have a High School administrator who regularly observes my classroom and provides feedback as part of their newly implemented teacher evaluation system, a mentor teacher who share’s his experience, a 9th grade instructional coach, and a special education coach who provides guidance specific to my special education students.
I know what a special situation this is because I have a sister who teaches in another district in Massachusetts and was only observed twice during her entire first year. Because I have such frequent classroom visitors, I am able to get continuous feedback that helps me continuously improve. As a teacher, I make decisions that effect my students’ learning all day long so it is both reassuring and empowering to have a veteran educator (or two) sharing their wisdom and bolstering my efforts.
My instructional coaches are invaluable when I run into the inevitable challenges as I work to set ambitious, meaningful learning goals for my students, track class progress, and invest my students in our work. They both help me identify viable solutions to the roadblocks I encounter and hold me accountable for implementing those strategies. They keep me grounded in my commitment to do whatever it takes to give my students the excellent education they deserve.
I find I get so much out of the coaching I receive because it is a collaborative process. I feel like I’m on team with my district evaluator and my Teach For America instructional coach. I know they care about me and my students and want me to maximize my effectiveness. A supportive environment that fuels a teacher’s ambition to grow and improve as a professional is an incredible incentive for an effective teacher to choose and stay with a school.
I’ve learned so much in my first six months in the classroom and I look forward to continuing to increase my effectiveness in the months and years to come. I credit my students for teaching me more than I ever could have expected and my instructional coaches for creating the conditions that foster my growth. It’s students like Will who inspire me to do my best and take advantage of all the resources around me. He has demonstrated his incredible potential and he deserves to have the best teacher I can be.
Sam Wolfson is a first-year Teach for America corps member teaching math at Chelsea High School.