Feature stories

New teachers don’t have to go it alone

Dewey HS Teacher Center is solid source of instructional support

Math teacher Brittany Clark summarizes strategies for dealing with student behavJonathan FickiesMath teacher Brittany Clark summarizes strategies for dealing with student behavior.

Room 379 at John Dewey HS in Gravesend, Brooklyn, is spacious and well-stocked with resources. It’s also a hub of activity where research is conducted, plans are drafted and work is revised.

But room 379 isn’t a classroom. It’s the school’s UFT Teacher Center. Coordinator Teresa Devore has worked tirelessly to make the Teacher Center, now in its third year at the school, a place where teachers can come for advice, resources and support.

Devore focuses in particular on newer teachers, who make up about a third of Dewey’s teaching staff.

“For a lot of new teachers, this is their first job out of college. They have to learn how to interact with a boss and how to support each other and not just go it alone,” says Devore. “So I try to support them in building their practice, finding materials and building relationships with their peers.”

Devore acts as a mentor to many of Dewey’s 19 first-year teachers by planning lessons with them and visiting their classrooms.

“They know that it’s a colleague coming in to offer instructional support and not an administrator,” says Chapter Leader Michael Solo. “They know there’s someone they can come to who has a wealth of information and experience.”

Devore also hosts a monthly group for newer teachers to study and discuss best practices, with topics ranging from how to manage disruptive students to how to use formative assessments to drive instruction.

“Most of our professional development time at the school takes place within our departments, so I wanted to have groups for newer teachers that are interdisciplinary,” says Devore. “There’s a lot they can learn from looking across departments and building trust among colleagues.”

During a recent meeting, newer teachers worked in pairs to study tips on managing students’ behavior from a book called “The Art and Science of Teaching: A Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction.” Then the group of 10 came together to discuss and reflect.

“In my first year I called students’ homes a lot, but it wasn’t always effective because phone numbers didn’t work or parents would call back late,” noted one teacher. Another offered advice: “I realized that some students are very close to a coach or another teacher, so I found that talking to my colleagues was actually most effective.”

Devore asked each pair to sum up their section using just six words. “Recognize and de-escalate, calm and collected” was one six-word phrase; “time out, safe space, self-reflection and return” was another.

For many of the new teachers in the group, the support of Devore and the UFT Teacher Center has been invaluable.

“We’ve learned a lot of good protocols to get kids analyzing each other’s thinking in a critical way,” says history teacher John Pusz, a second-year teacher who is new to Dewey. “Last year, I was in a tough position, and this year I have much better support to make me a better teacher.”

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