The UFT’s Middle Schools Conference was back on April 9 after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, with workshops on social and emotional wellness, culturally responsive STEAM classrooms, integrated co-teaching and other topics.
More than 100 educators attended the conference at UFT headquarters in Manhattan. New York City Councilman Eric Dinowitz of the Bronx, a former teacher and UFT chapter leader, was the keynote speaker.
Richard Mantell, the UFT vice president for middle schools, said it was great to be back. “It was just nice to be around people in that setting again,” he said.
Taniqua Scott, a teacher at IS 145 in Queens, attended the Social and Emotional Wellness Practices for Educators session and put some of what she learned into practice the following week. She opened all her restorative-justice classes with “Crazy Eights,” an activity in which participants wiggle each arm and leg in succession for counts of eight, then four, then two, then one. The counting speed increases for rounds two and three. The exercise got students to connect, breathe, move and focus, four of the five mindfulness concepts covered in the workshop.
“There was a lot of laughter and happiness that I witnessed from my students,” she said.
Scott said she found the conference both meaningful and valuable. “You learn, transition from teacher to learner, and then have the opportunity to get things to bring back to the class,” she said.
Richard Gartner, a math teacher at PS 20 in the Bronx, was impressed with the session on building strong partnerships in integrated co-teaching settings. Gartner has been the general education teacher in ICT classrooms for 17 years. “It was very concrete,” he said. “It definitely laid out a way to progress, to become more collaborative using ICT teaching structures.”
Hector Romero, a paraprofessional at IS 220 in Brooklyn, said he picked up great ideas for spreading kindness, showing appreciation and building community in the “Let the Sunshine In” session. One idea he’s hoping to try out is having a monthly birthday party for students.
“It’s a good gesture to keep the spirits up for the kids and the staff,” he said, “and to do nice things for them, kind things.”