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Collaborating during a crisis

UFT Teacher Center played vital role

New York Teacher
Luke Holleran

Manhattan Teacher Center liaison John Holleran has been helping educators get up to speed on remote learning.

Public school educators have gone from standing in front of classrooms to standing in front of computer screens as they reach out to the city’s 1.1 million students over the internet after their own crash course in remote teaching. In the wake of the new coronavirus, they pivoted to this new way of teaching in just three days in mid-March.

But educators didn’t face this challenge alone. The UFT Teacher Center, a comprehensive school-based professional development program, provided vital technology assistance during the first weeks and is now providing ongoing support to educators on both technology and content issues.

Twenty-five Teacher Center experts are staffing the UFT Call Center, fielding calls and emails from UFT members across the city. In addition, 150 Teacher Center site coordinators at individual schools have been critical sources of support for their school communities.

Leo Gordon, an instructional coach on the Teacher Center’s technology team, is among the group answering calls to the union. “We have assisted teachers with everything from what to put into their virtual classrooms to how to get onto the platform,” he said.

Gordon says teachers were initially anxious about the new system. “We were calming them down and walking them through the process of getting this technology working, onboarding them and showing them the right places to get resources,” he said. “We didn’t expect them to be at 100% on Day 1.”

John Holleran, a Teacher Center field liaison in Manhattan who also is answering calls, said the length of the conversation depends on how tech savvy the educator is. “For those who are comfortable with technology, calls go quickly,” he said. “But many members were blindsided by this whole thing. Those calls can take 45 minutes, and the teachers are thrilled to talk to us.”

Neal Rosen, an ATR at PS 199 in Sunnyside, Queens, said Holleran’s support was invaluable to him. “I’ve been on the phone the last couple of days with him,” said Rosen. “He walked me through everything. It was amazing. Now I can do it on my own, and I’m sending in really good assignments.”

Francesca Montalti, a field liaison on Staten Island who supports 20 Teacher Center site coordinators in 16 schools, said her site coordinators regularly connect with each other and as a group — using video conferencing, email and phone calls — to handle any issues that come up.

“Setting up Google Classroom was the first urgent thing so teachers could post work and students were ready for home learning,” said Montalti. “We were able to provide online support to help that happen. Now we keep adding resources.”

Robin Brawer, the Teacher Center site coordinator at PS 6 on Staten Island, had the foresight to begin commissioning student Google accounts in September and began the transition to Google Classroom the week before she learned school buildings would be closed.

“I started to get the information to parents about their child’s Google login so they would be ready,” Brawer said. “It turned out to be very good we did that.”

Meanwhile, PS 6 teachers became familiar with how to use Google Classroom. They learned to set up assignments, avail themselves of resources from the city Department of Education and plan with colleagues what the content would look like for each grade, Brawer said.

Victoria Martino, a math and science teacher at PS 6, said Brawer’s support was instrumental. Martino was soon segueing between video conferences with individual students and segments of whole-class instruction with 24 students at once.

“Parents thanked me and said it was so helpful,” she said.

UFT Teacher Center Director of Operations Rosemarie LoMonaco said educators have quickly built on the Teacher Center’s expertise and support.

“New York City public school educators have shown fortitude, resilience and flexibility in this crisis,” she said. “Their willingness to collaborate and provide students with meaningful instruction is truly amazing.”

Brawer also marveled at how educators have stepped up. “We talk about how first responders are heroic,” she said, “but I feel these educators are also heroic, working above and beyond whatever was expected of them.” 

This story was first published on the UFT website on April 20.

Victoria Martino

Victoria Martino, a math and science teacher at PS 6 on Staten Island, said the support she received from her Teacher Center site coordinator was key to helping her do her job.

Francesca Montalti

Francesca Montalti, a Teacher Center field liaison, said the 20 site coordinators she supports on Staten Island regularly connect remotely.