A member of the UFT’s Teachers Assigned Chapter, Lindsey “Desi” Desmond provides support to teachers and administrators who work with the city’s youngest students.
What’s the role of an early childhood instructional coordinator?
I have a portfolio of 11 schools in District 4 in East Harlem, and I typically visit each school every other week. I work one-on-one with teachers to support them, and I also help school administrators and site directors provide targeted support to their early childhood staff. The bulk of my day is spent in classrooms. I’m not there in an evaluative capacity — I’m a teacher just like the teachers I support. I might see an exchange between a teacher and a student and provide immediate feedback, like, “Here’s a way to deepen that conversation.” Every school and every classroom is so different, and yet every single one is leaving a mark on a little kid who’s going to keep going through the world. To see that in so many different places is really amazing.
What are some challenges you’ve grappled with this year because of the pandemic?
I’ve been with the DOE for 18 years, and this is one of the most challenging years I’ve experienced. Last year I was redeployed to the classroom. Coming back into my role this year, there’s a sense we’re returning to “normal,” but there are extreme differences. In the past, with our 3K and pre-K students, there were always students coming from day care, but this year there are many more students who have never been in any sort of early care. I’ve provided a lot of support around transitions, the structure of the school day and potty training. Children have spent a lot of time using technology, so developing students’ language and conversation has been an area of focus this year. And focusing on students’ collaborative play has been a big piece. Kids have been really isolated; they didn’t have the opportunity to go to the park and play with their peers. They’re learning how to interact with each other. Teachers can feel the pressure to teach academic skills even at the early childhood level. We obviously are strong proponents that children learn through play, and keeping play at the forefront of the experience is critical.
How does your support around these issues play out in the classroom?
I have several sites where a specific focus has been children’s tantrums. Often a child is tantruming because they’re trying to convey something, but a teacher may not be aware of what the need is. Their behavior escalates and then you’re in a defensive state to regulate that child. A lot of my joint work with the social worker from my office is thinking specifically about proactive strategies to support students — closely watching a child, seeing the early warning signs and approaching that student with strategies to de-escalate before it becomes a major issue.
What’s your approach to working with teachers?
A good starting point for me is meeting with administrators and hearing about what they think the school’s needs are, then spending time in classrooms and meeting with teachers during their prep periods. One of the real benefits to the job is that it can be whatever the school community and the teachers want. Our main job is to hold up a mirror to their practice.
What’s something you’re looking forward to?
I’m working toward my doctorate in early-childhood education policy at Columbia University Teachers College, so it’s been really interesting to bring that work and that learning into my role. I’m beginning my dissertation proposal this semester, and I’ll be starting my research on the experience of upper-elementary and middle school educators who move into 3K and pre-K classrooms — teachers who come from different backgrounds and suddenly find themselves in early childhood classes. I think early childhood has such a specific skill set that’s so challenging and also rewarding, so I’ll be looking at the implications.
— As told to reporter Rachel Nobel