Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Getting your teaching chops at a charter school

In case you've missed it, I've been writing about a small charter school operator, Navigator Schools, and its attempts to open two schools in Salinas.

My most recent story is here, and it addresses the charter controversy at a national level.

As you can probably imagine, it's often hard to include in a story all the information you request or come across as you research these issues. For instance, I had asked two Gilroy Prep teachers to give me their input on how's like to teach at a Navigator School. I didn't find a good place to include their views, so I'll post them here, edited.

Bri Gottlieb has been been teaching for three years, her last two at Gilroy Prep. This year, she trained new staff on classroom management styles and student culture. When I visited the school on Oct. 7, Gottlieb was teaching her students how to use cubes to measure length. She was using a very catchy song to teach units of measure, a method used frequently at the school. 

Other topics I asked her about: how does she keep up with the energy level (there's a lot of movement involved in the teaching at Navigator)? How much coaching they have? Here's more of her story, in her own words:

"We have many songs and chants so it is easier for the kids to remember steps and strategies. Some examples of math concepts we have songs and chants for are rounding, subtraction regrouping, word problems, money, fractions, time, multiplication, doubles facts, etc. The students get very into them and you can see them mouthing the songs to themselves during tests and independent practice.
"Some days are harder than others to keep up the energy because on Mondays the kids are sleepy so we ( the teachers) tend to do more of the talking. After working for this school for the second year, you get used to walking and using hand motions with instruction. I find I have more energy because I am used to moving around so much. I have joked around that I should wear a pedometer to see how many steps I walk around in a day. I find that the more I move around, the more the kids get excited and more engaged to learn.

"There is a lot of coaching involved. Every week a coach will observe the classroom (sometimes tape) and then meet with the teacher some time later in the week. During the coaching meetings, we go over strengths and two action steps to work on for the following week. I have found that I have become a better teacher from the feedback from my coaches. It is a very positive coaching model that helps improve my teaching skills all around. I am more conscious about constantly learning and more focused on certain actions that I want to improve on. Sometimes it helps to get another perspective on something I want to improve on as well. Before I came to this school, I didn't realize how collaborative a school could be. Most schools are very inclusive to the teachers and teachers work independently. It is very hard to grow as a teacher in that kind of environment. If I have a great idea that works for a better grade, I e-mail my fellow colleagues and they use the idea. It is a better environment to work in and to grow as a teacher. We are all working for the kids and to help them succeed in their education which is the way it should be." 

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