No Series: The New Teacher Experience

The New Teacher Experience

Lesson Objective: Mentors work with teachers as they begin their first year of teaching
Grades 9-12 / All Subjects / Feedback

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Discussion and Supporting Materials

Thought starters

  1. How do the teachers reflect their personalities and backgrounds in their classrooms?
  2. What strategies do the teachers use to address the range of abilities in their classrooms?
  3. How does being observed by their mentors give the teachers insight into their practice?

36 Comments

  • Private message to Henry Wong

In terms of being watched by other teachers, makes me be more aware of what I am doing.  It is always helpful to get feedback from a professional.  Sometimes things are pointed out that I might not be aware of, it opens possibilities. 

Addressing range of abilities in the classroom: I feel like there is always something to highlight in a student's work.  that is a good way to start and develop their skills. Meeting them where they are is important. 

Backgrounds and personalities: This affects so much of what we do.  I feel like the mood and the energy that we have as teachers will affect the student's experience and attitude. This keeps you in check.

 

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  • Private message to Leticia Veliz

As part of being new teachers, you also need to complement having tutoring, having the experiences of the rest of the techers and been in the meetings.  They both have the best possitive attitud and never give up.  They both focussing in how to help students egageing in their clasess and the  reflexction of the supervisors and the meetings with old teachers help them a lot.  I enjoyed the video.  Thanks

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  • Private message to Elizabeth Owonikoko

This is a very insightful video. I can see why classroom management matters from the first day of school. It is important to get to know the students. I love the name tag activity. Having the students collaboratively come up with the class rules and the consequences is a way of making them responsible and accountable to their actions. I have learned that as a new teacher, don't be too preoccupied with what you think you are doing wrong to not notice your strength and tap into it. Establishing a positive learning environment where every student would thrieve is very important. It is also good to get to know the students without making your judgment base on what you were told about the school and the students. Using instructional strategies that are effective in keeping the students engaged and motivated to want to learn is key. The students can lose interest if what you are giving them is too simple for their grade. Plan your lesson to accommodate instructional materials that will challenge the students without worning them out.

Collaborating with old teachers, attending meetings, trainings and above all implementing every feedback from your mentors will help a new teacher navigate through the first year of teaching. 

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  • Private message to Nestor Pantoja

As a future teacher, I was really inspired by this video. I thought it was very interesting and helpful to see how both teachers tackled through the challenges and oppurtunities that their first years brought.

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  • Private message to Manuel Santana

I felt so nervous for them! The braille symbol interaction was very illuminating, I feel like this should be a crucial piece of teacher training in every program.

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Transcripts

  • PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT
    THE NEW TEACHER EXPERIENCE

    Michael Russo:
    So, you’ve got two more weeks left to school. That’s got to feel

    PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT
    THE NEW TEACHER EXPERIENCE

    Michael Russo:
    So, you’ve got two more weeks left to school. That’s got to feel good––completing your first year of teaching. Our goal today is kind of to reflect back on the beginning of the year, it’s chance to kind of spend some time thinking about what you’ve experienced and how that’s influenced you as a teacher, and then what we’ll do is we’ll kind of try to summarize the successes that you’ve experienced this year, some of the challenges that you faced… so just take a moment and reflect on that.

    {Applause}

    Speaker:
    Good afternoon, everybody. I'm pleased to welcome you all to this graduation of the first cohort of the Los Angeles Urban Teacher Residency. As you know, we have a very important mission. We all know that student achievement depends on teacher quality, and it is our mission to create the most effective, the most passionate, the most dedicated educators in the district.

    Alex Torres:
    This program's been difficult. I think it's probably a bit of an understatement. This program has had its hiccups–occasionally those hiccups that almost become heart attacks. Probably a few of you know I'm a big nerd, and I'm a big fan of, you know, medieval times, and I like swords; I'm a big fan of swords–shiny things. And it reminded me of the story of how a sword is made. When a sword is made, a master forger makes it from the finest steel. They burn away the impurities, they shock it with water after they've heated it up and beat it to a pulp. We've been through the forger’s fire. We have been beat upon, we have struggled, we have worked, we've got plenty of blood, sweat and tears. And at the end of it, we've become the finest swords that this program has been able to produce. Our influence is eternal: those students that we influence, they will influence people. We're the strongest, finest tempered steel. We didn't all make it, but we all tried our best. And we've become the best that we can be. Thank you.

    {Applause}

    Narrator:
    Few who’ve never taught understand the difficulties that new teachers face. To spotlight the demands and challenges of the profession, we’ll follow Mr. Torres and Ms. Felix through their first year of teaching, and with the help of a mentor from the New Teacher Center, we'll give them the opportunity to reflect back on their struggles, successes, and, most importantly, the next steps they'll need to take to become great teachers.

    Narrator:
    Our teachers begin their career at East L.A.'s Woodrow Wilson High School. Mr. Torres will teach Algebra and Geometry. Ms. Felix will teach Biology and Integrated Coordinated Science, or ICS.

    Clerk:
    Hi!

    Felix:
    My keys. I don't know if...

    Clerk:
    You need keys?

    Felix:
    Yeah.

    Clerk:
    Okay.

    Felix:
    Thanks, Mr. Flores.

    Mr. Flores:
    Gotta make sure it works.

    Felix:
    Yay, it works!

    Flores:
    Go on in. Okay, this class is ready to go. It's clean.

    Felix:
    Yeah, I set it up.

    Saray Felix (Interview):
    The one thing that I said to myself when I was in high school… at one point I said, “I want to do something with my life where I will make a difference.” And I thought medicine, you know, medical field– that was going to be the path for me, but then, when you get evolved in education… wow! I mean, you are changing so many lives.

    Alex Torres (Interview):
    I chose to become a teacher because I felt like I could be one of the bigger influences in students’ lives. And I feel like really being a mentor and a teacher for somebody can really not only save one life, but it can also help that person affect other people.

    Torres:
    I’m thinking of getting a tablet, but I don’t know how to hook it up to the projector wirelessly, because I want to be able to walk around with it.

    Felix:
    But your room was clean, right?

    Torres:
    My room was what?

    Felix:
    Clean?

    Torres:
    Sort of.

    Felix:
    Really?

    Torres:
    I had some spiders in the drawers.

    Felix:
    Oh, well yeah. They're not gonna get in those little nooks and crannies.

    Torres:
    Yeah.

    Esmeralda Mora:
    So what does your room look like now? You have one of the original rooms in the building, right?

    Felix:
    I think so, yes.

    Mora:
    Yeah, so she has all the built-ins and all the good stuff.

    Felix:
    Yeah. And then I still have the storage room next to the lab.

    Mora:
    Those storage rooms, you usually share them. I wouldn't push too much because it may be that somebody there in the department has dibs on this room, and that that's it, nobody else uses it even though it's empty. Space and who has access and keys in a public school are like status symbols. So, do you guys have your first week kind of figured out? Like what you're gonna do with the kids to kind of get the community-building going and that kind of stuff, or what are some of your ideas?

    Torres:
    Yeah, that's the one big thing I kind of have figured out already, is just the culture that I'm trying to establish. I'm really trying to go for the nerdy culture.

    Mora:
    Yeah. Okay.

    Torres:
    Because, I mean, it's what I'm into, so I think the kids will get a kick out of it. So I'm trying to establish that culture, the expectations, really getting to know the students the first couple days.

    {School bell}

    Torres:
    All right guys, we're gonna go ahead and get started. A quick introduction: my name's Mr. Torres. So this is a little bit about me. I'm from Mexicali, Baja California. Anybody know where that's at?

    Student:
    Oh, so you speak Mexican?

    Torres:
    Huh?

    Student:
    You speak Spanish?

    Torres:
    Yeah, I speak Spanish.

    Students:
    [Laughter]

    Torres:
    That's me and my wife. I'm the one on the left. Okay, so I like to be funny, I like to be humorous. I don't think school needs to be boring, I don't think it needs to be dry. I do think you need to work, but I think it can be fun. Okay, some things I like: science, technology, geek culture. I love “Big Bang Theory,” I don't know if any of you guys have watched that.

    Student:
    Yes!

    Torres:
    I'm a super big nerd, I'm a totally huge, just ridiculous nerd, and I think that's okay. I think that's pretty awesome. Anyways, today is more about getting to learn about you guys. You guys only have to learn about, what, eight of your teachers? I have to learn close to 200 students. It's going to take me awhile. So, to help me out, you guys are gonna do name cards. I'm super bad with names––really, really, really bad––so I need some help. We're going to make some name cards, okay? Talk to each other about what your cards mean, so then you’re gonna present the other person to the class. Take about 30 more seconds, finish up your conversations, learning about your partner, and then we’ll just go through the class and introduce each other.

    Amber:
    This is Victor. He likes to use the phone, he likes to be on the computer, he likes music. He was born in June. He likes screwing with people, so he had me draw a troll. He's 16, and he has a lot of friends, and he's not racist, so…

    Student:
    He's not racist?

    Amber:
    That's why he drew them all different colors!

    Randy:
    He likes money, he's 16…

    Eduardo:
    He likes to ride his mountain bike, he likes to hang out…

    Sarai:
    He's Mexican-American, he's 17…

    Mariela:
    She likes hanging out with friends, she likes music, she went to Farmdale and El Sereno Middle School…

    Torres:
    Awesome. All right, I think that's everybody, right? Make sure you leave your nametags! Your nametags stay on the table.

    Mora:
    How about you, what are you doing?

    Felix:
    Well I'm going to do various things, so it's going to be a combination of... I'm getting them into a science mindset, and also collaboration, teamwork, team-building, and just, of course–– just build up the sense that it's our classroom, we are going to be working together, and we are going to respect each other. I want to give them more structure.

    Felix:
    All right, so you guys remember from Tuesday– Wednesday: you come in, you sit down, and you start to write. This is where your agenda will usually be. So, start writing the agenda, and the warm-up is up on the board for you to start. It says: “On the star, write a positive verb about yourself.” Why are you a superstar? So, I'm trying to set the environment for you guys. Remember how we said we're going to work in groups a lot? I want you to respect each other, and in order for you to do that, you need to respect yourself first. So, we're going to bring out some of your best qualities and write them on the star. And the reason I want to collect them is to put them all over the classroom, okay? So I'll be putting them in class so you can remember why you are superstars and why you have great qualities that you'll bring to your group.

    Felix:
    So what’s going on? You guys aren’t getting anything done.

    Hernando:
    I don’t know why I’m a superstar.

    Felix:
    Because you’re smart, because you’re nice…

    Saray Felix (Interview):
    So when I was in high school, I didn't think the teachers cared for me, that was the main thing. And they didn't. They would always put you down; they would always tell you all these things that you were never going to amount to. And so you're not going to respect someone that really thinks that little of you. And so for me, that was another thing that I really had to make sure I implemented into my first days of instruction: that they know that I'm here for them. I always speak very positively to them, and I try to make them accountable.

    Felix:
    Today, what I want us to do is to come up with classroom norms. Does anyone know what classroom norms are? No?

    Student:
    Like goals? Things you have to follow?

    Felix:
    Things you have to follow! So what could be another word for norms?

    Student:
    Rules.

    Felix:
    Like rules, right? So I want us all together as a class to come up with rules. But before we do them as a class, we're going to do them as a group.

    Abbigale:
    Respect. So just be respectful to others. Shut up when they're talking?

    Hernando:
    Yeah, well I guess, listen to what they're saying when they're talking.

    Abbigale:
    So a consequence for that would be like sitting by yourself somewhere.

    Felix:
    So from your list: one rule, and one consequence.

    Zarina:
    Be respectful.

    Felix:
    Okay, be respectful. One consequence…

    Danny:
    A warning?

    Felix:
    Okay, a warning.

    Ivan:
    No horseplay, no physical horseplay.

    Felix:
    So, no violence. Anyone else want to say anything?

    Stephanie:
    Raise your hand.

    Felix:
    Okay, raise your hand. So raise your hand if you want to speak.

    Student:
    Participation?

    Felix:
    Oh, so participate, right? Participate–– [Saray's phone begins to ring]

    Manuel:
    Oooooh...

    Students:
    NO PHONES!

    Michael Russo:
    That was your phone?

    Saray Felix (Interview):
    I like doing this. I don't know, I mean, it's my first year. Maybe, you know, they say your first love. I don’t know. Maybe it is my first love right now. This is the honeymoon phase. I don't know…

    Russo:
    I really think you should have your phone go off every year when you do that. I mean, really! Oh, yeah, that broke the ice. You lit up with a big smile, and wow! I felt like that was… Did you feel something like that?

    Felix:
    {laughter}
    Yeah.

    Russo:
    That was like a silver lining, ironic, you think like, “Oh, I made a mistake!”

    Felix:
    Yeah, and the first day, you’re so nervous, you know. And there’s so many things you hear from teachers: be very strict, be mean, don’t smile, or don’t interact with them… I don’t know. And like you said, it did break the ice.

    Russo:
    Yeah.

    Felix:
    Right now, I think I’m starting to go back to those feelings, because I’m anxious, I’m nervous. I’m also excited to know what’s ahead for me, but that was the same thing that day: I was nervous. It was essential to my classroom environment to have them come in and see the set-up, to know that they’re expected to work with someone, that they’re not going to be an isolated person in my classroom. And to know that they will––hopefully, within their group––they have the support from each other. I’m not just helping them, in my classroom, be successful, but hopefully be successful when they move on to higher education.

    {PA Announcement}

    Narrator:
    An important form of support for new teachers is in their relationships with fellow faculty and administrators. Wilson High uses a small learning community––or SLC––structure to allow teachers to familiarize themselves with a smaller sub-set of the student body and to meet weekly to share their concerns.

    Ms. Linda Ye:
    Last year, this time, I was not here; I started late last year. So this year I started from the very beginning, and it feels really messy. See, school started right now almost two weeks ago, right? We still have lots of students changing schedules. And with checking out textbooks, as I mentioned last time, we need every period to go down there to check textbooks out. So basically, school started two weeks, and we're still wasting instructional time, which is so precious for our school. Why can't we have them check the textbooks and give the students’ schedules a week before school starts? So today I still have students checking out of my chemistry class—not one, a few! So the first two weeks, their instruction time is being wasted!

    Ms. Josephyne Lam:
    I agree with you. Many other districts, they do that, where they come two weeks before school started, they see the counselor, they make whatever necessary changes they need, they get their books––they're ready. But because of all the budget cuts, we're not able to. That's the problem: who's going to be here for the students? I mean, if you're going to have 2,000 students, you need staff. And you cannot do it in one day… it's impossible.
    {School bell}

    Narrator:
    One challenge for which new teachers can’t necessarily be prepared is the wide range of their students’ abilities. While Mr. Torres has come to Wilson with the highest expectations, he soon finds that many of his freshmen lack the prerequisite skills for high school math. Two of his classes are Intervention Tutorials designed to help his students review and master their basic skills.

    Torres:
    You guys remember factoring? Factor tree? How that works?

    Abbigale:
    Oh my gosh, I hate doing that, it takes forever!

    Torres:
    I know, I know, but you kind of need it to simplify these. So, the factor tree… What two numbers multiply to give you 27?

    Student:
    3 and 9.

    Torres:
    3 times 9, all right, good. 3 and 9. Now, what we're trying to do is break these numbers down to their prime numbers: the simplest numbers that you can break down that won't divide by another number other than their selves and one.

    Michael Russo (interview):
    The range of student abilities is one of the biggest challenges that all teachers face, not only new teachers. Even veteran teachers often struggle with meeting the needs of all students, not just the average student.

    Torres:
    So what you do is you take 27, the number that's on the inside, and you break it up into its factors.

    Gabriel:
    Wait, what do you mean by the inside?

    Torres:
    The inside of the square root symbol. You know how you have a number on the inside and you divide by a number on the outside, and you have this little house thingy.

    Gabriel:
    Oh, okay, yeah, because in Braille it's a symbol, so it's not like a...

    Torres:
    Oh, is it really? Okay.

    Gabriel:
    Yeah. It's not like a drawing thing of the little symbol. It's actually its own Braille symbol.

    Torres:
    Okay. A radical, once it's simplified, would be 3–one of the pairs–3 times the square root of 3.

    Gabriel:
    So, like, if you multiply 3 times the square root of 3… doesn't the square root of 3 give you some weird number, like 1 point something?

    Torres:
    It does, yes. But if you were to multiply it, it would end up giving you what the square root of 27 is. So if you ever use the calculator, try that out. Try 3 times the square root of 3.

    Gabriel:
    Ohhhhh! Okay, okay, okay. Wait, so 3 times the square root of 3 is, like, 5.1961 or whatever. And then the square root of 27.... ohhhhhh! Okay, I had a light bulb moment.

    Torres:
    So it's the same exact thing, it's just in a simplified form.

    Gabriel:
    Okay.

    Torres:
    It's like the difference between 2/4 and 1/2: it's the same thing.

    Saray Felix (Interview):
    I think every class I have at least one or 2 students that are repeating the class, some of them for a third time. I had asked them, “What do you remember from your last class?” And then one of them said, “Well, Miss, this is my third time taking Biology.” I said, “Oh, wow, so that means that you remember a lot?” He’s like, “No, well…” and then he said, “What makes you think I'm going to learn in your class?”

    Felix:
    Okay, so let me make you a list of things you need to go over.

    Saray Felix (Interview):
    So that's more like a challenge because they have beaten themselves up already.

    Narrator:
    To help build her students’ confidence, Ms. Felix designs certain lessons to be as interactive and engaging as possible. Here, she uses a thumb-wrestling competition as a fun way of reviewing the steps of the scientific method.

    Felix:
    To do the thumb-wrestling experiment, we're going to be using the scientific method, okay? Are you guys ready? Okay, so what's our step number one that we need to figure out? Julisa?

    Julisa:
    Identify the problem?

    Felix:
    Okay, identify the problem.

    Student:
    Who's going to win the thumb-wrestling.

    Felix:
    So let's say it in a question format.

    Student:
    Who's going to win the competition?

    Felix:
    So, who's going to win. And how are we going to figure that out?

    Student:
    By playing?

    Felix:
    So we need to figure out what our variables are, because remember, when you do an experiment you have to measure something. So whatever parameter you decide to choose, it has to be something you can measure. So we’re going to determine our hypothesis based on length or width. 1, 2, 3, 4, I declare a thumb war! Go!

    Jorge:
    Can't do this!

    Felix:
    You can, you can. One of you has to win.

    Jorge:
    Maybe we can't. What happens?

    Saray Felix (Interview):
    I want to make the students feel that they can do this, that it's just challenging in their heads, you know? Because I tell them—They’re like, “Miss, this is so easy,” and I say, “Yes, you make it harder than it is.”

    Narrator:
    It’s not long into the school year that both of our teachers begin to struggle with classroom management. It’s one of the most common challenges for new teachers who find it difficult to balance gaining their students’ trust and applying classroom discipline.

    Felix:
    All right, so are we going to be mature today, and I can give you guys the white boards?

    Luis:
    Always mature.

    Felix:
    All right, so are we ready for the notes?

    Saray Felix (Interview):
    Classroom management is a big challenge because the students–– they're just defiant, and they want to be independent in the classroom. I just let them know, “You know what? This is not appropriate behavior. These are not the things I'm expecting of you. You are high-schoolers, you're mature enough––I thought you were.” And I try to appeal to those senses.

    Klairabelle:
    Oh [expletive], [expletive] yeah!

    Torres:
    Talk with your group, talk with your group. See what's going on.

    Ian:
    It's like that. Like it bounces.

    Alex Torres (Interview):
    I feel like the lack of structure in the beginning is starting to catch up with me because I don't really have that well-structured discipline system or how the class is organized. My freshmen started off the school year with “I'm not sure what to expect from high school, so I better behave a little bit.” And now they've gotten the idea that, “Okay, teachers here aren’t that disciplined, or they're not gonna enforce this or that, so I can relax a little bit.” So I need to develop a more structured system to figure out what consequences are going to happen if these behaviors occur. It still hasn't gotten to the point where it's really bad, but it is a little distracting.

    Russo:
    It wouldn’t be first-year teaching without struggles in classroom management, huh?

    Torres:
    Yeah.

    Russo:
    Can you tell me what you have done to implement structure?

    Torres:
    So far, the things that have worked for me… one of them is being really personal with the students that are having the issues––I’m not afraid to take them out and talk to them for a little while just to make sure that they know why their behavior is affecting the class. I did try to do a very strict, like, ‘There’s certain rules, and if you break these rules, these will be the consequences’… but that was an issue I was having with back-up from the administration on how to handle that. Their response was, “If your curriculum’s really strong, and if they’re always doing something, then they should be fine.” You know, I agree with that, that that should help, but telling a first-year teacher that, later on in the year, isn’t going to help him a whole lot if he doesn’t have that curriculum to begin with. It’s definitely something I want to develop, and use a lot of strategies that help with classroom management, but it’d be nice to have a good plan laid out with administration about what to do.

    Russo:
    The emotional experience of new teachers has wild swings to it. They come in with all the excitement and anticipation of making a difference in the lives of students. When they get in the classroom in August or September and the realities and complexities hit them, they’re in survival mode.

    Alex Torres (Interview):
    We have so many things that we need to deal with, I mean, the profession is pretty challenging: a lot of stuff to do at home, a lot of preparation to do before class, after class, all the logistical stuff that we have to deal with.

    Saray (Interview):
    We have to teach them content, so we have to lesson plan. Besides lesson planning, we have to make copies every day, we have to buy the materials, we have to make sure the materials are here.

    Alex Torres (Interview):
    We've got two meetings a week in the morning, and then, on Tuesday we have our professional development also. So it's about 3 meetings a week that we have to deal with, so sometimes I'll forget––“Oh, there’s a meeting today”––and I had all these things planned out that I didn't realize I had no time for.

    Saray Felix (Interview):
    And then we also have new teacher meetings, and then we have training meetings, and then we may have workshops sometimes that we have to go to.

    Esmeralda Mora (Interview):
    There are many, many challenges that face a new teacher… Isolation: many of them do not get a chance to talk to another adult for a full day… Exuding a lot of energy: especially in secondary, you have 150+ relationships that you’re managing, with every student, every day… Realizing that you have to be the person that’s in charge and that is on at all times. You really don’t have a life your first year of teaching. Even if you want to, you don’t have the energy at the end of the day.

    Saray Felix (Interview):
    I mean, honestly, if I could stay there until 7pm, I would. And unfortunately, I can't.

    Alex Torres (Interview):
    Occasionally, I'll have those lingering doubts, like, “Oh my goodness, what have I gotten myself into?” But they usually don't last more than a second or two before I realize I can't picture myself doing anything else that I would like as much as this. Even with all the tough times, and the dealing with the kids, and all the grading, and all these things… so even though I have all these obstacles, and sometimes I wonder how I'm going to deal with all of them, I kind of like the processes of overcoming them and learning from them.

    Narrator:
    By November new teachers often find themselves frustrated and disillusioned. Problems like the inability to engage the students can start to seem insurmountable. Support is critical at this juncture, and fortunately for Ms. Felix, her graduate school mentor is coming to observe her class and give some much-needed advice.

    {School bell}

    Esmeralda Mora:
    Okay, so before we do that, what do you want me to focus on for this class?

    Felix:
    I have about, I think I counted 8 students that are repeating the class for the second or third time. It’s not very outright disrespect towards me, it’s just always continuous talking in class.

    Mora:
    Uh-huh.

    Saray Felix:
    So let's get started with the warm-up. Come on! Does this look familiar?

    Student:
    Yes, it's a plant cell.

    Felix:
    Yes! Very good, it is a plant cell. I didn't write it up here, but…

    Student:
    Do we have to label everything?

    Felix:
    No, remember, you guys do parts of it. On the warm-up sheet, yes, you do need to make sure you draw it.

    Brianna:
    If I don't spell it right, it's not my problem.

    Felix:
    That's okay. And you can ask for help, too, Brianna.

    Brianna:
    How do you spell it? Vacuole or something?

    Felix:
    Ask.

    Brianna:
    Wait, what is it?

    Student:
    U-O-L-E.

    Ivan:
    Nice job, Brianna.

    Mora:
    One of the things that I noticed is that you have this kind of very motherly way about you, they trust you––and that’s a very good thing, that’s a great quality to have. I’m saying that as a compliment. And you had that before, as a student teacher. But, you don't want to take a warm-up to 20 minutes, especially when the task is so basic as labeling and copying a picture, okay? So, they're not doing the work not because they don't want to do the work or because they don't know how to do the work: it's because the work is very low level. I'm surprised that they didn't revolt. They were bored. But because there were people in the room and they kept an eye on what I was doing, they behaved. That tells me that they like you, and that's going to take you a long way, okay?

    Felix:
    That's good.

    Felix:
    One person at each microscope. No partners unless we need it. You do two objects at two different powers, whichever two you want to look at. If you need help, and you cannot see anything, please raise your hand and let me know. Is anyone ready for pond water?

    Ivan:
    Ms. Felix.

    Felix:
    All right, see if you can find him, okay? You need to make sure that you hunt it because it tries to swim away. So let me put some in this little cup.

    Student:
    You got ‘em?

    Ivan:
    Yeah. I don't know, there's nothing to see, you can't see anything.

    Felix:
    You know where it is–oh, in here. Are you sure you got it in your thing, in your slide?

    Ivan:
    Yeah! I saw like four little things, and I just got them.

    Felix:
    It's there!

    Ivan:
    It is?

    Felix:
    Yes, hold on though.

    Ivan:
    I'll hunt him down.

    Brianna:
    He's hiding?

    Luis:
    How can you hide in water?

    Felix:
    So I’m going take it–– you take the water off…

    More:
    They feel very comfortable coming to you. They feel very comfortable asking you questions. They feel very comfortable, also, kind of joking with you. And so, you want to make sure that there is a clear distinction, that they begin to understand: “I’m being cordial, respectful to you, and nice, and I like you; and then there’s a boundary.”

    Felix:
    Read your procedure!

    Felix:
    I’m so tired every day, because I always have to push and motivate them.

    Mora:
    The challenge for you is going to be the challenge for many new teachers in an urban school where many people have lowered the expectations for the kids.

    Felix:
    This is so true. I have a senior, he told me, “Miss, I’ve taken Biology three times, and none of my teachers ever taught me how to do a lab report.” And I said, “You know what? That’s a disservice to you.” And I told him that’s really sad. They didn’t even wanna try. And that’s where, you know, I just see how––yes, they don’t wanna do the work, they don’t want me to push them, because I was pushing them for that lab report for almost 2 weeks. And then one of them said, “Miss, stop pushing us! No one cares if we do this, except you!”

    Mora:
    Look, you have 90% of the battle won, and I don’t think you realize that. You already have their respect. All you need to do now is maintain it. And you're going to maintain it, Saray, only if you challenge them.

    {Marching band plays}

    Torres:
    All right, guys, there's a warm-up up on the board, so make sure you get that down. Today should be a little bit more fun because we're finally getting into the real Algebra stuff.

    Jennifer:
    Wait, how did you get 17?

    Edgar:
    Because you add -12.

    Torres:
    What's the goal? What do you want to do?

    Alex Torres (Interview):
    I think students have a good feeling of being able come to me for help. I think students really feel like I’m there for them, they're not afraid. They've told me stories of the previous teacher, where they went to help and she just scolded them for not knowing what to do. Where with me, I think they're pretty comfortable with me, they come to me for help. I have managed to set up that collaborative culture, so they do help each other out a lot, which I'm pretty proud of.

    Klairabelle:
    No, it's 2x. You do the parentheses first, and then this would be -12, and then you would continue.

    Eduardo:
    Ah, I got it wrong again.

    Torres:
    Hmm?

    Eduardo:
    I got it wrong again, because 3 can't go into 17.

    Jacob:
    This is frustrating. This is hard stuff.

    Torres:
    Why is it wrong?

    Jacob:
    I don't think I was ready for high school yet.

    Torres:
    You guys are funny: you think that you get a number that's...

    Alex Torres (Interview):
    When I was student teaching, I saw that students would just quit as soon as they got that first F because they thought they couldn't do any better. And with the way I’ve structured the grading, they kind of realize, “Okay, I totally bombed that test, but I can still make it up: I can still learn what I need to, re-test, and I’ll be okay.” So I think I’ve done pretty well with that, just giving them that hope that they can do better.

    Torres:
    All right, if you guys have anything else to turn in, turn it in. Otherwise, have a good day.

    {School bell}

    Felix:
    Wow, everyone else is tardy? Tardy, ladies, Luis!

    Saray Felix (Interview):
    The students, they always live within their own little bubble. All they know is their world, so they think that’s how it is, because it’s the same for them and their friends and their neighbors. But when they venture out they will realize that, “Wait a minute, wow, there’s all these things that are going on out there that either I didn’t know about, or things that I didn’t experience myself, and also, all these factors that play into life that affect me, that I didn’t take into consideration before.” And one of those, of course, is how serious you take high school.

    Felix:
    So, are we not doing the warm-up? Nobody wants to do the warm-up? So 20 more seconds—you know what? I’m going to give you 20 more seconds for you to figure out if you want to do the warm-up or not. If you do not want to do the warm-up, we will do the book work. Okay, so you guys remember, you need to know this. I do want you to know this. All right, 10 more seconds.

    Student:
    Wait. One of us goes up there and just draws it on the board?

    Felix:
    I just want to know that someone wants to do this. 5 more seconds. So, we got a brave person…

    Russo:
    Wow, that was a test, huh? Talking about pushing…

    Felix:
    The limits!

    Russo:
    Yeah. Do you want to add anything about the context of what you were feeling about that clip?

    Felix:
    I think… I don’t know when it was, but I started to realize––and that’s what I’m still struggling with to this day––is that the students don’t do it themselves, so they wait for the answers on the board. I think sometimes it’s not that they don’t want to do it, it’s just they don’t know where to start. But I always tell them, “Use your resources… I’m glad you’re doing this… I’m glad you’re doing that…”

    Russo:
    What I’m hearing you talking about is there’s the ‘what’ of teaching, the content, and then there’s the ‘how,’ the processes. And I think many times we just assume that students know how to be a student, they know how to do things, when it sounds like being very explicit and clear to them what the behavioral expectations are, or what the process is, might help.

    Esmeralda Mora (Interview):
    In urban schools in particular, children are not being challenged, and they’ve been schooled at being very passive for, you know, in our case, at least nine years because we’re dealing with secondary schools. And so, they’ve become masters at ‘I sit quietly, I don’t do my work, you know let me get through.’ Or, ‘Give me easy work, I’ll look busy, I’ll look like I’m really learning, and we have this deal, and I’ll behave, right?’ We really train our teachers to challenge the status quo to really push those kids, and one of the challenges I have as a teacher trainer of these groups is that many of them, at some point, come to me and say the kids don’t care. And I have to remind them it’s not that they don’t care, it’s that nobody has really shown them that they care enough to teach them.

    Ursula Rosin:
    All right, good morning, everyone. It’s good to see you…

    Narrator:
    With the winter fast approaching, our teachers have been working hard to stay on top of their many duties – among them, lesson planning, grading, faculty meetings, and professional development. However, of the utmost importance is still the challenge of keeping the students on task.

    Torres:
    Oh! Put that phone away!

    Marisol:
    Mister!

    Torres:
    Give it, give it!

    Narrator:
    One of the nagging discipline problems is the students’ use of cell phones in the classroom. But Wilson’s faculty is also trying to figure out ways to harness this technology as a learning tool. Today, Mr. Torres’ SLC discusses how students might use their internet access to monitor class syllabi and homework assignments.

    Brendan Wagner:
    So I wanted to have a lot of access. Access won't be an issue in terms of on-site. They should be able to use their phones, ultimately in the class––I know it's a hard one. But really helping them learn how to use it, and I know there's a certain amount of difficulty there…

    Teacher:
    But the kids who have the access points, you know, they're going to want to hook everybody up with their access points, and they can go anywhere they want on the internet.

    Wagner:
    I don't think saying––or censoring it or taking it all the way away is the right route. I think helping them get to a useful place with technology is really where we want to go in terms of accessing stuff.

    Teacher:
    That doesn't bother me either, I just don't want to get in trouble, you know?

    Wagner:
    Right, and it's not a full time thing. It's not like you come into the classroom, you pull out your phone, and you're on it all period. It's built in to lesson planning, it's built in to what you are doing.

    Teacher:
    One kid with a wireless access phone could hook up a bunch of other kids with an internet connection, and they could all have their laptops doing… you know, I'm with you, I want to be able to it. I just don't want someone to say, “Oh my god, I saw a breast!”

    Teacher:
    I think that if there's some way to supervise it, then it would be great if they could use their phones for looking up things, if that's the easiest internet access they have.

    Saray Felix (Interview):
    Burnout can occur for a lot of reasons. I just heard a story here that they had a first-year teacher that had to leave mid-year. She just wasn’t expecting the students to be this unruly. So, she was expecting well-behaved students, and of course, that’s what everyone wants, but realistically, you have to figure out, “How do I get them there?” Because they just want to challenge you all the time, and you have to figure out a way around that. And if you let them break you—you know they say dogs smell fear? Oh, students can see it, too. So, they know.

    Alex Torres (Interview):
    I think there’s probably a big burnout with teachers just because when people get into the profession, all they think is, “Oh, I’m going to be teaching.” They don’t think that they’re going to be efficiency experts; they don’t realize that they’re going to be psychologists; they don’t realize that they’re going to be police officers, basically—all these different roles that teachers have to fill!

    Saray Felix (Interview):
    And I think if you do that too long, you get tired of it, and you don’t feel any fulfillment, because sometimes they don’t say, “Good-bye, Miss,” or “Thank you, Miss,” or “Good morning, Miss.” And when they don’t, you just feel, “I’m this fly on the wall. No one cares if I’m here or not.” I want to be somewhere where I am appreciated.

    Narrator:
    Burnout is what causes so many new teachers to give up the profession before they’ve even begun to refine their craft. This is another reason why support systems for new teachers are so critical. The advice of a mentor, for instance, allows teachers to be reflective and to see their strengths along with their weaknesses.

    Torres:
    All right, guys, we’re gonna get started.

    [Students chatter.]

    Torres:
    Okay, the warm-up is up on the board. There’s two questions. Go ahead and pull out a piece of paper, and just on your notes, real quick, a little quick sketch. Graph the equation right there. Remember your slope, your intercept, and—

    [Students chatter.]

    Student:
    Shhh!

    Torres:
    And tell me what the equation is of the line on that graph on #2. All right, take 10 minutes to do that. I’ll set up a timer for you guys.

    [Students laugh.]

    Luis:
    Mister, I’ve got a question.

    Torres:
    Yeah?

    Luis:
    So, in the 2—like, it’s 2/3—do you have to go down the middle, or what?

    Torres:
    So, you’re starting at 4?

    Luis:
    Yeah.

    Mora:
    I like when you engage with them, and you actually ask them questions, you’re asking a lot of follow-up questions—that’s great! But there are a lot of problems that you’re facing, and the problems that you’re facing—it’s not the kids.

    Torres:
    Right, right.

    Mora:
    The reason that that’s happening to you, Alex, is because you engage in full-on conversations with the kids.

    Torres:
    Uh-huh, okay.

    Mora:
    Right? And so then, you have meaningful conversations, but only with a selected group that happen to catch you at that moment, for those 10 minutes.

    Torres:
    Now, who knows what parallel lines are?

    Students:
    They’re straight.

    Osiris:
    Mister, it’s what this isn’t!

    Torres:
    Okay, use whatever folder you have, a pen, a piece of paper, whatever—try to make straight lines. And try to make them parallel. They don’t have to be perfectly parallel, but try to make them parallel. Yeah, on that paper, on the orange one. I’m going to get you guys to think. It’s not all about me telling you what math is, all the time. So, you’re going to take this strip of paper—this is the only tool you’re going to use, this and maybe your pencil or pen, if you have it—you’re going to answer this question for me: prove that these lines are parallel. Now you guys should probably be asking yourselves why did I give you such a crooked, weird strip.

    Mora:
    You are obviously thinking of activities that are going to get them to think about the math, not just do the math—love that! But then, I could see that after maybe 5 minutes, that was as far as they could go with it, and then they started the messing around. At the end of 5 minutes, check in with them: “So what did we learn today?”

    [Timer rings.]

    Torres:
    All right, guys, Janelle is going to explain what she did. Several of you guys did the same thing.

    [Students chatter.]

    Torres:
    So, guys, pay attention up here, pay attention up here! Alex. Alex! We’re going to start over here. All right, so Janelle is going to explain what she did. Several of you guys did the same thing to try to prove that the lines are parallel. Okay? All right, go for it.

    [Students chatter.]

    Torres:
    Luis, listen to Janelle.

    [Students chatter.]

    Torres:
    Wait, wait, hold on, hold on. Some people aren’t listening.

    Janelle:
    I don’t wanna explain it to them You can do it.

    Torres:
    What? You want me to do it? Okay, I can do it.

    Mora:
    At the end, that little girl wanted to share, but she didn’t want to when she saw nobody was going to pay attention to her. The fear is, “I’m going to be ridiculed.” And that’s about the way that you’re managing the class. So, it needs to be an expectation: “We’re all going to be presenters here, we’re all going to share our thinking, and you’re all going to be respectful.” That’s when you raise your voice. That’s when the nice Alex steps out, and the ‘father’ Alex steps up. You talk to your kids like that all the time: “No! Stop that! Don’t do that!” That’s what you need to do—that inflection, that tone, that authority that says, “I mean business.” So, you’re right, in terms of your first year and thinking that “Now I’m reassessing this discipline plan, I’m kind of rearranging my class”—that’s exactly what happens with every first year teacher. Okay? And if you’re feeling overwhelmed right about now, you’re right where you need to be. So don’t feel like, “Oh my god, I’m not doing anything right.” There are a lot of things that you’re doing very well.

    Narrator:
    When new teachers feels overwhelmed it can be hard for them to see what they’re doing right. An area where Ms. Felix is finally seeing some success is with stressing her students’ ownership of their grades and offering incentives for them to improve their overall averages.

    Saray Felix (Interview):
    So after we finish a section, we give a quiz. And if they do not pass the quiz, then they need to retake it, but it’s on their own time. Before, I used to average the scores if they retook it, but now I’m trying to do mastery learning. So, they take it as many times as they need to in order to get the perfect score that they want.

    Felix:
    Okay, so we need to come for tutoring for this, and we’ll go over some of these concepts again. Okay? Unless you want to try again, but you may get confused if you don’t go over your notes. So, you see what happened? Do you want this one? No, right. You’d rather have something like—well, not even this one! You want higher than that! Okay?

    Saray Felix (Interview):
    I gave them a print-out of their scores and everything we’ve done. So, I got two major effects. One is, “I need to do this! I need to come. I will be here.” And I’ve had a lot—so yesterday after school, I had a lot of students here. During lunch—I didn’t even have lunch, there were so many students in this class working. So they started to realize, “I need to turn in the work.”

    Carlos:
    Can I get an example?

    Felix:
    You can get the book. Look in the index for ‘prokaryotes,’ and it will tell you what pages you can find images of prokaryotes.

    Saray Felix (Interview):
    90% of the students have been positively impacted by this. So, they want to do the work, they’re coming in, they do not want to fail, and I’m glad—I really am glad. I’m overwhelmed, I’m tired, but I’m really happy.

    Ashley:
    I never really understand any of these questions. Miss, I need help on this.

    Felix:
    So where would you find information on the nucleus? What do you need the nucleus for?

    Ashley:
    The nucleus contains nearly all the cell’s DNA.

    Narrator:
    Another of Ms. Felix’s efforts to engage her biology students has been to offer extra credit for models that illustrate their understanding of the parts of a cell. Some of her students have gotten quite creative.

    Felix:
    Okay, let me show you what they did. Some of the students, they made me cakes. I want to show you the pictures. That’s my star cell model. I told them to be creative: they brought me cakes. We ate them in class, too, so they really liked that.

    Student:
    See you tomorrow, Miss.

    Felix:
    All right, bye, Manny. Bye.

    Torres:
    All right, I gotta run to my class.

    Felix:
    I know, it’s so far. Good exercise!

    Ashley:
    Bye, Miss. See you tomorrow.

    {PA announcement}

    Torres:
    With enough tape it’ll hold.

    Narrator:
    One of Mr. Torres’ growing strengths is his ability to make the content of his lessons more accessible. In his Geometry Intervention class he employs a hands-on exercise to show his students real-life applications for mathematical concepts. They will use their knowledge of parallel lines, transversals and congruent angles in a crime scene investigation.

    Torres:
    Okay, this is a lesson I did last year that was pretty fun. Since we just covered parallel lines, I thought it'd be a good review. You guys are crime scene investigators, or detectives, whichever way you want to go about it. You are Dr. Something-Something: the special CSI person. You'll notice that there are some bodies lying on the ground. Mr. Bob Boberton, the cave man, has been shot. So here's how it's going on: Mr. Boberton was in his office doing whatever he felt like doing… all of the sudden–bam!–somebody shoots through—this white piece of paper here represents the window to the outside. Over here… the actual wall itself with the suspects’ pictures, that represents an apartment building that's on the same level as Mr. Boberton's office. Okay, so these are the suspects of where they shot from. The bodies are laid out. Okay, each group has a code. The code specifies where the bullet came from and where the bullet landed. That establishes your line, your trajectory. Let's go ahead and sort out the groups.

    Alex Torres (Interview):
    So they have to figure out who killed what guy, from where, and they use some math to prove who killed who so that it holds up in court.

    Jorge:
    Do they actually do this in real life?

    Torres:
    Yeah, they actually do this. I would recommend you get a sheet of paper and draw out the situation. That might help you visualize it, because you'll see it from up top.

    Manuel:
    Oh, okay.

    Torres:
    And then you guys were able to figure out that there should be a straight line going from Old Bill, through the window, and into Bob. We've got parallel lines cut by a straight transversal. This angle should be congruent to this angle over here. So that is how you would use an example of math, using parallel lines cut by a transversal to prove that somebody died.

    Russo:
    That CSI lesson… relevant, inquiry-based… kids trying to figure out an answer to a question posed, and they were right there with you. Any insights into your students or into your teaching, through that?

    Torres:
    Yeah, I thought it was pretty interesting to see which students were really, really engaged. It was a lot of students that often aren’t engaged––they were pretty engaged in that activity. When you set up an activity like this, they’re a lot more likely to discuss with each other what’s going on, which I think is really cool. I really like to see that reflective process and hear them thinking about it, and hear them correcting each other: “No, it’s not supposed to be that way, it’s supposed to be this way, make sure you do that!” And I think that’s really valuable, so I thought that was one of the cool things about that activity.

    Narrator:
    Even when new teachers finally begin to get a handle on the job, they still encounter challenges beyond their control. Due to a new school opening nearby, Wilson is losing a large number of students and, as a result, must lay off some of its teachers. As with most schools, the first to go will be those with the least seniority… Ms. Felix among them.

    Saray Felix (Interview):
    I know that I’ve been doing what I expected of myself so that I feel confident enough that I know that I’ll find another school to work at, and again, nothing will change: I will still be pretty flexible, I’m still going to be open-minded and work within what I have in that school. Here, you know, it would be great if I could’ve stayed, but… I don’t know, for some reason I just feel confident.

    Narrator:
    Even with these unexpected obstacles, the end of the school year is still a time when new teachers finally have the opportunity to reflect on what they themselves have learned.

    {school bell rings}

    Felix:
    So, today, I am going to provide you with a microbe friend. What I want you to do is get to know them and find out distinguishing features.

    Felix:
    I’ll give you HIV.

    Manuel:
    Aw, I don’t want HIV. Why do you want to give me HIV?

    Felix:
    Okay, I’ll give you E. Coli.

    Manuel:
    No, just give me HIV, [expletive].

    Saray Felix (Interview):
    I think as a first-year teacher, first of all, be open with your students, because I realized that when I don’t tell them why, or the purposes, sometimes, you know, they see it as it’s useless. But if you tell them, if you’re up-front with them, and you include them in your thoughts behind this and your lessons and your ideas, they work with you so much better. Let’s build them up. Let’s build them up, just be positive, don’t think that they’re worthless and cannot do anything, because if you think that way, you’re in the wrong profession. You really are.

    Felix:
    You’re going to use your cell phone internet to look up malaria, if you get malaria, and find out what does it look like. The head of a pin is about two millimeters in diameter…

    Felix:
    I think it’s––if you invite them into the learning process, it’s easier. You know, it doesn’t mean it’s going to always be perfect, but it just does make it easier. And so that’s what I wanted to do. I also wanted them to know that it is a learning process. I’m not expecting them to come in with all this knowledge and just to regurgitate everything to me. I expect them to learn and explore and have fun with it, because I also want them to know how much fun biology is, because I love it.

    Russo:
    Yeah. That relationship you have with them––and you’ll establish every year with your students––is the foundation that will allow you to push them and go deeper into content.

    Felix:
    Yeah…

    Russo:
    And that’s a next step for you, I think.

    Felix:
    Okay.

    Alex Torres (Interview):
    So, coming into an urban school, some advice I’d give is, for one, make sure they get to know the students because, I mean it’s human nature to sort of work on our own stereotypes on what we hear other people say about other people until we get to know them. I was aware of the stereotype, ‘Oh, I’m in an urban school, these kids are gonna be tough, they’re not gonna listen to me, they’re gonna be rebellious,’ all these things. I was aware of the stereotype, but I didn’t let that dictate what I was going to do. So, a lot of the beginning of the year is just figuring out who your students are and what they know.

    George:
    Now what to do? Is it like tension, and 80 degrees, and something like that?

    Torres:
    One of the big things I’ve been thinking of doing for next year is giving students more immediate feedback on what they… on what happens in the classroom. So much of this year has been just trying to catch up and manage to get through the day, or through the week, and what I really want to do is take maybe 5 or 10 minutes toward the end of class to have them reflect on their learning, for one, and two, give them feedback on how their day was. One of the problems I tend to have is with warm-ups. A lot of students, even though they’ve seen the warm-up throughout the whole year, just sit down and don’t do it. So I’m thinking of doing something where they can see, ‘Okay, didn’t do the warm-up, didn’t even try it during this amount of time, here’s the effect on your grade, here’s the effect on your work.’ Give them that immediate feedback so they have that sense of urgency.

    Russo:
    I think that’s a real important shift in a new teacher’s mind when you start thinking not only about the content and what they’re doing, but talking about the process and the procedures and the ‘how’ of teaching, which we often take for granted.

    Saray Felix (Interview):
    I think I’m very encouraged. I think I feel very positive, about teaching, actually. And, usually when I tell people that I’m a teacher in a high school they’re––“Ewww”––you know, they cringe, but… I don’t know, I really have enjoyed it, I really have. And I know it was rough, and I know it could have been worse!

    Alex Torres (Interview):
    I’m hopeful, and I’m confident. I feel like I’ve got the skills that I really need to really make next year a good year. So that’s been pretty good. I don’t feel like, ‘this year was horrible, I’m done, I’m gonna get out of this.’ It’s been a lot of–– it’s been tough, it’s been tricky, but I’ve learned some stuff, and I think I’m going to be better for next year. It’s not a ‘oh my goodness, I gotta do this again.’ It’s definitely been… I’m looking forward to next year and really, really implementing some of the things that I’ve learned and really implementing some of the things that I want to try.

    #####

School Details

Woodrow Wilson Senior High School
4500 Multnomah Street
Los Angeles CA 90032
Population: 1543

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Saray Felix
Alex Torres

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