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A City Education: C'mon, Thank a Teacher For Their Team Spirit

Teachers don't always get our thanks, but they're true role models in showing students the power of working together.

In our A City Education series, City Year corps members share their experiences working as tutors and mentors in schools in hopes of closing the opportunity gap and ending the dropout crisis.

All classrooms, whether calm or rowdy, contain dozens of unique personalities. Each student in a given classroom learns and develops differently, and each student brings a distinctive set of values and experiences.

Who's in charge of getting all those personalities to learn the same set of skills? Teachers. It's no wonder teaching is often called one of the toughest jobs in America. Monday, May 6th is the start of Teacher Appreciation Week, a chance for us all to recognize the educators in our lives for the hard work they do. The teachers at my school site deserve recognition for what they do every day with their students, and for the team spirit they exhibit. That teamwork is crucial to helping students achieve.

Considering the responsibility that comes with teaching, I'm amazed by the way teachers at my school site, Normandie Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles, have welcomed City Year Los Angeles corps members into their classrooms. With the exception of our team leader, none of our partner teachers had met us before we were assigned to them. Still, they had enough faith in us—and in City Year—to entrust us with their students' education.

Mrs. Alexander, my partner teacher, has been at Normandie Avenue Elementary School for 19 years. She runs a tight ship—and she has a particular way of running it. It took some time to figure out the specifics of my role, but by communicating about our shared goals, we've been able to establish a solid routine.

Throughout the year, Mrs. Alexander has helped me choose the right students to work with. Corps members make the most impact with students who are right on the cusp of self-sufficiency, and pinpointing them is an important part of our service. When several students I had established relationships with left the classroom I serve, I had to quickly figure out who to work with next.

Fortunately, Mrs. Alexander's know-how made building new relationships much easier. Before I took on a new student, I always drew on her knowledge, whether it related to data or to a student’s personal background.

My teammate Asumi and her partner teacher, Mrs. Roque, use teamwork to tackle their classroom’s thorny behavioral challenges. For example, one day, there had been a lot of fighting during recess—fighting Mrs. Roque hadn't been able to see. When class was about to start, Asumi explained the situation and suggested letting the students practice for the fitness test. Mrs. Roque agreed, and the students blew off steam by running the mile.

Taylor, our team leader, has been at Normandie for nearly two years. Her experience in the classroom has allowed her to form a dynamic, collaborative partnership with Mrs. Benson-McDaniel, her partner teacher.

Along with planning her own interventions, Taylor has worked with Mrs. Benson-McDaniel on whole class activities. When students were learning about bar graphs, Taylor suggested a project: graphing the class's progress on district-wide periodic assessments. Students can now see their work on a bulletin board.

Occasionally, when Mrs. Benson-McDaniel lectures, she holds a dialogue with Taylor in front of the class: they discuss the different ways they learned to master a specific skill. Their discussion simultaneously gives students options and demonstrates that there’s no one way to study.

One of the first things kids learn at school is 1 + 1 = 2. Still, simple math doesn't explain teams. In a great team, the whole is greater that the sum of its parts. That’s a lesson that needs to be modeled. Aside from boosting academic performance, teamwork between teachers and corps members shows students the power of working together.

Click here to add supporting a teacher's classroom through Donors Choose to your GOOD to-do list.

Photo courtesy of City Year Los Angeles

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