Mid-Autumn Check-in

In which I begin to find a balance between teaching and being a grad student.

I haven’t written as much as I’d have liked since the start of the school year, and I’m looking at a drafts folder littered with sentences and scraps of ideas that I hope to properly flush out during the month of November. We recently wrapped up the 1st marking period, and I feel like I’m finally starting to get a grip on everything.

Everyone talks about how stressful the first year of teaching is, and they weren’t exaggerating. I’ve never juggled so many things at one time, and these stressors are further compounded by going to grad school in the evenings. Thankfully, I only have to trek to Hunter once a week, and I find that much preferable to two separate trips or coming in for a Saturday class as some of my NYCTC cohort members are doing. My average Thursday afternoon routine consists of bolting out of my classroom right at the student bell, getting on the train, and practically inhaling a venti cold brew before going to class.

I consider myself fortunate to be working at a good school. I have great colleagues, supportive supervisors, wonderful students, and am fortunate to have a great working relationship with my algebra co-teacher.

I haven’t yet figured out how to get to a point where I can completely leave all work behind during my contracted hours. I don’t think it’s realistic at all for any early-career teacher to get to that point, to be honest. Maybe that’ll change once I have a year or two under my belt and feel more comfortable. For now, I’ll keep trying to set reasonable boundaries and making the most of my available work time.

One thing about teaching is that you’ve got to learn to take the bad along with the good. I’ve dealt with rude students who believe that they are entitled to have their demands met at the drop of a hat, and I’ve gotten to better know my students who have various needs and challenges, including some strategies that can help them be successful in my class. At the same time, students feel comfortable sharing their wins and challenges with me, and it’s been particularly satisfying to help students navigate their transition to high school. I was pleasantly surprised to find several of my students have an interest in speed cubing, and I’m excited to start a Tabletop Club for all things related to board games, tabletop RPGs, speed cubing, etc. We already have a popular e-sports team that’s known as the Gaming Club, so I shied away from using the word.

Outside of my day-to-day work, it’s an incredibly interesting time to follow along with union matters. Our contract expired in September, and the city unions are preparing for what is certain is to be a long, drawn-out contract negotiation process. I’ve been a member of the UFT for about two years now, and I’m not sure much how much more of the Unity caucus’s nonsense I can stomach.

Last month, I started going to the biweekly Executive Board meetings, largely to support the 7 HS executive board members and to stay abreast of the most recent updates from our union. Needless to say that I’ve left these meetings feeling a mix of frustration and disgust – largely due to the intentional efforts of Unity caucus to silence dissenting voices within our union. I’m sure I’ll have much more to say in the coming months as I witness more of this spectacle firsthand. For now, I’ll defer to more seasoned unionists and bloggers such as the folks at New Action and Norm Scott to provide insight into what’s going on.

Teaching is easily the most stressful job that I’ve ever had, but there’s something oddly enticing about the challenge. There’s always something to think about, whether that be curriculum pacing, student engagement, IEP data collection, and more. I love what I do, and am fortunate to work alongside great students, colleagues, and union comrades. I’m navigating my fair share of difficulties, but I don’t think I’m doing any worse than other new teachers who are in a similar position as me. The work will always be there, and I’m doing my best to set healthy boundaries along the way. At the same time, I like to think that I’m making a positive difference in my students’ lives.


NYC DOE Nomination Limbo IV and a Resolution

I was fully prepared for this post to be my fourth entry in what seemed like an ongoing struggle to get my hiring paperwork processed through the DOE. Just to quickly recap, I was hired for a full-time teaching position. It’s my second job in the DOE, but my fourth nomination due to how the DOE sets up some of its other processes, like the Roster Evaluate to join the Teaching Collaborative and get placed at a Teaching Academy or the Person Not on Budget (PNOB) nomination that ties someone to a specific school in Galaxy. Nomination is DOE lingo for the hiring process – paperwork, fingerprints, background checks, all that jazz. It turns out that passing a background check and having a demonstrated record of good service isn’t enough for the DOE’s bureaucratic overloads. Candidates have to undergo the background nomination process for any new position.

I’m in good standing with the DOE from my time as a substitute teacher, but I’ve jocularly accepted the fact that my file number is cursed. Every darn time I’ve gone to the background investigation step in Applicant Gateway, I’ve gotten stuck there for an disgustingly long length of time.

Interested readers who know my frustrations all too well will recall that the OPIINFO email account is the only way advertised in order to reach. I mentioned in a previous post that a little Google magic and using the DOE’s Outlook directory allowed me to quickly figure out some of the folks that work behind the scenes at OPI. I don’t think they were terribly thrilled that I reached out to them directly, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

After rehashing this same story on four different occasions, I’m happy to say that I’ve been finally hired as a full-time teacher as of about a week ago. As long as I remain in my current position of special education teacher (and I intend to do so), I’m glad that I won’t have to deal with Applicant Gateway, background investigations, or OPI for the foreseeable future.

New hires get a congratulatory email when they complete the hiring process in Applicant Gateway, and I couldn’t have been happier to get that email. While this entry marks the end of my nomination saga, I know that future candidates will continue to experience the same difficulties that I did (I know of 4-5 subs and Teaching Fellows who had the exact same issue). Perhaps the Office of Teacher Recruitment and Quality (TRQ) can look more closely into the matter alongside their OPI colleagues to ensure that future candidates don’t have to endure what so many of us had to endure.

The NYCTC Field Experience Teaching Portfolio

The Collaborative’s teaching portfolio can seem daunting at first, but it’s not that bad once you find your groove.

During the Teaching Collaborative’s Field Experience, Partner Teachers submit a portfolio that highlights their growth and understanding of the skills learned throughout field experience, including sample lesson plans and a reflection on supporting diverse learners in the classroom. I found this post buried in my draft posts, and thought I’d polish it up and share it.

At 11:18pm on Wednesday May 11, 2022, I clicked send on an email to my Collaborative Coach, notifying him that my teaching portfolio was ready for his review.

The teaching portfolio is one of the last requirements needed in order for Partner Teachers to successfully complete the field experience component of the program. There are quite a few things involved, but it can be broken down into a some key components:

  • A unit plan outline, which identifies the desired results of the unit, evidence and data that I used to assess student learning, and a learning plan that broke down the pacing of the unit.
  • Two lessons complete with relevant materials, including: slides, handouts, answer keys, etc.
  • A Reaching All Learners narrative, which somewhat synthesized my previous reflection and writing on data collection/analysis and my inter-visitations where I got to observe licensed teachers practicing the tenets of culturally-responsive sustaining education (CR-SE) in their classrooms.

For the unit plan, my coach and I decided to plan it around the ICT earth science class that we were teaching together, as we knew that I’d be teaching in an ICT setting for the upcoming school year. At this point in the year, we had finished the majority of the content, and the Regents for our class (June 15th) wasn’t too far away at that point. After consulting with our general ed co-teacher (who is absolutely brilliant in all things earth science), we decided that my mini unit would focus on the factors that influence climate, heat transfer, and the water cycle.

Every time I plan a lesson or unit, I can’t help but to think about a play. It feels like me and my students are on a stage and I’m orchestrating some grandiose display that will wow them and support them in taking their knowledge of earth science to a new level. Are my hopes a bit lofty? Absolutely, but you gotta find a way to amuse and entertain yourself when possible.

I don’t think there’s a particularly right or wrong way to prepare a lesson plan (LP), and everyone I know does it in a way that works best for them. My general workflow is to have a copy of my lesson plan template open, along with a copy of my Google Slides template and a folder that I can drop other resources into (handouts, articles, etc.). I usually do most of my planning as I look at my Google Slide deck, thinking about what I’m going to say and how I expect my students to respond. I then use the lesson plan to fill in more of the details, like how I want to phrase certain things, key points to highlight, common misconceptions, and anticipating student questions.

The unit plan wasn’t particularly difficult, it just took some time and thought to put everything together in a coherent order. One thing that I appreciate about my Collaborative experience was the expectation opportunity to create and submit multiple LPs per week for feedback from my coach. Will I use the Collaborative’s standard LP format in my teaching job? Absolutely not, and pretty much everyone I’ve talked to feels the same way. The Collaborative’s template is great for learning what makes a good LP, and I know I’ll consider all of those components in my teaching practice, but there’s just no way that it’s sustainable on a daily basis. It’s similar to the way that some teacher preparation programs require LPs to be formatted or require scholarly sources to justify the choices that we make.

The timing did prove to be a bit tricky. I said that the unit plan wasn’t particularly hard, but man did it take some time to sit down and bang out. I used to be a slacker who couldn’t manage his time well. Now the difficulty laid in having a ton of stuff on my plate at any given moment and trying to make time to work on the portfolio. In many ways, my girlfriend was the unsung hero of my teaching portfolio. She was incredibly supportive every step of the way as I vented, talked about how my day in the classroom was, and acted as an incredibly thoughtful sounding board on numerous occasions. I often joked that she was my rubber duck; rubberducking being a method that software developers use to debug code by explaining the problem in natural language. Rubberducking is a surprisingly effective debugging/brainstorming strategy, and I encourage other educators to try it out with their inanimate object of choice.

Eventually, I got the portfolio done and submitted it at 11:26pm – just shy of the midnight deadline. The portfolio is reviewed by the Partner Teacher’s coach and also their SBS lead instructor. The two scores are averaged together and that becomes the Partner Teachers’ portfolio grade. When all was said and done, I got a solid A and my coach’s blessing that I was prepared to take on my own classroom.

Aside from the amount of time that the teaching portfolio required, it was a net positive and a fitting way to wind down my field experience. I’ve always enjoyed reflection-oriented tasks, which is a reason for why I started this blog. This blog wouldn’t be terribly helpful if all I did was ramble the entire time, so I’ll leave the interested reader with some takeaways from my experience putting my portfolio together.

  • The portfolio rewards effort. One reason that the portfolio went pretty well for me was that I was intentional throughout my field experience about preparing high-quality LPs and in completing the intermediate assignments along the way. Earlier in my field experience we completed inter-visitations and observed how licensed teachers employed CR-SE practices in their classroom. Despite being two separate assignments, the work I did during the inter-visitations and CR-SE reflection went a long way towards setting the stage for my Reaching All Learners narrative, especially as I thought about the underlying principles of CR-SE in my own teaching practice.
  • Start earlier – earlier than you think. If I could go back in time to the almost month that I recall putting aside to work on my portfolio, I would have printed out a monthly calendar for the month of May and planned out almost day-by-day exactly what I wanted to accomplish. A month sounds like a lot, but in the midst of pre-service training doing a little bit each day goes a long way. When I did this planning, I wish I had gone back and identified several non-negotiable checkpoints along the way.
  • Lean into your resources. I was lucky by having a coach that was invested in my professional development. I always felt like I could pull him aside during a prep or send an email to ask about a certain thing, and my coach always offered new ways to think about some component of a lesson or how I might organize something from a planning perspective. Our earth science co-teacher was also tremendous. She had no obligation to help me out, but went out of her way to give me content ideas and to dial in the pacing of my mini unit.
  • Use a tool like Google Docs/Sheets to plan the unit and lessons. I can’t begin to count how many times I started planning a lesson one way and then it did a 180 and I ended up doing something else. Maybe I was just terrible at sequencing, but I chalked it up as part of my planning process. Google tools (Docs, Slides, Sheets, etc.) offer a robust set of version management tools, and you can even assign names to certain versions to better keep track of everything.
  • Leave a day for to review the portfolio with fresh eyes. This goes for pretty much any major assignment. I don’t think any major projects should be submitted without getting a good night’s sleep and looking over things one last time to make any final adjustments.

The portfolio might seem like a lot at first, but I think most Partner Teachers don’t realize how prepared they are to take it on until they get to it. Staring at a blank page can be daunting, but never be afraid to just start writing. Even if it doesn’t make any sense, get those thoughts on paper and the rest will flow naturally.

The Summer Term Has Come and Gone

On finding a rhythm in grad school (again) and brushing the dust off of my impeccable APA citation skills.

As part of my first summer in the Teaching Collaborative, I began my graduate coursework for the M.S.Ed in adolescent special education at Hunter College. We seem to be hopefully in the waning stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, and our first term of coursework has been a decent mix of hybrid classes, meeting online, in-person, and sometimes working asynchronously for certain modules. Summer coursework at Hunter is broken up into 3 sessions, and each of my three classes so far have fallen under one of the five week sessions. Most of the Collaborative’s university partners begin graduate coursework in the summer, with a few exceptions (I know a colleague at Touro mentioned that they’re starting in the fall).

For this year’s Hunter College adolescent special education cohort, we took three courses: one on literacy and another on math methods during the first summer term, and a class on the study of learning disabilities during the last 5 week summer term. I thought I learned a good deal from these courses, especially given that they each happen in the span of 5 weeks. I can’t help but wonder what sacrifices have to be made when condensing a graduate level course down into 5 weeks, but my professors have been great. Our program intentionally sets a foundational knowledge base with the three classes that I mentioned above, and I’m feeling pretty ready to incorporate these tools and ideas into my teaching practice. Our faculty talk a lot about modeling strategies, tools, and other things that we can tangibly take into the classroom, and the faculty that I’ve worked with so far have all been great.

For those that are curious about how we ended up at our respective graduate programs, NYCTC Partner Teachers are able to rank their top 2-3 graduate school preferences based on the universities that partner with the DOE for each subject area. The program says that most participants get their first choice of grad program, and that seems to track pretty well with what I’ve observed and heard from others in my cohort. I don’t think I knew of anyone who got their third choice based on the grad school preference survey.

I’ve enjoyed the feeling of being back on a college campus again. Before the pandemic, I was finishing up my first masters degree in higher education and student affairs at Indiana University. As an undergrad and graduate student, I held various roles on multiple campuses, with almost all of my responsibilities falling under the umbrella of residential life and working in university residence halls. It does feel somewhat strange to be back on campus as only a student and to have no other responsibilities. One nice thing about being at Hunter is that I appreciate having access to facilities like lounges and study areas whenever I’m on campus. It’s nice to know that while I’m on the Upper East Side there’s always at least two places I can go to without an expectation of spending my money (the other being a New York Public Library branch).

As I wind down my last of the three summer classes (study of learning disabilities), I’m putting my finishing touches on an IEP group project, working my way through the NYSED autism workshop curriculum, and completing a course reflection assignment. On one hand, I’m excited for a short break between grad school and the start of the school year. Once the school year starts I’ll see how I do balancing teaching full time and going to grad school at night. On the other hand, I find myself ruminative. I find myself thinking about the aspects of my journey that have lead me to this point, and I find myself thinking about the students that I’ll be meeting and teaching in just over a month.

I’m under no delusion that my first year in the classroom is going to be flawless. If anything, I’ve heard that the first year is the hardest part of one’s teaching career. Whatever comes my way, I’m going to do my very best and take it all in stride.

NYC Teaching Fellows vs Teaching Collaborative

Two of the more well-known alt cert teaching programs in NYC have more in common than not.

Applications for the 2023 cohort of the NYC Teaching Collaborative are open, and I was happy to hear that several substitute teachers that I’m in touch with are considering pursuing their teaching certifications to teach in the NYC DOE. There are multiple alternate certification pathways for educators who didn’t follow the traditional bachelor’s in education to initial teaching license pipeline, and two of the more well-known alt cert programs in NYC are the Collaborative and the NYC Teaching Fellows.

Both programs fall under the purview of the Office of Teacher Recruitment and Quality (TRQ), and they’re actually fairly similar in how they’re structured. Both programs have a series of Skill Building Sessions, that allow teacher candidates to practice essential skills to be successful in the classroom. Teacher candidates in both programs complete a field experience in a NYC school while also preparing to attend graduate school for a master’s degree in education, all while working on the state certification exams, required workshops, and more that go into obtaining a transitional B teaching certification.

The biggest difference between both programs is how the program timelines are structured. Collaborative Partner teachers have weekly skill-building sessions spread throughout the spring semester while completing 4 months of field experience at NYC schools. By necessity, the Fellows condenses this timeline so that preservice training (PST) takes place during the DOE’s summer term.

If I had to pick, I would say that the Collaborative offers a better field experience for teacher candidates. Getting to spend 4 months learning and growing as an apprentice teacher was a hugely beneficial experience. I was able to gradually take on more responsibility for the classes that my Collaborative Coach was teaching, and the experience felt truly meaningful. I felt well-versed in lesson planning and facilitation by the end of my field experience, and even felt like I developed a decent tool belt of classroom management philosophies and strategies to build on. PST for the Collaborative was stressful in a different way that I imagine the Fellows’ PST to be, although I believe that candidates in either program more than earn their keep in their preservice experience.

In contrast, the Fellows gives their candidates about a month work of hands on classroom experience in summer school. I think it’s safe to say that any classroom experience is helpful for a teacher candidate, but I’m not sure that summer school is as beneficial as working in the classroom during the “regular” school year. On the flipside, Teaching Fellows don’t have to suffer nearly as much of a financial blow as Collaborative Partner Teachers do, given that the Fellows takes place during summer school.

In the grand scheme of things, both programs are more alike than not. We’re even given the same packet on the job search process, including a list of eligible schools that we’re able to take jobs at. The main difference between both programs comes down to how PST is structured. I enjoyed the extended field experience of the Collaborative, but the financial situation ($6000 paid across 5-6 months) was a sore point for many in my cohort. Many of us only made it work by living with family or a partner, savings, and working a second job. Was it worth it? I thought so. At the same time, the Fellows program provides a far more compelling option if, like the vast majority of New Yorkers, teacher candidates can’t afford to live in poverty for months.

I heard from an in-service teacher that the Collaborative’s program was created to address a concern about quality of training offered by the Fellows’ month of PST. I don’t know if there’s an actual basis for this claim, but it certainly makes sense to me. I couldn’t imagine squashing my 4 month field experience down into the month or so that Teaching Fellows get, but I do wonder how much someone that’s brand new to the classroom can actually learn in a month.

Either way, both programs have proponents and detractors alike. I myself had a good (not great, but also not terrible) experience in the Collaborative. By DOE standards, good/decent isn’t too bad once you’ve heard horror stories of principals who’ve successfully derailed the livelihoods of early-career educators, i.e. a discontinuance. A quick Google search of the programs will bring up some not-so-flattering anecdotes (particularly for the Fellows). There may very well be some truth to them, but I think everyone should do their own due diligence, including speaking to current and former program participants alike.

The Collaborative gave me a pathway to teaching; to do work that I find a tremendous amount of professional and personal satisfaction in. I’ll always be appreciative of that, and I truly hope that both programs continue to grow by listening to participant feedback and seeking to do the right thing for teacher candidates in our most high-need license areas. The program worked fairly well for me, but I know fellow Partner Teachers who were downright miserable and/or frustrated with their experience.

Past is Prologue: NYC DOE Nomination Limbo III

I am once again asking the DOE to not butcher my hiring paperwork.

If past is prologue, I’m not sure why I’d be terribly surprised that my rotten luck with hiring/onboarding paperwork with the DOE has reared its ugly head again.

I’m looking forward to starting my full-time teaching position in the fall. As with all new hires, I need to complete the Applicant Gateway process, background nomination and all. For those following along at home, this is now my fourth DOE background investigation. The other three were for my previous nominations: substitute teacher, Roster Evaluate (onboarding for the Collaborative), and Person Not On Budget (PNOB) so that I could have access to some tech systems during my field experience.

Until very recently, my teacher nomination was stuck in the background investigation step. No big deal, I thought. It’s peak hiring season for teachers and it’s not unusual for these things to take a bit longer. I shrugged off the fact that it had only been just shy of two months since I cleared my last DOE background investigation. I sent a quick email to OPI, hoping for some assurance that nothing was wrong with my candidacy.

Four to five business days passed, and I was ready to send a follow-up email to OPI. As I fired up Outlook, I took a look at SubCentral on a hunch, only to receive the following message upon attempting to log in: Your account has been disabled please contact your districts HR department.

I’ve only ever seen that message once before, and it was only six months ago that a similar paperwork hiccup prevented me from working as a substitute teacher. I knew I was in good standing as a sub, and that I was approved for the DOE’s summer pool of sub teachers. Again, something wasn’t quite adding up. After missing out on a month of income the last time this happened, I wasn’t going to leave anything to chance. I emailed the Office of Personnel Investigations (OPI), hoping for an expeditious response. OPI sounds like a scary thing to deal with, but they’re the folks who oversee background investigations for the DOE.

The problem with getting in contact with OPI is that there’s officially only one way to reach them — contacting an email that responds with a generic auto-reply. Their own auto-reply and conventional business etiquette suggest that the sender should expect 2-3 days for a response. That certainly wasn’t the case for me back in December, as I distinctly sending approximately 4 emails spaced throughout the month. I still find it somewhat amusing that after a month of trying to get ahold of their office, I was able to get a response the day I used some Google-Fu and the DOE Outlook directory to find out who exactly was in charge of OPI and emailed this person.

Back in the present day, I’m sitting at my computer, ever so slightly irritated that this same problem has presented itself again. I could have emailed OPI again, but wasn’t feeling like playing their email waiting game within such a short timeframe of having previously addressed the exact same issue. I typed up an email to OPI, and copied the emails of several DOE employees from that office.

I haven’t received a response or any acknowledgement of my email, but within 24 hours of sending this, the problem was fixed. My background investigation that had been pending since mid-June went through and I was able to log into SubCentral again. I worried that it might have been a bit over the top to directly email their executive director and deputy director, but I assuaged my guilt by reminding myself that it was the right thing to do given the consequences of this “technical issue” as it was obtusely described by an OPI representative.

My hope in writing this blog post and other similar to it is not to complain, but rather to document some of the logistical challenges that I’ve faced during my time in the Collaborative. I hope that future Teaching Fellows and Collaborative Partner Teachers who might end up in a similar predicament are able to resolve things a bit quicker than I did.

I haven’t even started my teaching position with the DOE yet, and the Department’s track record with routine paperwork isn’t looking too promising. Here’s to a brighter future with minimal paperwork headaches.

Reflecting on SBS

Community matters in education, I’m glad I found a community with my SBS peers.

Members of my SBS group had an in-person meetup after our last class. It was so nice to see everyone beyond a computer screen!

A few weeks ago, I finished up my last skill-building session (SBS) that made up a pretty significant component of my pre-service training in the Collaborative. SBS essentially was a credit-bearing weekly class, where we got to learn about and practice the various skills needed in our practice as educators. The Collaborative does a good job outlining SBS on their website, but the class focuses on skills like lesson planning, supporting diverse student populations, equity in teaching practice, and more.

In years past, SBS met in a traditional classroom setting that Partner Teachers would report to after finishing up field experience at our respective teaching academies. Due to the pandemic, SBS was facilitated digitally via Zoom.

SBS was my first introduction to the Collaborative’s PST program, as it preceded the beginning of field experience by about two weeks. During these two weeks, we attended daily SBS sessions and learned/practiced some of the most essential skills needed to enter the classroom as a Partner Teacher. I remember having an irrational fear that my SBS instructor would be some sort of educational drill sergeant whose job it would be to mold us into fearless pedagogical machines. I even replayed training scenes from films like Jarhead and Mulan in my head. Turns out that my fear was completely misplaced. My SBS coach was an incredibly passionate, supportive educator and genuinely cared about our development as future teachers. I also connected with a small group of peers from the program over the course of the last 5 months — all of whom I know will be wonderful educators.

I thought that SBS was organized incredibly well. It led with high-yield concepts such as lesson-planning and building relationships that empowered me to hit the ground on day 1 of field experience to create meaningful learning experiences for my students. The sessions followed a regular sequencing that worked really well for establishing a sense of routine — a daily do now that set the stage for the topics, an introduction to and discussion of how a topic or strategy can be used in the classroom, followed by the opportunity for us to practice the concept ourselves and to give/receive feedback from peers. It was rooted in theory and research about strategies that work well in the classroom, but they felt so practical. On more than one occasion, I found myself leaving SBS on a Wednesday, applying a new skill later that week, and finding some new growth or breakthrough with a student that came from applying material learned in SBS.

I don’t think there’s any way to get around the fact that SBS is going to feel like a drag at times — and I say this as someone who gets overly excited at the prospect of receiving a new textbook or course syllabus. When you end up in the middle of March writing weekly papers and going to SBS, all while continuing to go to field experience on a full-time basis, it eventually starts to wear you down a bit. On top of the weekly papers, March is also right around the time that we were setting our sites on gateway #2 — the second formal observation of the program.

I’m particularly grateful for having found such a strong sense of community within my SBS group. From regular small group activities and discussions to 1:1 chats to ask questions, laugh, or vent with a classmate, it really was the people I got to work alongside that made SBS such a rich and impactful experience for me.

I wasn’t a perfect SBS participant. I definitely slacked on the readings once or twice, and I felt like I didn’t have the most profound perspectives to offer in regards to the readings or topics on a given day. Still, some peers found value in my ramblings, and I suppose that there’s value in that.

One More Month of Field Experience Left

I have just shy of a month left in my pre-service training experience, and I’m definitely in crunch mode.

I can’t believe it’s been 3 months since I began my NYC Teaching Collaborative experience. Partner Teachers have just shy of a month of the field experience remaining before we transition to summer coursework at our respective colleges and universities.

Partner Teachers got to enjoy a long weekend, as we had off on Monday in observance of Eid el-Fatir. To say that this long weekend was much appreciated is an understatement. Many of us are tired — absolutely drained.

While I was somewhat productive today, most of that productivity was spent on things that I really should have taken care of during the earlier parts of pre-service training. It’s not a good feeling to be starting going back to grad school in a month and still have outstanding requirements such as missing immunization records, transcripts, etc. Old me would have just shrugged and admonished myself for being a slacker. To my credit, there are a lot of things that Partner Teachers are juggling at any given moment. The current workload revolves primarily around finalizing our unit plans/teaching portfolios and the daily lesson plan grind.

I realized early in my field experience that I would never completely clear my queue of work. There will always be SBS classes to prepare for, daily lessons to plan, attending to the various workshops, exams, etc. required for certification. I think that a juggling analogy fits really well here. Some balls are made of rubber and others are made of glass. The rubber ones can hit the proverbial ground hopefully just once, bounce up and be fine.

Luckily I was able to take care of everything and I’m officially enrolled in my summer courses. It’s going to be a hectic seven days until my teaching portfolio gets turned in, but the end is in sight and I’m feeling ready to take on this last chapter in my Collaborative field experience.

The Multi-Subject CST and EAS Exams

I’m still not sure that teacher certification exams are a predictor of success in the classroom or knowledge of content, but I passed…so yay.

The New York State Teacher Certification Exams are a requirement for the transitional B teaching certificate that Teaching Fellows and Teaching Collaborative Partner Teachers apply for near the end of pre-service training. Admittedly, I don’t know what correlation exists between my performance on these tests and my ability to be successful as a classroom teacher, but they are a necessary hoop that all teacher candidates in the state of New York must jump through. The tests are very successful in padding the pockets of Pearson and whittling away at my humble NYCTC program stipend, but I’m not sure those are the explicit goals of the exams.

At the time of writing this post, I’ve passed all three of the required multi-subject Content Specialty Tests (CSTs) for the students with disabilities (7-12) generalist license. I took the Educating All Students (EAS) exam yesterday morning and thought it went pretty well. I’ll have my results in a month. In the meantime, I wanted to jot down a few thoughts while the experience was relatively fresh in my mind.

Content Specialty Tests

The Content Specialty Tests (or CST’s) measure the knowledge and skills required of teachers to be successful in their license areas. Math teachers take the math CST, biology teachers take the biology CST, and so on. It’s pretty straightforward, with the exception that students with disabilities (SWD) generalist candidates take a multi-subject CST that assesses our general competency across literacy/ELA, math, and arts & sciences. Despite having very similar names, there is a different multi-subject exam sequence for each grade band. I’m an SWD grades 7-12 generalist candidate, so I took the 241/244/245 exam sequence.

I don’t have much to say about the multi-subject CST, other than it felt like I was taking the ACT again, but interspersed with some questions about teaching pedagogy. I remember telling myself: “Just take the tests so you know what to expect.” I was fully prepared to take the tests again, as I was really curious to see what the multi-subject math exam would be like. Things worked out in my favor, as I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I passed all three exams on on my first go.

Some people don’t fare as well, and that’s okay. I think each candidate should do what’s best for them, whether that looks like purchasing study guides on Amazon or even paying for a personal tutor. The peace of mind and confidence might be worth the investment. NYSED doesn’t care what you get on the tests or even how many times you take them — they literally just look for a passing score posted to your TEACH account.

Educating All Students

The EAS exam measures the foundational skills needed to teach diverse student populations, such as students with disabilities and English language learners. I thought the test was pretty straightforward except for an annoying occurrence where two answers could have fit the scenario pretty well depending on the needs of the student. This is especially true for special education and ENL populations, which can seldom be distilled down to a multiple choice answer. The test had three written response questions that I really enjoyed because I felt like I got to address an actual problem and to provide a rationale for it. I think anyone with experience working in a school setting (substitute teacher, paraprofessional, etc.) will fare pretty well on the EAS, although some review might be needed in certain areas. I’m much more familiar with special education through my previous work as a substitute teacher and current field placement, but I did have to brush up a bit on the concepts for supporting ENL students.

COVID Emergency License

The emergency COVID-19 certificate was implemented by NY state during the pandemic, when access to testing centers was greatly limited. The idea is that any candidate who completed all requirements for their teaching license except for the certification exams would be certified to teach and given a two year window to complete the exams. I know of a few cohort members who are planning on postponing their CST and EAS exams and opting for the COVID emergency license, but I think the prudent course of action is to complete the exams now and only have to deal with NYSED once for the transitional B license. Some are okay with redundancy — more power to them, I suppose.

Final Thoughts

The tests aren’t bad at all. I believe anyone can easily pass them with some preparation, and that’ll look a bit different for everyone depending on their background knowledge and their comfortability with standardized testing. I’d like to offer a few tips based on my humble experience:

  • Stay calm.
  • Take the tests as soon as possible. It’s free to reschedule the exams as long as you do so at least 48 hours in advance. Each registration is good for one year.
  • Passing is the goal, not perfection. It doesn’t matter if it takes a few tries to pass the exams, or if you pass by a few points. NYSED just looks for a passing score to be posted to your TEACH account when they review your transitional license application.
  • Use the Brooklyn Education Center. I thought that the resources available through BEC were particularly useful. I can see them being really helpful for teacher candidates who are worried about the multi-subject math exam. $60 gets you access to one of BEC’s set of materials for 3-4 months. A pretty good deal in my opinion. I believe that BEC used to offer actual classes that candidates could attend in person, but have since pivoted to a self-paced model during the pandemic. They freely offer a PDF study guide for part 3 of the multi-subject CST, which I think is pretty neat.
  • Stay calm.
  • Be aware of the exam retake policies and the NYCTF/Collaborative expectations for submitting a passing score. All exams require a 30 or 60 day cooldown period before you can test again. You don’t want to end up in the awkward position of having to wait 30+ days while also pushing the program’s deadline to submit scores. It could also potentially jeopardize your ability to progress in the program if the state can’t issue your teaching license because you’re missing an exam. This is less of an issue for the program’s 2022 cohort due to the safety net of the COVID emergency license, but my guess is that this option will sunset after the September 2022 deadline.
  • Don’t sweat the details. The tests throw a lot of information at you, especially when reviewing different artifacts like teacher lesson plans and notes. The testing software includes a strikethrough and highlighter tool, both of which I found particularly useful.
  • Did I mention…stay calm? You’re going to do great!

Spring Break Reset

I really should write more. But first, coffee!

I’m sitting in a Starbucks sipping on a venti iced caramel macchiato. After what seemed to be a promising start to spring, we find ourselves facing a brisk high of 50 degrees here in New York City. Public schools are on spring break this week — a welcome reprieve from the daily grind of the Teaching Collaborative.

The field experience in and of itself isn’t the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. But, when you look at the different components that we have to stay on top of — daily lesson planning, regular reading and homework assignments for the Skill Building component of the program, there are many components that need to be juggled. I’m learning loads, both in terms of time management, class management and the foundational skills that I’ll need to be in my own classroom come September.

My approach to field experience is pretty straightforward: Learn something new each day, and don’t be afraid to try something new. I treat everything as a learning experience, which I think is a requisite to be successful as a Partner Teacher in the program. A mentor once told me that it’s okay to make a mistake — the key is not to make that same mistake twice. That mantra is certainly one that I’ve taken to heart. From learning the content for my earth science course to trying out different classroom management strategies, I was surprised how much I learned from things not going as expected.

As far as the program goes, I’m in a really good place. I’ve accepted a full-time teaching position for the fall, have met or exceeded expectations in the first two gateway (formal) observations, and have completed most of the deliverables for Skill Building. The initial imposter syndrome has long since faded, and I feel comfortable calling myself an educator — although I suppose it won’t be official until NYSED issues my transitional B teaching certificate over the summer.

I started this blog largely as a self-reflective tool for my own professional growth and development. I also hope that future Collaborative Partner Teachers, applicants, or anyone interested in alternate teaching certification programs finds value in the blog. I have many more thoughts to share about the program, and I hope that I’ll get into a more steady blogging routine as school begins next week.

In the meantime, I’m going to finish up the books I’ve been reading (Cixin Liu’s The Dark Forest and an edited volume called Teacher’s Unions and Social Justice), enjoy more iced macchiatos, and recharge my batteries before we go back to school on Monday. The final stretch of field experience is quickly approaching, and the end is in sight.