Learn to teach by teaching

Assistant Director of Teacher Training | 10/24/2011, 4:08 p.m.

Tamara Nikuradse in Glenda
Colón's 5th grade class at the
Hugh R. O'Donnell School in
East Boston.
(Porter Gifford photo)

Tamara Nikuradse is in her first year of teaching at Milton Academy, but she is not a typical first-year teacher.

She’s a parent, a former executive at a Fortune 500 company, a published author and a graduate of Bowdoin College, Harvard University and Shady Hill School’s Teacher Training Course, which collaborates with Lesley University.

Educated in both public and private schools in the United States and abroad, she understands the value of an excellent education for all children, especially those with limited resources. So, when she made the decision to teach, she chose to learn how at the Shady Hill School in Cambridge and the Hugh R. O’Donnell School in East Boston.

Her teaching journey began last year at Shady Hill School, a progressive, pre-k to 8 independent elementary school with one of the best teacher preparation programs in the country. She was one of 15 apprentice teachers chosen from a large number of applicants to study and learn from teachers who love to teach and want to mentor apprentices. Some apprentices came to the school knowing they wanted to teach in a public or independent school after their apprenticeship. Others were unsure if teaching in a traditional classroom would be their life’s work. All were certain of one thing — they wanted to learn to teach by teaching — at Shady Hill.

Shady Hill is a unique place. Aspiring apprentice-teachers who come to the 11-acre campus for tours and interviews often say the gray, wood-paneled buildings that serve as grade-level classrooms look like cabins. They notice the joyful and carefree way in which children in grades pre-k to 8 meander along grassy, tree-lined pathways to the woodshop, the library for story time, or the gym for P.E. While 4 year olds can be found digging in the mud making tunnels in the nature area, third graders are sketching whales, studying their anatomical make-up, and learning how they evolved over time. Sixth graders examine artifacts from Africa to determine their significance and use, while eighth graders collaborate in small groups to make movie trailers that explain the historical significance of the Enlightenment. The applicant vying for a spot in the teacher training program gets this snapshot of what we do every day in our classrooms. The apprentice actually gets to teach it.

Apprentices like Tamara spend a whole year immersed in two different classrooms working with a mentor. The mentor is a coach who demonstrates effective instruction, talks about it and gives advice on how the apprentice can do it, too. Sure, lessons succeed and fail. Learning what works for children is the goal. Experienced mentors like Jake Hopkins gave Tamara the opportunity to take the best of what was modeled in his third grade classroom, put it into practice and reflect upon his feedback — daily.