Learn to teach by teaching

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

After spending several months in Jake’s third grade classroom, Tamara transitioned to Glenda Colón’s fifth grade class at the Hugh R. O’Donnell School in East Boston, where C. Sura O’Mard is the principal. The school is situated in a busy, vibrant and ethnically diverse community. Almost 300 children attend O’Donnell; 80 percent are Hispanic, 10 percent are white and the other 6 percent are African American and Asian. Early in the morning, mothers, fathers and grandparents walk young children up the steps to enter a large brick building. Behind the building is a huge, well-equipped playground for children to enjoy during recess.

As O’Mard gave Tamara and a group of apprentices a tour of the school, a parent walked by with a puzzled expression, clearly needing some assistance. O’Mard acknowledged her immediately and answered her question fluently in Spanish. Witnessing this connection to children and families was all Tamara needed to make her final decision to make the move from Shady Hill and work with Colón in her fifth grade class.

From the start, Colón told Tamara she saw her as a teaching partner. With several months of apprentice-teaching experience behind her, Tamara began teaching math to her new class of 23 fifth graders. If Colón attended a professional development session after school, Tamara joined her. Occasionally, mentor and apprentice taught side-by-side. The charts on the wall reminding students of effective strategies for analyzing and discussing a text took on new meaning for Tamara when she facilitated guided reading lessons for a group of students. In the back of the room, Colón observed Tamara teach and gave her written feedback. If Tamara struggled with classroom management, Colón was there to encourage and to suggest other ways to engage the group. Some of the hands-on projects and experiences that are common at Shady Hill were seen in action at O’Donnell. MCAS tests took on new meaning when Tamara assisted in proctoring the exam. She understood the goal was not limited to making sure children were passing tests proficiently, but also to prepare children for success and college readiness, a goal for all children in the Boston Public Schools.

Tamara gained an invaluable experience that is unique to Shady Hill School’s teacher training program. She learned how to teach in two schools — very different and yet similar in important ways. O’Mard values the partnership that Shady Hill and O’Donnell share.

“Shady Hill has an outstanding program that is well organized and connected to reputable institutions of higher education,” she said. "Oftentimes teachers being trained in the private sector find themselves in urban public schools, which challenge them to provide instruction to all children.”

This year, 60 percent of Shady Hill School’s apprentice-teachers will follow Tamara’s lead. Ten will work alongside master teachers at Shady Hill and continue learning from master teachers at Haggerty School in Cambridge, Mass., Watertown Middle School and the O’Donnell School.

Asked if she would do it again, Tamara said, “Most definitely. I truly believe that all teachers should have the opportunity to work in an independent school and an urban public school such as O’Donnell. I think it gives you an appreciation for the American education system. You have to use your ingenuity to make a lesson interesting and memorable for children.”