Monday, Apr. 11, 2016
Imagine a classroom in a multicultural urban city where half of the students are learning English as their second language and a third of those students are characterized as having a learning disability. In New York City, this is the reality of many classrooms, and although they have the potential to flourish in a diverse environment, few teachers are actually qualified to deal with the demand.
According to the New York City Department of Education’s 2013 Demographic Report, English language learners make up 42 percent of New York City schools. Twenty-six percent, more than 34,000, of these students were in need of some form of special education in the 2012-13 academic year.
The program in Bilingual Bicultural Education at Teachers College is attempting to meet the educational needs of these students through the newly introduced Master of Arts in Bilingual Special Education Studies (BiSPED), which leads to triple certification in initial childhood education, bilingual education and special education.
After securing a grant from the New York City DOE, principal investigator for the program and Assistant Professor of Bilingual Education, Patricia Martinez-Álvarez, says the program is complex, and will need support not only from the BBE program, but from staff at partnering dual language schools. In response to this need, Professor Martinez-Álvarez, Associate Professor Carmen Martínez-Roldán, Lecturer Sharon Chang and Professor Hsu-Min Chiang organized a professional development workshop for principals, supervisors and cooperating teachers this October.
“The focus was on improving the student-teaching process. And because it’s such a complex process, we feel that we needed to involve more than one voice in giving feedback to the teachers,” said Professor Martinez-Álvarez.
Each of the schools involved, Castle Bridge Elementary School, P.S. 182 Dual Language Chinese school, Dos Puentes Elementary School and a participating French dual language public school, have Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) classrooms. In ICT rooms, a general education teacher and a special education teacher teach together to accommodate the needs of students who have Individualized Educational Plans, or IEPs, together with students who do not have IEPs.
“The courses are rich in experience but student teaching is how they will get experience,” Professor Martinez-Alvarez said in the workshop.
Although each of the participants presents serve in different roles at their schools, the BBE program regards them all equally as mentors for student teachers. “We love the idea of having a mentor philosophy,” said Professor Martinez-Álvarez. “We are really contributing to the growth of student teachers in a very constructive way.”
After an initial round of introductions, the workshop included an activity for participants to reflect on their roles as mentors. Before a short dinner break, the invited guest speaker, Rebecca Madrigal, gave a heartfelt talk about her experience as a first grade teacher in a dual language program, leading to tears and cheers from the supportive group of mentors.
Karina Malik is a cooperating teacher and mentor at Dos Puentes Elementary School who graduated from Teachers College two years ago.“I feel like I’m so fresh out of student teaching that I can still understand what the student teachers feel when they walk into the classroom for the first time,” Ms. Malik said.
Ms. Malik empathizes with student teachers after so recently graduating from the bilingual program and attended the workshop to learn how she could better support her teacher candidates aside from encouraging reflection in teaching. “I feel like I do a lot, I give up a lot of my time, my resources, but sometimes I feel like I could do more, but where and how? That’s what I’m looking for,” she said.
Teaching is not always as easy as it may seem, and becoming a great teacher takes practice and experience. Professor Martinez-Álvarez stressed the importance of meeting with mentors to make learning more efficient in their daily conversations with student teachers. “This is also giving them specific artifacts that they can use as they communicate with their student teachers because these are all master teachers who come with great experience and the supervisors also match. But sometimes when they converse with the student teachers they talk more generally about teaching, and some things are more intuitive for these teachers,” she said.
Lily Shen, is a supervisor at P.S. 182 Dual Language Chinese school and was a teacher there for 14 years. “I really feel it’s my time to do something different, to help people understand and to help people get ready for the new generation,” Ms. Shen said. After graduating from the Teachers College Applied Linguistics program in 1987, she says she enjoys the connection she makes with students who also help her grow as a teacher when they bring new approaches in pedagogy to her classrooms.
Throughout the evening Professor Martínez-Álvarez intently watched each group share their own experiences from a close distance. In the midst of the inequities surrounding the city’s schools were sitting a group of educators, typical in every respect, except that they were not only imagining a different type of classroom, they were beginning to help create one.
Nori Kato is a Staff Writer and Office Assistant for the Department of Arts and Humanities. She is also a graduate of the International Educational Development program at Teachers College.