Teacher in Residence Year Offers Multiple Benefits

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The five-year Math for America (MfA) Berkeley Master Teacher Fellowship provides Bay Area teachers with many opportunities. For teachers like Marlo Warburton, Toai Dao, or Marcus Hung, none surpass the Teacher in Residence (TIR) year.

For an entire academic year, MfA Berkeley frees the teachers from up to 60 percent of their usual full-time hours in the classroom. During this time, they participate in professional development and other educational activities on the UC Berkeley campus.

“This program was special because it didn’t just add more to my plate. It took something off, which never happens when you’re a teacher, and it supported me in the professional changes I wanted to make,” says Marlo, a math teacher and department chair at Longfellow Middle School, and math teacher leader for the Berkeley school district.

Marlo wanted to use the TIR year to increase her math knowledge. She spent her time outside the classroom studying advanced math at UC Berkeley, teaching a Cal Teach course, and exploring mathematical thinking and learning with other MfA fellows. Marlo’s TIR experience led her to also attend summer institutes to help her prepare for teaching in accordance with the new Common Core math standards.

“I really appreciated the chance to study math and do homework without having to squeezing it in. It was like a luxury for me, and a huge opportunity to grow. My next goal is to teach high school, and I’ll be able to do that now because of the TIR,” Marlo says. “I’m also in a position to share what I learned as a math teacher. The professional development I had will help me plan professional development for other teachers.”

Like Marlo, other MfA fellows have customized the TIR year to meet their professional development goals. For example, science teacher Toai Dao took UC Berkeley horticultural classes to strengthen his food ecology unit. He now plans to start an edible garden at Life Academy of Health and Biosciences, the Oakland public high school where he is a founding faculty member. Toai also used the time to coach new teachers in his school, work on methods to increase math literacy in the science classroom, and teach a Cal Teach course.

“I was able to reflect on my own practice at the same time I gained perspective on what new graduates expect from teaching,” Toai says. “The most satisfying part was being able to take the college-level courses and think about how to prepare my students for college.”

This year, Toai expects to draw on his new insights as he works as part of an Oakland Unified School District pilot program providing teachers with feedback and evaluation based on structured observations. Toai says, “I have more confidence now to go into other teachers’ classes and give feedback.”

Another MfA fellow, San Francisco high school math teacher Marcus Hung, saw the TIR year as an opportunity to bring his work with The Algebra Project--a national nonprofit organization--t o the local level. Marcus, who teaches at the public June Jordan School for Equity, explains, “We work with historically underserved students to provide the quality education that all students should have as a constitutional right. We develop teachers to use Algebra Project pedagogy to build experiences that are authentic to the students and also incorporate upper-level math.”

As part of the TIR program, Marcus shared Algebra Project ideas and ideals with other MfA fellows. He and his school benefited by hosting a Berkeley graduate student researching equity and power dynamics in the urban math classroom. While working with Cal Teach undergraduates, Marcus was also able to consider ways to help new teachers better serve students of all backgrounds.

“I thought about how to mentor preservice teachers who want to serve students like those at my school. Beginning teachers often mimic the educational experiences they’ve had themselves, so there’s a need to help grow a teacher’s mindset,” says Marcus, who has shared his thoughts about preparing teachers for urban schools in both a report and informal conversations with other MfA fellows.

Now that the TIR year has helped him build a Bay Area network of teachers, Marcus hopes to conduct Algebra Project workshops in their classrooms. But that’s only one of the program’s lasting effects for these teachers. Toai knows he can turn to his TIR cohort with ideas and questions about teaching math concepts in a science classroom. And Marlo found that she enjoys teaching undergraduates and will continue to do so with the Cal Teach program at UC Berkeley.

Kate Reid, who directs MfA Berkeley, points to even wider impacts. She explains, “The TIR year sets the teachers up for their individual leadership projects. It has an impact on their departments, schools, and school districts by bringing fresh ideas and a positive climate to their school buildings. It also affects Cal Teach and Math for America Berkeley as a whole. By working with Cal Teach students, the teachers can identify potential new hires. They’re establishing relationships and helping their districts gain strong teachers. There are benefits on multiple levels.”

Toai certainly agrees. He says, “It would be great if every teacher could have this kind of experience. It’s good for them, it’s good for their teaching practice, and it’s good for everyone.”