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New Teachers Learn about Teaching Through Collaboration
Judi Fenton

Fifth grade teacher Ann Nichols confides that it’s hard to know what grade level work should look like when you’re a new teacher. Liza Rancap agrees, “As a new teacher you are given materials and books and you’re not quite sure what to do with them.”

At P.S. 72 this is less of a problem than at many city schools. Teachers have been working collaboratively, examining the assignments they give and the resulting student work across their grade. The goal is for teachers to work together in order to create thoughtful, rigorous, standards-based assignments which accurately reflect the teaching and learning unfolding in their classrooms.

The teachers have formed critical friends groups, with the fifth grade teachers at the forefront, collaborating on their common preps and during extended day professional development time.

Among the fifth grade group are two new teachers, Ann and Liza, who are grappling with fitting in the demanding curricular mandates while, at the same time, figuring out what being a teacher means. They both agree that publicly presenting assignments to their colleagues and receiving feedback makes them more accountable for the work they give their students and helps them to formulate better lessons. Ann shares, “It’s easy to plan alone and work in our isolated classrooms, but getting more minds in one room helps me to clearly define the task I am asking my kids to do. It makes me accountable for the work I give my kids.”

The meetings not only help teachers to be more effective in the classroom, but they also create a constructive structure for teachers to interact, with the student work as the primary focus. New and experienced teachers interact on equal footing—and all learn extensively about their practice.

Liza relates, “Now I get direction from talking with other teachers. With their help I can put it all together to make it work.” Anne adds, “I’ve realized that teaching is very creative; planning with someone else makes it so much more effective.” Many teachers through their careers never have the opportunity to realize this. Ann and Liza are fortunate to be spending their first years in a school where teacher collaboration and learning are encouraged and valued.

 

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