Vy Nguyen is a Rochelle Lee Teacher Award recipient and special education teacher at Brentano Math and Science Academy in Logan Square. In this second installment from a conversation with Vy, she shares how educators’ roles are always shifting, such as changing which grade and/or subject matter they teach. She also highlights how professional development can make these transitions smoother and prepare teachers for the upcoming year. You can read the first installment about including students with diverse needs in the general education classroom here.
Teachers Adapt to Meet Students’ Needs
Every year, teachers prepare for the wide array of skills, needs, and learning styles of the students in their classroom. They do this while experiencing frequent restructuring at the school. This could result in teaching a different grade or subject from year to year. Often, teachers have to rebuild their curriculum in the summertime. And for special education teachers, one may have to work with students from varying grade levels and abilities. Vy explains that, “I work primarily with first, second, and third grades in Reading, Math, and Inquiry (science and social science). Last year I worked with kindergarten and third grade. The year before I was in fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh grade. [I’ve taught] across the grade bands and across subject areas.”
How Grade Switching Affects Students
Creating curriculum is a never-ending process. In the summertime, teachers begin with long-term planning, designing lessons, and aligning to state and school guidelines and standards. Planning is followed by the execution of lessons during the school year. Teachers evaluate at the end of each unit, making adjustments to address gaps in student learning. At the end of the year, final assessments help teachers determine the effectiveness of their curriculum. This entire process could start completely anew each year. Educators do all of this while fostering positive, engaging learning environments. They do this while developing trusting relationships with students. They do this while performing many other duties on a daily basis.
According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, studies show that teachers typically grow and improve each year. However, grade switching can hinder that progress by 20%. Students of color, students of lower socio-economic status, and students who are English Language Learners are more likely to have teachers who are switching to that grade for the first time. In some cases, grade switching or having teachers serve students in multiple grades is hard to avoid. This could be due to changes in school enrollment, colleagues leaving or retiring, or the current shortage of special educators. To keep up, teachers devote time, energy, and creativity to hone lessons and classroom systems to best serve their students. One effective way to find resources is through professional development.
Why Free Workshops Make a Difference for Teachers
So when does this professional development take place? For the most part, these opportunities lie outside of typical work hours. Teachers attend sessions after their work day, on weekends, and during the summer. The Rochelle Lee Teacher Award Program offers free professional development to CPS educators, helping teachers like Vy learn and grow in a position that is constantly evolving. “I think that’s what’s really helpful about the program,” Vy reflects. “Each year, I can choose a workshop that will pertain to the grade level that I will be teaching, which is a great way to brush up over the summer before I actually get in the classroom.”
Continued professional development enables teachers to be more prepared for the year ahead. Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardees can choose sessions that will be most beneficial for their students at no cost to the educator. In sessions, they receive support from peers, find new resources, and hear from teachers from across the district also facing these challenges. RLTA provides a space that encourages teachers to try out new ideas and strategies. Many teachers adapt to school-wide changes each year, and RTLA recipients can lay the groundwork for their future work with students in a community full of collaboration and innovation.