“The NFL was my love and passion. But I knew deep down that I would end up teaching.”
Alterraun Verner retired from the National Football League (NFL) in 2018 after a successful career as a cornerback. After this demanding profession, retirement provided a brief rest and also – importantly – a time for reflection. Alterraun considered teaching as a young adult, and in retirement thought about education again. He was not focused on a new profession, but instead on how to make an impact in the world.
“I started searching online for teaching jobs in California, and the NYU Teacher Residency popped up. I had the idea to become a math teacher ever since high school. I thought ‘this sounds great, this is what I want to do.’ It sounded too good to be true. You can get your master’s in one year, have all this hands-on experience, and truly get to practice teaching. And it was in the district that I live in!”
Reigniting a love for math
A few months after retiring from the NFL, Alterraun applied to the Teacher Residency.
“My dad was a mechanical engineer so that might have been an influence, but ever since I was young I was really good at math,” explained Alterraun.
He recalled points during elementary school when he was quick to catch on to new concepts, and lessons often felt too slow. “Teachers would give me extra work.”
A natural competitor, Alterraun took to math leagues and events throughout his schooling. “I was in Math Olympics in elementary school and Math Jeopardy in middle school. I loved math.”
Preparation to teach math
Alterraun quickly discovered in the Teacher Residency that a love for a subject is one thing, but learning to teach it is entirely different.
“So I have a natural inclination toward math, yes. But could I teach it? I needed to learn a lot.”
During preparation, Alterraun realized that a growth mindset can help students excel in math. He now tries to instill this idea in his students. “Even if they don’t know the material, I encourage them to persist, make mistakes, and learn from the experience.”
He also found that students often respond to math when concepts relate to their outside world. While the Teacher Residency prepared him for math, it also encouraged him not to keep the subject in a bubble.
“I try to relate to students’ lives, to things outside of math. And I try to get them to see all the areas where math is applicable, and where they’ll need to call upon the subject. The Teacher Residency helped me build this routine so students know what to expect and know how they can push their thinking.”
Accepting and asking for feedback
Although Alterraun said teaching and the NFL have few parallels, both employ feedback.
“I remember one time my site lead at my high school said, ‘I’m going to beat you up a little bit with this critique’. And she noted really important pieces of feedback, all to help me out. What I realized is that I had tough skin from playing football; I had people chew me out. This feedback in the Teacher Residency was constructive criticism.”
Alterraun became quite comfortable recording his teaching for NYU Steinhardt faculty feedback and for his own reflection.
“My advice to new teacher residents is to record as much as you can. I recorded myself almost every single day. I loved looking at it and noticing certain things about the way I taught or maybe how the kids weren’t paying attention during parts of my lesson. None of that would be possible if I wasn’t recording.”
Building community with students
Alterraun is quite familiar with Corona Norco School District in California, where he completed his Teacher Residency. He lives in the District and even has children in the school system. And yet, during preparation to become a teacher, he became more intimately aware of the community.
“I think that I learned a lot more about the actual community that I live in. The Teacher Residency taught me about funds of knowledge and how to be culturally responsive to the range of backgrounds within our school.”
He applied those lessons to his first year as a full-time teacher and sees it paying off. “In order to be responsive to their needs, you need to know your students, and you need to know your community. I’ll do certain things to connect to them, or ask them about their home life, or interests, and see that they appreciate it.”
Alterraun also builds a presence beyond his role as “a math teacher” as another way to connect to his school community. He believes he can make more of an impact by getting involved in his students’ schooling in other ways or in extracurricular activities. “I don’t want them to only see me in the classroom. I want them to see me doing activities at school and outside of school.”
In fact, he teaches leadership as an elective class. “The leadership elective class is all about life. I help them work together and think about battling through adversity.”
Learning and growing as a new teacher
As a new teacher, Alterraun said he keeps an open mind and often refers back to his residency year and its lessons. “I still feel like I learn something every single day.”
Alterraun contemplated again on his path to teaching: “I don’t know how I could have become a teacher without the Teacher Residency. The support, feedback, and especially the time with students made this a top-of-the-line program.”
He concluded with a piece of advice for aspiring educators: “If you’re interested in teaching, go for it. Persist through the very end. It will be worth it.”