Robbie Marshall majored in history in college and knew he wanted to find a job related to the subject. He wasn’t quite sure what that career would be, though. After some encouragement from his mother and girlfriend, he worked as a substitute teacher in San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) to try out the profession. After a year and a half of subbing, Robbie was ready to take the next step. “I wanted to do something meaningful while putting my passion and knowledge of history to good use.”
“I was a little unsure if this was something I would want to do long term, but as the [NYU Teacher Residency] program went on I realized I made the right choice as I really enjoyed what I was doing.”
Even though Robbie had taught as a substitute, he wanted a teacher preparation program that would continue to expand upon his experience. “The fact that the Teacher Residency paired you with a mentor to show you the ropes made a big difference for me. Probably one of the hardest things about teaching is to get true experience in the classroom. With this program, you don’t just get thrown into the role.”
As Robbie progressed in the program, he increasingly took on more responsibility in the classroom. This intentional model is part of the Teacher Residency’s gradual release of responsibility design. Gradual release purposefully shifts the cognitive load from teacher-as-model to joint responsibility of teacher and learner, and then to independent practice and application by the learner (Pearson & Gallagher 1983). The practice has gained attention in teacher preparation residency models because the same idea can be applied between teacher mentor and teacher resident.
“Mr. Whooley [my teacher mentor] asked for my input on a range of things, even when he was driving the planning. And he always made sure the work was connected to the [Teacher Residency] program. He knew that the more that he could help me insert myself in the role of teacher, the better off I’d be.”
This immersive time in the classroom, while learning alongside Michael Whooley, and forming relationships with students, gave Robbie new ideas for how to connect with students and inspire their interest in history and social studies.
“I was teaching eighth-grade US history, and this really showed me that I wanted to continue teaching the subject. I knew that meant staying in middle and high school. And at those grade levels, as the teacher, you can build relationships with students in different ways, and you get to have in-depth discussions about really important times in history.”
Learning to work with middle and high school students
Even though Robbie found joy working with middle and high school students, challenges cropped up. “With middle school students, they are still learning how to interact with each other and other adults. I learned that I have to give them time and space to figure things out. And I have to be very patient. Some students are going to need more than others.
“I would say you [as a new teacher] need thick skin. There’s this other side of working with this age group that is also really impressive – they possess great maturity, insight, and knowledge. They are at an age where they begin to realize that they know a lot of things.”
The residency year gave Robbie practical knowledge of how to work with students’ families, as well. Toward the last few months of his time in the program, COVID-19 disrupted in-school learning across the country. With the sudden move to distance learning, communication with students and families immediately changed. However, Robbie and his fellow teachers seized the moment.
“The COVID-19 experience improved family relationships because we made even more of an effort to reach out to families. I realized at that moment that I should have been doing this from the beginning. A personal phone call to a family goes a long way to build trust. They were so happy to hear directly from someone in the school. Of course, a lot of teachers want to do this kind of outreach, but it’s often really tough – you have a lot of kids. Though I now see it’s essential to show families that we care.”
Using content to connect to equity
The Teacher Residency includes culturally responsive teaching as a thread throughout the program. The curriculum also deepens teacher residents’ understanding of what equity looks like in education.
“I think the residency reinforced some of my knowledge of inequities and expanded it in many other ways. In SFUSD, a lot of teachers recognize these problems and aim to address them. I know I can, too – like simply understanding all students come from different backgrounds and perspectives, and that those differences have a lot of value in the classroom.”
Robbie identified a bridge between culturally responsive teaching and his subject area. He now sees the content as an opportunity to empower students with knowledge to change inequitable systems. “I think social studies and history have really helped me know these issues and want to teach students about them. I want students to understand the importance of these subjects – they explain the world right now. For example, why is there structural racism? We can learn about this by looking into the past and developing ideas of what needs to change. Social studies is so valuable in that regard.”
The Teacher Residency marked the beginning of a new chapter for Robbie in a career that requires him to continue to grow and learn. “I want to be the best teacher I can be. There’s so much more to learn about how to teach. That’s why I wanted to do the [Teacher Residency]. I wanted the knowledge and strategies to teach. I wanted to be equipped to always look for new ways to reach my students.”