One Key Decision That Prepared Me for My First Year of Classroom Teaching

10/07/2019  |  Lyndsay Mahoney
Professional Development
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One of the greatest decisions I made in college was to become part of Urban Teacher Residency Partnership Program (UTRPP) — a collaboration between University of South Florida and Hillsborough County Schools. In this program, future educators are given the opportunity to see what outstanding pedagogy looks like through college courses. 

The fact that UTRPP has had a positive impact on my current career is undeniable. The program’s demanding expectations prepared me for real world challenges, and it enabled me to provide the most rewarding education to students that I can. While it was demanding at times, UTRPP was an experience that molded me into the teacher I am today. The knowledge I gained there will follow me through my teaching career. 

But what makes it a truly exceptional program — for me,  and for dozens of other participating would-be teachers — is the hands-on teaching experience and feedback through coaching cycles.

To begin, the program places students full-time in a classroom in a Title I school — a school where the majority of the student population comes from low-income families — located around the University of South Florida campus in the Northwest part of Tampa. UTRPP residents are paired with a classroom teacher, where they learn how to enhance student learning by analyzing student data and working with Professional Learning Communities (PLC).

UTRPP residents also have the opportunity to plan and implement lesson plans with an entire team of veteran educators acting as a support system. Classroom teachers work alongside UTRPP residents to plan and teach their curriculum, helping residents think critically about the information they are presenting to students.

For me, one particularly memorable moment of collaboration stands out. Together with another resident, I worked to develop a lesson on nonstandard measurement — but not just any lesson, a mystery lesson. I wrote a letter to my kindergarten students, telling them that trash had been found scattered all around the school campus. Next to the trash was found a mysterious set of footprints. Students were asked to use nonstandard measurement to measure the mystery footprints and compare those measurements to actual footprints of different animals. Once students figured out who the culprit was, based on their nonstandard measurements, they designed and built a trap intended to capture the animal. Students compared their designs to other designs in the classroom, and we discussed ways each design might be improved. At the end of the day, students were able to take what they had learned about nonstandard measurement and apply it to a real-world situation and have some fun in the process.

Of course, lesson planning wasn’t the only area from which UTRPP residents gained insight. Throughout the program, veteran teachers gave us would-be teachers all sorts of pointed feedback about our performance in the classroom. But rather than sit in the back of our classrooms and take notes, UTRPP used a platform called Edthena — an online tool for easy and collaborative peer coaching. The resident teachers would record footage of their classrooms in action using a smartphone and upload that video onto the Edthena platform. Then, seasoned educators would act as coaches, helping residents to reflect on what worked and what didn’t during their lessons.

Together, a coach and resident would analyze a recording of the lesson. Through the Edthena platform, both participants could watch the recording and time stamp different areas of the video, allowing them to make comments, select positive points of the lesson, and mark areas that need improvement. Residents would then use their own observations from their lesson, combined with feedback from the coaches and other classroom teachers, to determine what improvements they should make to their instruction. Having these endless opportunities for reflection, carried out in a supportive environment, made positive growth almost inevitable.

Completing such a rigorous residency was well worth the full-time schedule, because UTRPP really prepares future teachers for the kinds of obstacles they will almost certainly encounter throughout their careers. In fact, as a first-year teacher, I have already used knowledge I gained from UTRPP to handle challenges. For example, UTRPP showed me how to assess students using formative and summative assessments, then use this data to compare grade level scores. Having this knowledge has allowed me to analyze different data points and present my findings in PLCs. Being able to pinpoint student learning gaps has allowed our team to quickly make instructional decisions based on our analysis.

UTRPP also provided me with endless learning opportunities — the kind of experiences that helped me truly stand out as a new teacher applying for a full-time teaching job. For starters, my resume included more than 1,000 classroom hours and UTRPP left me with a great and supportive list of references. During my interviews, I was able to talk at length about receiving feedback through coaching cycles, which ultimately showed my future principal that I was capable of taking feedback and adjusting my instruction accordingly. I was also able to share actual examples of how I would handle certain teaching situations because, in a lot of instances, I had already handled them. Any interviewee could provide hypothetical solutions to problems that would arise in the classroom, but my residency experience gave me solid evidence of how I had already solved that problem. Having this kind of real world experience and hands on knowledge going into my interviews helped me land the job I wanted.

The fact that UTRPP has had a positive impact on my current career is undeniable. The program’s demanding expectations prepared me for real world challenges, and it enabled me to provide the most rewarding education to students that I can. While it was demanding at times, UTRPP was an experience that molded me into the teacher I am today. The knowledge I gained there will follow me through my teaching career. 

Lyndsay Mahoney is a kindergarten teacher at Fox Hollow Elementary School in Pasco County Schools.

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