Noyce Alumni Profile
Undergraduate major or graduate field of study: B.A. Geology; B.S. Elementary Education
Category of scholarship/fellowship:
Name of Noyce institution:
Bridgewater State University
Current teaching assignment (school and district):
John Greenleaf Whittier Middle School, Haverhill School District, Haverhill, MA, 5th grade science and math
What made you decide to become a teacher?
When I was in high school, I wanted to be a teacher because I liked working with kids. I didn’t go to college after graduation. I got a job working in a bank. Nine year passed, and I felt unfulfilled in my job. At the age of 27, I had the opportunity to go to college. Having a job where I could change lives and make a difference every day was what I wanted. I returned to my high school self and decided that teaching was the job for me.
Describe your current teaching assignment.
I teach fifth grade science and math at John G. Whittier Middle School in Haverhill, MA. I love my job and my students. They are from all backgrounds and have had different life experiences. Some are economically disadvantaged, some are in foster care, some have wonderful and supportive parents, some have extreme behavior issues. Every day is new. I’ve built strong relationships with my students which is a focus at J. G. Whittier. Family engagement is a big priority. Staff do home visits during the summer, and multiple events are held during the year to bring families into the building. Our teachers and administrators believe that building relationships with students and their families will help us to better support the children academically, socially, and emotionally.
How did the Noyce program prepare you for this assignment?
The Noyce program at Bridgewater State University (BSU) provided a strong foundation for understanding and working with students in high-need districts. As part of my program work, I was asked to develop an Action Research project that identified a need in my student teaching school, located in an immigrant community, based on disadvantages that the student population might face. To prepare, I read Start Where You Are but Don’t Stay There: Understanding Diversity, Opportunity Gaps, and Teaching in Today’s Classrooms (Milner, 2010). The authors introduced me to the difference between an achievement gap and an opportunity gap–we often mistake one for the other. This book gave me a better understanding of the needs of my students when I was placed in a high-need school. My action research project opened my eyes to the challenges that teachers in high-need schools deal with every day.
Did the Noyce program at your university prepare you to use teaching strategies that can help all students learn in all settings?
Yes. I did my student teaching in Brockton, MA, a diverse city where there is a large population from Cape Verde. I applied what I was learning at BSU to the students I was teaching from the Cabo Verdean community which meant that a lot of my lessons would incorporate examples that they might be familiar with. Dr. Nicole Glen, the science methods professor at BSU, focused on making sure our lessons explored diversity through cultures. For example, when looking at maps to identify landforms, we used maps of our students’ city/neighborhood so that they could make connections, while other maps showed landforms from their home countries.
To help all students learn, I provide several scaffolds. I adapt to student abilities by allowing them to show me their knowledge in different ways. Some students might like to draw, while others prefer to write a paragraph. I often give students the opportunity to do a couple things so I can assess them based on their strengths. I try to make all learning equitable, providing modifications for students who need it and a lot of visuals and exemplars to guide learners, especially English Language Learners. Some scaffolds include front loading vocabulary for some student groups before it is identified in the lesson and providing sentence starters for Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) writing.
Trauma Sensitive Training was a huge help for me. It was provided by The New Teacher Academy as a two-day workshop at BSU for graduates entering their first year of teaching. This training helps new teachers understand how trauma can hinder brain development and how that can affect behavior and academics. It’s an important topic for all teachers to understand because more and more students are experiencing trauma, not only in urban environments but in suburban and rural neighborhoods as well. As mentioned earlier, I would highly recommend that pre-service and in-service teachers read, Start Where You Are but Don’t Stay There (Milner, 2010). It helps educators develop understandings and strategies for educating diverse student groups.
How do you use what you’ve learned (content and pedagogy)?
I spend a lot of time getting to know my students, which allows me to better engage them. I give my fifth graders opportunities to present what they know in different ways. I give them choices, breaks, and supports. At the same time, I feel like I can really challenge them because they don’t want to let me down. I use learning models that keep them interested, for example, the 5E Learning Model for science lessons, and we follow the Engineering Design Process when students are creating. These practices include hands-on, inquiry-based instruction where students learn by doing. In our science lessons, I incorporate examples that relate to the students’ community and personal interests. I try to be culturally sensitive by sharing examples or models from all over the globe. Some of my students don’t travel much or even leave the city so I want to open their eyes to the bigger world with the hope of growing their dreams. On the other hand, I also try to use the students’ neighborhoods as examples for specific things, like a lesson involving water runoff, so they can make personal connections to the lesson.
In addition to teaching, are you exploring new areas in content, teaching strategies, leadership, etc. If so, what areas and did the Noyce experience play a role?
Yes. I am currently enrolled in a Master’s of Science Education program at Montana State University. I have taken courses on formative assessment, assessment technologies, inquiry science, and chemistry. In addition to new content, I am also learning new teaching strategies. I have adopted the 5E Learning Model and implemented the use of interactive science notebooks in my classroom at Whittier. I use different colored stickers and numbers to call on students who can answer or ask a table mate to engage all students in learning. I also share progress on grades and benchmarks to help students take responsibility for their learning. Because of my positive experience in the Noyce program, I wanted to make sure I found the right Master’s program. The Noyce program expanded my understanding of economically disadvantaged students; I find that the learning strategies gained through Noyce can be used successfully with students in all types of classrooms.
Describe any highlights/special achievements during these beginning years of teaching?
Every day brings a special achievement. My students are amazing and continue to impress me. I feel like they give back everything I give to them. They might not realize how hard I work, but they know I care and when it comes down to it, they want to make me happy. They work hard, they step up when they need to, and even if they have rough days, I can still find something good in each and every one of them. Working with supportive staff also makes it easy to come to work each day. I know we can’t always choose where we teach, especially in the beginning years, but finding a school where relationships and student needs are at the forefront is empowering. Working with teachers who share the same values is equally important. In 2019, I was honored to be a panelist in the Voices from the Field presentation at the 2019 Noyce Summit in Washington, DC.