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Metro "Grows Our Own" Future Teachers

by MAYA MCFADDEN | Mar 6, 2024 4:25 pm

Some students remained after school at Metro Business Academy Tuesday to start getting a sense of what it might be like one day to come back — as teachers.

They came to a second-floor classroom to participate in a program called ​“Educators Rising,” part of the district’s ​“grow your own” initiative that provides students with hands-on experiences to learn directly about careers in teaching and public education.

The program is one way New Haven Public School (NHPS) is trying to address the district’s staff shortages. 

Metro history teacher Julia Miller leads the course. She worked to make the district’s educators pathways curriculum with Wilbur Cross English teacher Akimi Nelken, who is leading an ​“Educator Pathway” course in partnership with Southern Connecticut State University at Cross. Students enrolled in Miller’s class will also get college credit for a prerequisite education course at Quinnipiac University. 

“We can solve our own teacher shortage crisis,” Miller said.

For the first half of the year, Miller led the program as an after-school club where students were introduced to a series of public education speakers, trips to college education programs, and volunteer opportunities at Conte West Hills Magnet School. 

During Tuesday’s after-school meeting, Miller led an hour-and-a-half-long lesson focused in ​“What Motivates Students to Learn.” Eight juniors and seniors participated.

The class meets once a week. The group has so far dived into topics such as why public education matters and what makes a great teacher. In recent weeks, the students completed a project tasking them with writing a letter to a teacher who impacted them at any point in their lives to demonstrate the impact and importance of teaching. Students concluded with delivering their letters to the educators. 

Junior Makayla Kidd described a growth mindset as guiding a student who believes they can improve abilities but are not there yet. Students with a fixed mindset, Kidd said, ​“think if they can’t do it right now, then they’re going to cheat or just give up.” 

Kidd added that in addition to how students are taught at home, the school system’s traditional numeric grading system contributes to the type of mindset a student will develop. She said a mastery-based grading system is more effective because it identifies where a student has room for growth and improvement rather than just basing work on a pass or fail numeric or letter scale. 

“How do you teach a student who’s been taught to give up on things from their parents?” Kidd asked.

Junior Natalie Alas responded to Kidd’s question with her firsthand experience: When she arrived to Metro as a freshmen, it was the first time she was given encouragement and motivation for her writing skills. In the past, she said, teachers told her she couldn’t improve. At Metro, her English teacher celebrated her skill in writing poetry and encouraged her to further develop her writing skills. 

The class then moved on to discussing Schlechty’s five levels of engagement, which are described as ​“engaged, strategic compliance, ritual compliance, retreatism,” and ​“rebellion.”

The students split into two groups of four. They spent the remainder of the class acting out skits of each level of engagement, discussing how to encourage students to grow at each level. 

Miller offered the students tips, such as:• Good educators respond to and build on student ideas.• Engage students by offering them choice in their learning method.• Students who act out typically do so because they have a unmet personal or academic need. 

Alas said she plans to be a lawyer. She said the education class is preparing her for this line of work because ​“a courtroom is like a classroom, meaning you’re in control of someone's life and it’s make it or break it.” She added that the class is teaching her skills in connecting with vulnerable populations and helping her understand the importance of relationship building. 

Other students like Kidd are considering a career in teaching while senior Daisy Perez Ruiz is already set on becoming an elementary teacher in the near future. 

Miller, a New Haven native, said the Educator Pathway program is necessary because ​“we can solve our own teacher shortage crisis.” 

The program is not just to inspire future teachers but other public school staff as well like social workers or librarians.

“I think our students deserve more representation and so having New Haven high school students as NHPS teachers could be really powerful,” she said. 

She added that many students won’t consider a career in the education field because there’s a lack of exposure of what the job looks like and so the district’s initiative is ​“helping to peel back the curtain.” 

Miller hopes to eventually offer the course during the school day to allow more students the opportunity to learn about teaching. She aims to also include in the program curriculum opportunities for students to partner with NHPS middle schools and intern in K‑8 classrooms. 


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