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TNTP Re-imagine Teaching

Erica Stewart

4th Grade Math, KIPP Excelencia Community Prep Redwood City, CA

After realizing she really didn’t want to be a lawyer in her senior year at Southwestern University, Erica Stewart applied for Teach for America at the suggestion of an advisor and later entered the classroom as a sixth-grade math teacher. Eight years later, she hasn’t looked back. “I knew as soon as I got into a classroom that I wasn't going to leave,” she remembers.

Erica's favorite part of her job is helping kids realize that even if math is not easy or intuitive at the beginning, they can still do it. She says: “Getting into the messy process of math is so much more important than getting to the answer.” Erica’s kids typically enter her classroom about two grade levels behind, but more than 95 percent of them pass the state math exam every year, and more than a quarter earn advanced status. In 2011, she was a KIPP Harriett Ball Excellence in Teaching Award winner.

Engaging parents in the classroom is another priority for Erica—particularly in a community whose issues are often overlooked because of its proximity to thriving Silicon Valley. In addition to making sure she meets with every parent when report cards are released, Erica also encourages parents to become part of the classroom. In the mornings, parents often join the first 20 minutes of class to do things like help students work on flash cards. Others return later in the day to spend lunch with students or join them during P.E. These are priceless opportunities for the parents to be engaged with their children’s learning, and for Erica to connect with them on a regular basis. “It’s an important message to send to kids,” says Erica. “We’re not just saying we’re a community, we’re showing them.”

Her students respond with an insatiable yearning to learn more and work on more challenging material. Although they are only fourth graders, they take ownership in the classroom and are quick to give each other supportive feedback when peers get stuck. Her principal credits this to Erica’s meticulous planning: In every lesson, Erica is determined to make sure each minute is purposeful for her students. And it works. “Ms. Stewart’s class is truly magical,” her principal says. “I have never seen anything like it."

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