Four New Teachers Share How They Learned to Teach During a Pandemic

Every summer, TNTP trains new teachers in cities across the country as part of our Teaching Fellows programs (more than 37,000 teachers in all over the last 20 years). That's continued even as the COVID-19 pandemic has upended public education—and our Fellows have risen to the challenge, adapting in these uncertain times to become the great teachers their students need. This summer, we trained over 250 teachers, and we wanted to hear from them about their summer experiences. Below are reflections from four Teaching Fellows about their summer training and how it’s prepared them for the classroom this fall.

You can learn more about Teaching Fellows programs in Baltimore, Indianapolis, Minnesota, New Orleans and Nevada; nominate someone you know to be a Fellow; or apply to become one yourself on the TNTP Teaching Fellows website.

Why do you want to be a teacher?

Briana Stewart, Early Childhood Education, Baltimore City Teaching Residency: Never in a million years did I think I would be a teacher. My professional career began in the mental health system working with individuals with intellectual disability, and my goal has always been to work in the federal government or in the juvenile system with the goal of changing lives. But the pandemic changed my life. As schools begin to transition to virtual learning, I had to teach my own daughter. And in this moment, as I was sitting helping my daughter with her schoolwork, balancing mom life, and also completing my bachelor’s degree, I realized teaching was my calling. I’ve always had a passion for helping and caring for others and I realized that teaching allows me to live out that passion in a way I didn’t imagine before. 

Natalia Hernandez, 4th grade Elementary Enhancement Teacher, Somerset Academy, Nevada Teaching Corps: The reason I want to be a teacher is because I was fortunate enough to have amazing teachers throughout my school years that pushed me to be the best version of myself, and I wouldn’t be the way I am if it weren't for them. I want the opportunity to be that same person, that same champion, for others. 

If you could describe your summer training in 3 words, what would they be and why?

Mark Aguila, Math Teacher, Indianapolis Teaching Fellows: Rigorous but rewarding. The truth is, teaching for the first time is tough but not impossible. Although training quickly transitions from learning teaching to being placed into an actual classroom. The challenges of learning to write lessons, manage classrooms, and work with students are matched by the triumphs of befriending fellow cohort teachers, getting to teach students, and improving as a teacher. 

Karen Friedrich, Special Education, Invent Learning Hub, Indianapolis Teaching Fellows: I would describe it as challenging, inspiring and affirming. The greatest challenge may be that you are asked to examine and unlearn a lifetime's worth of messaging in order to be a teacher who is culturally responsive. What you think you might know becomes how much more you have to learn. This can be truly inspiring, especially when you see your growth reflected back at you by other fellows and PST staff. I say that the training was affirming because in the last days of the program I knew that I was ready to walk into a classroom. 

How did your training prepare you for the classroom this fall?

Briana: The staff made sure I was prepared for the school year for sure. They helped with everything from navigating through various technology applications to building an authentic relationship with my students, and understand the community that I am serving. I really loved how transparent my coaches were. They really communicated not only what I was doing right, but where I could improve. Seeing my progression  really helped build my confidence in the classroom.

Mark: To echo Briana, the staff and coaches really want us to succeed. I found their advice, feedback, and simply being available as a listening ear to be priceless. Because they’re  teachers who have gone through the experience of being new to teaching themselves, they understand what it’s like to step into the classroom as a new teacher and having the support of someone whose been where I am is something I really value. And in addition to the coaches, my cohort developed a camaraderie over the shared experience of stepping into the classroom. We bonded inside and outside the classroom and these friendships helped me get through the ups and downs of training. 

At TNTP, we’ve made diversity a top priority in our teacher training programs, even as we’ve maintained one of the highest standards in the country for earning certification. It’s why we celebrate our Black Educators Excellence Cohort (BEEC) and our affinity groups. How did being a part of the BEEC or other affinity group enrich your training experience?

Briana: Without BEEC I probably wouldn't have been as focused and dedicated to the program. BEEC understood the financial burden, knowing I would not be able to obtain a full-time job to care for my family. BEEC did not just focus on training, they made sure that we had self-care and down time with having various events. One of my favorite events was virtual “Sip and Paint” night. During this time, we were able to step away from the lesson planning and Zoom and just focus on having a good time. What BEEC has taught me is to really understand not only your school community, but the community that your students live in. It’s important to have an open mind and acknowledge the burdens some students will have that may impact their classroom experience. 

Karen: I chose to be a part of the LGBTQIA affinity group and did so for two reasons. First, to honor those people in my life who identify as queer, and second, because there was no other group that spoke to where I am at this time in my life as a middle-aged white woman with an unfortunate name. My affinity group taught me no matter where you come from, if you open yourself up to others you will find more than a few people who will be there when you need to be lifted. The group also taught me how to listen without judgement and to hear with my heart, which has really helped me transition into a new school community. 

What would you tell an aspiring teacher who is thinking about applying to the TNTP Teaching Fellows program?

Briana: This has been the best decision I have made in my life. If you have any doubts or fear, use that to motivate you. Don’t be afraid to apply. The support and knowledge is here at the Teaching Fellows program. 

Karen: Be prepared to work harder than ever have and understand that non-closure will become common practice as you are joining a diverse group of people whose life experiences have informed them just as yours have you. There will be challenging times, but remember everyone in your cohort is there for the same reason: to level the playing field for students who deserve the same access to a rigorous and meaningful education as those who have never had to ask for it.   

Mark: Indianpolis Teaching Fellows is not just about becoming a teacher, it is about becoming a culturally responsive teacher who is willing to go teach wherever they are needed most. Teaching is difficult but my transition into the classroom has been a rewarding struggle. So if you care about making a difference in the lives of underserved students, apply now. 

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

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