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Pathways to Teaching: Rising Teachers Share Their Journeys

A few weeks ago, we shared here a look at a few of the educators involved in our Rising Leaders program. But the pathway to leadership begins even earlier at Rocketship, where we also offer a Rising Teachers program to help tutors, enrichment coordinators, paraprofessionals, and support staff earn their teaching credential. These passionate, dedicated educators are eager to lead Rocketship classrooms, so we’re giving them the tools they need to succeed there. Each cohort of Rising Teachers spends five months learning together about classroom management, lesson planning, and leadership skills. Additionally, Rocketship supports Rising Teachers in developing a timeline for the completion of a credentialing program and underwrites the cost of tuition.

To learn more about the experience and what it has to offer different types of Rising Teachers, we spoke with two current program participants. Eliza Kritz is an Individualized Learning Specialist (ILS) who is completing her first year at Rocketship Redwood City Prep. Michelle Kittel has been with Rocketship Spark for two years teaching art and drama as an Enrichment Center Coordinator (ECC), and is working toward becoming an English Language Arts (ELA) teacher.

Q: Tell us about your career path.

Eliza Kritz (EK): I have been working with kids since I was a teenager, both in a childcare setting and as a tutor. After graduating from college, I explored different careers related to education—first I taught summer reading classes to children of all ages, and then I went on to work in the editorial department of Macmillan Higher Education, a college textbook publisher. I came to Rocketship Redwood City Prep as an ILS in August of 2015. Though I didn’t have a credential, I was eager to pursue a career in teaching and believed that working as an ILS would provide me with valuable experience. I aspire to be a general education teacher at Rocketship Redwood City Prep for the 2016-2017 school year.

Michelle Kittel (MK): My career path has been a long and winding one since college. I went to school to be an archaeologist, and even spent some time working as one during college, but unfortunately I graduated in 2010 when the effects of the recession were really being felt. I took the only job I could find which was as a costumer at a performing arts theater. While there, I started to participate in the children’s after-school program, which was my first experience working with kids! I didn’t know how much I was going to love it nor how much I would miss it when I moved to the Bay Area in 2014. I got a job managing an office for a Bay Area non-profit, but quickly realized how much I missed kids. Looking at job postings online, I took a shot and applied to work in the enrichment center at Rocketship Spark, and thankfully was accepted as the Art and Drama Teacher.

Q: What drew you to Rocketship? Did the Rising Teacher program play a part?

EK: What attracted me to Rocketship was its serious commitment to closing the achievement gap, its dedication to rigor in every classroom, and the way it invests in its teachers. I know that I will be working in a community of teachers and administrators who share my values, and that I will have many opportunities to develop and improve as a teacher. I actually didn’t know about the Rising Teachers program before I interviewed for the ILS position at Rocketship. I was seriously considering becoming a teacher, and what attracted me to Rocketship, aside from its mission, was the ILS position itself. Working in the Learning Lab to monitor our online adaptive learning programs and running tutoring groups for students who need extra support, seemed like the perfect introduction for someone considering becoming a general education teacher.

MK: I actually had no idea what Rocketship was before I found it. My older sister is a math teacher at another charter school, so I understood that there were differences from a traditional public school, but before I applied to work as an art teacher, I had no plans whatsoever to enter the teaching field. Finding out about the Rising Teachers program was a happy consequence of working at Rocketship. At the end of my first year as an ECC, I found that I was becoming more and more involved with the school and individual classrooms. I had always enjoyed English Language Arts during my own time at school, and my Rocketship coach Kylie gave me opportunities to substitute teach so I could see if it was a career I would be interested in. If it was not for the direct influence of my coach, I probably would never have looked beyond my role as an ECC, but Kylie saw that I had talent and passion and really helped to guide me onto the path that I’m on now.

Q: What has been your experience with Rocketship’s overall approach to leadership and career development?

MK: I have never worked at another school, which made me incredibly nervous my first day of professional development. I thought I was about to be thrown into a classroom and told to sink or swim. I was incredibly surprised and pleased at how much development was offered to me during the lead-up to school and during the school year. Without the help of the school leaders and my coach, I would have broken down weeping after week one! Thankfully, there was always someone I could ask for advice. School leaders, my coach, other teachers, even the parents — everyone at the school was willing to help me when I got lost. It was that environment more than anything that made the thought of coming back for a second year, and now a third year, imaginable.

Q: Can you explain how the Rising Teachers program works?

EK: The Rising Teachers program is a five-month series of seminars that start in the spring semester, through which aspiring teachers and Integrated Special Education (ISE) teachers learn and discuss strategies for classroom management and lesson planning and implementation. Prior to each session, we are are usually asked to record a video of ourselves delivering a lesson that focuses on a key strategy or strategies discussed in previous sessions. We then watch each other’s videos and give feedback. One of the most valuable parts of this process is actually watching myself—I usually have no idea how I sound when I am up in front of the class, so it’s really eye-opening to see it and get to pick out specific strengths and areas of improvement for myself. Each seminar is two hours long and occurs about twice per month. I believe our group has eight or nine participants, which is nice because everyone gets a chance to talk a lot and ask questions. Most, if not all, of the participants work at Rocketship schools in San Jose. Each meeting has a specific focus, but we are constantly building upon information from previous sessions as well.

MK: Before we meet we are asked to film ourselves teaching a lesson. This can be difficult for some individuals at Rocketship who do not have a traditional classroom like the ISE teachers, support staff, or ILS’s, but as an ECC, I can just set up a camera during my own teaching time, rather than scheduling time to guest-teach a class. During the meeting we are given a chance to watch and analyze our videos through the lens of whatever teaching skill we are discussing that meeting. Afterwards, we are introduced to a new skill, which we practice in small groups. This is nerve-racking, but also fun because of the welcoming environment we create.

Q: How does the Rising Teachers program connect  with the credentialing you need to teach in California?

EK: Rocketship partners with two credentialing institutions—Reach and Cal State. It is the individual rising teacher’s responsibility to apply for these programs, but Rocketship subsidizes part of the tuition cost. Reach is the program I am applying for—it’s an internship program, and requires that you already have a job offer for a teaching position in the fall. The credential program doesn’t start until summer or fall, so I see the Rising Teachers sessions as helping to prepare me for teaching and for the credential program itself.

Q: What topics do you explore in Rising Teachers and how do you make sure to bring what you learn back to your classroom?

EK: We focus on key strategies for classroom management and lesson planning. Some specific topics have included the structure of a lesson, specifically the “I Do,” “We Do,” and “You Do,” radar in the classroom, key points of a lesson, the art of the consequence, and least invasive corrections. Each session focuses really thoroughly on a few key points, which makes everything easier to process and remember as I am teaching. I usually re-read my notes from a session the next day and choose one or two strategies that I will focus on implementing. In planning the lesson that I will record for the next session, I always make sure to include these strategies so that I can make sure I am regularly thinking about them, and so I can watch myself implement them later (as well as receive feedback from my peers).

One strategy I have been using in the last week is positive group correction, where you try not to use any specific names, and I’ve noticed that it’s helped to create a more positive environment because I am calling for a team effort and praising compliance, rather than focusing negatively on non-compliance. Kids are participating and complying because they feel good being part of the team, not because they fear being called out if they don’t comply. I have one student who gets really upset or anxious if I use his name in the classroom, even if it’s merely to give him directions. I’ve started using non-verbals and positive group correction, and when these aren’t sufficient, I’ll address him directly without using his name. I never realized how much it could negatively affect someone to hear their name over and over again, but I have definitely observed a change in his response. He seems much less agitated and more likely to listen to what I am saying. This change also helps to create a calmer environment in the classroom, because kids so often respond to each other’s moods.

MK: My coach this year is also the principal at my school and she has really taken a vested interest in my success in Rising Teachers. During our weekly one-on-ones she always asks where and how the focus of the Rising Teachers meeting is being applied in my lesson. I spend a lot of time between each meeting thinking about what I learned and whether or not I’m applying it. And since I’m an ECC and I teach the same lesson multiple times a week, this means that I am also internalizing and reinforcing habits that will make me a stronger ELA teacher next year.

One of my favorite things I’ve learned from Rising Teachers was that I tended to talk over my students. I learned this from looking at the videos from my class during the week we were discussing strong voice. In my mind, strong voice was having a large powerful voice that could command the room. What Rising Teachers taught me was that a calm low firm voice is just as powerful and attention-grabbing — if not more.

Q: What are one or two specific goals you have in your work? How is the Rising Teachers program helping you reach those goals?

EK: One specific goal I have for the Rising Teacher program is to learn how to plan and implement effective lessons, which is definitely something we work on every session, both through discussion and practice. Another component of the program that helps me with this goal is the independent practice portion, which requires me to write or alter a lesson, focusing on one or more specific instructional or management components (such as the “I Do” or radar), and to watch and reflect after implementing it.

MK: Before I entered Rising Teachers, I had not begun any work towards taking my California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) or California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET) and I was unaware of what would be required of me to apply for any of the credentialing choices that Rocketship offers. Rising Teachers was incredibly helpful in helping me learn about my credentialing options and with giving me a firm timeline for all my tests and paperwork so I can reach my goal of becoming ELA teacher at Rocketship next year.

Q: How does the Rising Teachers program build cross-network community and why is that important?

EK: Through Rising Teachers, I interact with faculty from other Rocketship schools far more than I did before, especially since my school is in Redwood City rather than in San Jose (where most of Rocketship’s California schools are located). It’s always interesting and eye-opening to talk to people about their experiences in the ILS position at other schools because even though our curriculum is the same, our experiences, just like our students, can be very different. It’s been really helpful to have a setting in which to discuss and learn from peers about teaching at Rocketship.

MK: I love that I get to meet and interact with teachers from other schools who have the same aspirations as I do. We might all have come to the room with different backgrounds and different motivations but we all have the same drive and goal: to better ourselves as we better our students. The fact that Rocketship has opportunities like this really shows that Rocketship wants to retain and develop the best teachers possible.

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Eliza Kritz grew up in Sonoma County, California and majored in English at the University of California, Berkeley. She worked in the publishing industry in Boston before deciding that the Bay Area was the best place on earth and moving back. She is excited to be part of the effort to strengthen the education system in California.

Michelle “Miss Mike” Kittel is a second year art teacher at Rocketship Spark. Though she stumbled her way into education it has quickly become her passion and she cannot wait to have her own ELA classroom next year. Among her teaching heroes she counts Albus Dumbledore, and she hopes to be able to light up her students with the magic of learning. Lumos Maxima.


Published on May 16, 2016

Read more stories about: Teacher Experience.