Get Inspired: Listen to Some Opportunity Culture Teachers

by | May 14, 2015

Interviewing Opportunity Culture teachers and multi-classroom leaders recently in Charlotte and Cabarrus County, N.C., I got a little embarrassed. I never was much of a hard-bitten reporter, but still, I really shouldn’t start to cry at the teachers’ answers to my questions, should I?

But I teared up several times anyway, listening to them tell me how much their new Opportunity Culture roles meant to them, their students, and their school. Videographer Beverley Tyndall and I began taping these interviews eight months ago, asking all about the good, the bad, and the ugly of being Opportunity Culture pioneers. While teachers haven’t shied away from telling us what’s been tough as they work out initial implementation kinks, overwhelmingly, they tell us the good–or, more accurately, the really great.

You can see some of what they’ve told me in our Opportunity Culture Voices on Video collection. But since it will be a little while before we post more videos from these Charlotte and Cabarrus visits, I wanted to go ahead and share some of the thoughts of these multi-classroom leaders (MCLs) who lead a team of teachers; teachers using subject specialization for the first time in elementary school, teaching just one or two subjects to multiple groups of students; and teachers extending their reach to more students by using blended learning for the first time–plus a few of their students:

  • Mary Price, Rocky River Elementary, which is in its first year using Subject Specialization and Multi-Classroom Leadership. Price is the kindergarten reading teacher, on an MCL’s kindergarten team: “I’ve been teaching 22 years. This is the year that I can really focus on that one subject and all the children I’m teaching. I know what they need, and that’s what I’m focusing on. …  I’ve never had so much support (as from the MCLs). … I’m not leaving this school, and I’ve told other people, you need to come here or go somewhere that has this program. It’s great for the children.”
  • Cyndal Brenneman, kindergarten and first-grade MCL at Rocky River Elementary: “You make your teachers happy when you do (multi-classroom leadership) with specialization and when you give them more support.  I have found that to be huge this year.”
  • Shannon Pierce, third-grade teacher specializing in reading and writing on an MCL’s team, Winecoff Elementary: “The fact that I can focus on just two subjects versus four has been so helpful. I can tell that the kids understand that I enjoy it more, and as the year’s progressed I can really see that they’re enjoying reading more. … And having (an MCL) has taken so much off of our plates and made it so we can reach all of those children.”
  • Adrienne Walker, fourth- and fifth-grade MCL at Rocky River Elementary: “I have seen success as an MCL, I have seen success with the teachers, I have seen success with the students. … We all want what’s best for the students, and if this is what’s best for them, why would we not do that? (And) teachers have so many expectations of the things that they are supposed to do. So if we can help them (with specialization) dig deeper with what they’re supposed to do, instead of wider, it’s going to help with teacher retention, it’s going to help with the attitude about the profession, it’s going to help with that word of mouth when they’re spreading good things about your school–when they’re saying ‘it’s a great place to work,’ then that spreads quicker …. I have nothing but great things to say about the experience that we’ve had this year.”
  •  Peter Kim, AP Biology blended-learning teacher, Northwest Cabarrus High: “The best part is seeing the growth in the students. … By being given options, students can learn the way they want—the style that they want.”
  • Caitlyn Fargione, Central Cabarrus High School, pre-calculus blended-learning teacher: “I love that I get to meet that many more kids every day, and that you’re really connected with them in a different way. They’re so used to communicating digitally… it actually, I think, has oddly brought me closer to that group.”
  • Emily Krestar, 11th-grader taking blended-learning honors pre-calculus, Central Cabarrus High: “It is a really cool experience, because I’ve never had a learning environment like this before. … In other math classes you’re very limited by the people around you, but now I’m very limited just by myself.”
  • Spencer Epley, 11tth-grader, taking blended-learning U.S. History, Hickory Ridge High, “It was awesome … you take things at your own pace, and with the electronic aspect of it, you get to dive deeper into things.”

And finally, from the happiest first-year teacher I may ever run across–especially at a time in the school year when most of us feel a bit worn down: Here’s Emily Angles, a first-year teacher specializing in third-grade English language arts at Winecoff Elementary, on the intensive co-teaching and coaching she received from her multi-classroom leader in her first months on the job:

  • “Coming in as a first-year teacher, you think that you’re ready, but then you get there and ‘Oh, I’m really not.’ … I feel like I’ve gone from a first-year teacher to a third-year teacher in six months. … My students have grown so much more because I’m teaching the way my MCL would’ve taught—not that you’re not supposed to have your own personality, but she has crafted her craft of teaching, and I’ve been able to learn from that, and so my students are learning more effectively.”
  • “Everybody should do this! As a first-year teacher, I have had the most successful and positive year. I feel like I’m leaving my first year of teaching rejuvenated and not exhausted. I know that I’m not going to be leaving the classroom in five years, and I’m not going to be a statistic, and it’s because I had that support in my first year.”

You can read more quotes from previous interviews here.

And what about “the bad and the ugly” from our interviews? While we love the happy quotes, we especially value the honest feedback teachers give about the bumps they hit. As we continue to refine our materials that guide districts through creating an Opportunity Culture, we rely on this.

Public Impact team members who work with schools have spent the past year improving our materials based on feedback from teachers, principals, and district staff–and we’re doing it all over again this spring. Look for highlights about what we learned–what truly works for teachers and students and what really doesn’t–in future mini case studies and briefs, focusing on crucial aspects of implementation.

For these teachers’ dedication, feedback, and willingness to take the time to be interviewed, despite the nervousness it usually induces, we offer a huge thank you. When we need to feel inspired or rejuvenated, a quick video hit usually does the trick!

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