To Airica Yanez of Moreno Valley USD:
Someone asked recently about co-teaching models. I figured now was a good time to describe (publicly) the year of teaching when I grew the most, and I have you to thank for pushing me to grow as an educator.
Maybe it was our social chemistry, maybe it was the life-stage of teaching for me as I was beginning to get comfortable with a few hundred lessons I’d taught. It was 2012, and I was leaving the GATE cluster (Gifted and Talented students who travel together, class to class) and joining the RSP cluster (students with IEPs who travel together, class to class). The Mullet Ratio was my first real jump into weird lessons that worked well, and I continued to try weird ways to get my students to understand math, to varying success. (Ugh. Like the Kool-Aid lesson for Percent Mixture problems.)
You, Airica, did exactly what friends do; you started by just being friendly and helpful, asking how you could best support students with needs. In a school heavily populated with grumpy teachers who taught in silos, we quickly realized our camaraderie, and you began to ask me pointed questions:
- How do you think Myles did on that topic?
- What would you do differently if Bayley (visual impairment) was here at school today?
- Do you think it was helpful having me teach the second example problem?
- What’s the point of students taking notes?
I was thrilled. Prior to that school, I’d worked at a charter school in a vacuum, and any professional growth had to be home-cooked.* And suddenly, I have a fantastic meal served up, just like that? It was a delight.
Around that time, our relationship shifted, and I became aware that you were just as qualified as me, plus you had loads of current research and best practices on pedagogy and learning. As the co-teacher in my classroom, you were (gasp) an additional teacher! What a huge benefit for those students and for me!
We worked hard to have equal footing and equal authority. As Mrs. Jara from Fairfield, Connecticut said:
He sees me as an equal. He doesn’t see me as a helper or a teacher’s aide. We have that healthy balance.
And soon, you were more blunt with your assessment. “Hey, my kids got totally lost today, and you’ll need to do something differently tomorrow.”
I wish, Airica, that I would have paid more attention to the research that was present online even then. You were an expert teacher; had I known I would soon be leaving the classroom to work as a coach, I would have experimented with more methods. There was a conference that I attended where someone mentioned the four methods of co-teaching. I came back super-jazzed, only to find that you’d be working on a different cluster next year and we couldn’t collaborate any more. Things went… okay, and I left the classroom in March of that year.
I also wish we would have invited you to team planning; your knowledge on how to serve our most vulnerable population could have made the rest of the RSP cluster teachers better at our job. That was a missed opportunity on our part.
Most of all, I wish I hadn’t used the term “your kids.”
They were all our kids.
Airica, thanks for making me a better teacher.
~Matt “Vaudrey” Vaudrey
*Cough… *chef analogy* cough…