Summer School Proves Pivotal for Inner-City Educator
Paula Sahm G’12 loved learning, but she didn’t particularly like being in school. In fact, she ended up in summer school because of missed days as a student at Hallahan High School in Philadelphia. That proved to be a career-inspiring experience.
“I drove the math teacher crazy because I was able to complete my work quickly and efficiently,” remembers Sahm.
“He said ‘Since you are such a smarty, you can start teaching the class tomorrow.’ He gave me his lesson and the next day I taught the 40 kids in the class.
“I was shocked that the other students were saying ‘Oh, now I get it’ and that’s when I became hooked on teaching.”
Today, Sahm is a 17-year teaching veteran who has continued her educational journey well past high school. She completed a master’s degree in educational leadership with principal certification from Cabrini in 2012, and is continuing doctoral studies in organizational leadership.
“For anyone thinking about going back to school for their master’s degree, my advice is to do it! Cabrini truly prepared me and what I learned has continued to inform my teaching and my studies,” she says.
Sahm chooses to use experiences—good or bad—to improve her skill as a teacher. For example, in 2001 she was teaching in New York when the September 11 attack happened.
“I had students who lost parents and loved ones in that tragedy. I joined an organization that helps students deal with personal tragedy, which opened my eyes to situations that students have to deal with on a daily basis. That has made me a better educator,” she says.
Another experience that enhanced Sahm’s teaching was her time spent as an English teacher at Boys Latin of Philadelphia Charter School. There she met David P. Hardy, CEO of the school and a mentor who inspired Sahm to develop the leadership qualities he saw in her. He also gave her the push she needed to further her education in instructional leadership.
“The confidence Mr. Hardy had in me helped me make the decision to go to Cabrini and earn my master’s degree in educational leadership,” she says.
It was also at Boys Latin that Sahm gained experience teaching single-gender classes.
“I have taught all-boys classes for the last seven years and see the positive effect single-gender classes have on young gentlemen,” she says. “That’s why I will be doing my dissertation on academic achievement and the relationship between single-gender schools,” she says.
While tackling her Ph.D., Sahm continues to teach at Anna B. Pratt Academy in Philadelphia.
“The students at Pratt are amazing and have such an eagerness to learn,” she says. “And there is an excellent camaraderie between faculty and staff. My grade partner, Mrs. Berry-Arnold, is the best anyone could ask for. And our new principal, Mrs. Johnson-Garner, is a visionary from whom I have already learned a great deal.”
Will school leadership replace classroom leadership for Sahm?
“I have decided not to become a principal just yet,” she says. “For me, there’s more research to conduct and so much more to learn.”
Teachers’ Concerns Reported in Latest Primary Sources Survey
A survey of more than 10,000 of America’s public school teachers reports that the obstacles facing America’s students, teachers, and schools are even greater today than three years ago.
It also indicates that America’s teachers are determined to help students build the critical skills they need for an increasingly complex society.
The report, “Primary Sources 2012: America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession,” is a special project of Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation asking teachers across the country about the state of their schools, classrooms, and profession.
The data reflects responses from educators in every state, at every grade level, and in all specialties, and from those teaching students of all income levels. The teachers included novices and experienced professionals teaching in urban and rural districts.
The report covers four topics: raising student achievement, measuring learning and teaching, tackling challenges students face, and retaining good teachers. Responses reveal:
Significant challenges face today’s students: 46 percent of veteran teachers say they are seeing fewer students prepared for challenging work than when they began teaching in their current schools; 56 percent are seeing more students living in poverty; and 49 percent are seeing more students coming to school hungry.
Teachers are eager for evaluation: Teachers are open to everything from principal and peer reviews, to assessment of their own content area knowledge, to parent and teacher surveys of their work in order to improve their skills. They would like all of these things to happen more frequently than they currently do.
Salary isn’t the only way to retain good teachers: While 75 percent of teachers say salaries are essential or very important in retaining great teachers, other factors such as supportive leaders, in-school support staff, and time to collaborate with peers all rank higher on the list of factors that keep teachers in their jobs.
The 2012 report is a follow up to the original Primary Sources survey, taken in 2009 and still the largest-ever survey of America’s teachers.
The full 2012 report is available online at www.scholastic.com/primarysources.
Be a Better Bully Behavior Preventer
At any given time, about 25 percent of U.S. students are the victims of bullies and about 20 percent are engaged in bullying behavior.
The National Association of School Psychologists estimates that 160,000 children stay home from school every day because they are afraid of being bullied.
Anti-bullying efforts cannot be separated from the core tasks of effective teaching. Good classroom management skills increase student engagement and can prohibit bully behavior. Some veteran educators share their tips for preventing bully behavior:
A room with a view: Be sure your classroom layout and seating arrangements give you a full view of all of your students. Bullies will tend to victimize other students outside your view. If you have any blind spots in your classroom, change the layout. In addition, circulate frequently throughout the classroom so that you can monitor student conversations and behavior.
Announce your intentions: It is important that your class knows what you expect from them with regard to behavior, and the consequences. Tell your class that it offends or bothers you when you witness certain kinds of hurtful student behaviors (e.g., teasing, name-calling). Emphasize that when you see such behavior occurring, you will intervene, regardless of whether the offending student meant to be hurtful.
Observe outside the classroom: It is important to be watchful for signs of bullying inside and outside the classrooms. Drop by unexpectedly to observe your class in a less-structured situation (e.g., at lunch, on the playground). Watch for direct bullying (pushing, hitting, or kicking) prolonged teasing, name-calling, and other forms of verbal harassment. Also look for signs of indirect bullying, such as consistent gossip about a classmate or evidence of exclusion.
Get your colleagues to weigh in: Ask other school staff that interact with your students (e.g., gym teacher) whom they may have observed bullying or being victimized within your class or other classes in the same grade. Note the students whose names keep coming up as suspected bullies or victims.
Intervene effectively: If you witness bully behavior, intervene by approaching the child and requiring the action be stopped, then addressing the consequences of that behavior in private. Describe the negative behavior that you witnessed, explain why that behavior is a violation of classroom expectations, and impose a consequence (e.g., warning, apology to victim, brief timeout, loss of privilege). Keep the conversation focused on the facts of the bully’s observed behavior and do not let the bully pull the victim into the discussion.
Bullying is not just "kids being kids" or a rite of passage. It is dangerous and aggressive behavior that can hamper academic progress of everyone in the class. Consistent and vigilant classroom management is an important part of prohibiting bully behavior.
OJP Fact Sheet. Office of Justice Programs—U.S. Department of Justice. October 2011. Available online at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/newsroom/factsheets/ojpfs_bullying.html.
“School Bullying Among Adolescents in the United States: Physical, Verbal, Relational, and Cyber.” J. Wang, R. J. Iannotti, T. R. Nansel. Journal of Adolescent Health 45 (2009) 368-375.
Planning an Effective IEP Meeting
Effective IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) often come down to the quality of interaction between the student’s parents, teachers, and school administrators. Teams that use positive interaction styles when meeting to discuss the IEP are the most likely teams to be successful. As an educator, there is much you can do to make sure IEP meetings are effective.
Prioritize meeting goals. Analyze your goals for the IEP meeting ahead of time. Which goals are higher priority and which are lower priority? Focus on winning willing support for the most important priorities.
Be a good host. As the student’s teacher, see yourself as the host to their parents. Plan to sit beside them during the meeting. Be sure introductions are made, make eye contact and rephrase what is said to ensure you understand points made. By doing so, you will project an optimistic, concerned tone to the meeting that should keep communication productive.
Remind parents often that you will continue working with them until the student succeeds. Periodically reassure them that you are willing to do what you can to help their child be successful in school.
Solicit input. Solicit opinions by asking questions, such as: What is the most difficult issue for your child from this list? What might help you be more effective in helping your child with this goal? Do you have any other ideas? An impractical suggestion might still be useful in moving the IEP forward. Ask for ideas on incorporating concepts from suggestions. In this way you will show parents that you take them seriously.
Effective Listening. S. Williams. 22 June 2004. Wright State University Newsletter. Available online at www.wright.edu/~scott.williams/LeaderLetter/listening.htm.
21 Best Practices for Successful IEP Meetings Breakout Session Transcript. N. Martin. August 2010. The National Center on Dispute Resolution in Special Education Available online at www.directionservice.org/cadre/pdf/NickMartinTranscript.pdf.
Nancy Caramanico, adjunct faculty member, has been included in Ed Tech magazine’s “The Honor Roll: 50 Must-Read K–12 Education IT Blogs.” Her Techconnects blog celebrates and explores innovative use of technology in schools. Her posts cover everything from technology leadership to cloud computing, and she also provides links to ed tech research and resources on digital citizenship and literacy.
Treena Ferguson has been named interim principal at Lincoln Elementary School in the Pottstown school district.
Dean E. Garges has been appointed to the position of assistant principal at Bensalem High School in the Bensalem Township school district.
Kelly A. O'Connor has been named Vice Principal of Student Affairs at Camden Catholic High School in Cherry Hill, N.J.
Chris Rada has been named assistant principal at Elco Middle School in the Eastern Lebanon County school district.
Luis F. Ramirez has been appointed as assistant principal of Pre-K–5 at Millstone Township Primary School in the Millstone Township school district.
Graduate Studies Reminders
Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013: Graduate Open House More information is available at www.cabrini.edu/graduate.
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