Compass interns transform into classroom leaders

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The classrooms of Martha T. Reilly Elementary School are buzzing with the sounds of learning and fun, even though it’s nearly the middle of summer. Students in grades Kindergarten through fifth are participating in Dallas ISD’s first Summer Achiever’s Academy, and this site, along with a handful of others, are providing teacher candidates in the Compass Alternative Certification Teacher Academy the preparation they need to successfully lead a classroom.

The teacher candidates, or interns, have just completed a week of intensive orientation to prepare them for phase two of their Compass training – five weeks of practice teaching, direct training and skill building. Interns are now leading their classrooms, with their mentor teacher in the room to give in the moment feedback and live coaching for the most effective experience.

Cindy Perea joined Compass so she could make an impact. “What I like most is that after one week of training we’re in the classroom able to really practice,” said Perea. “I love that our mentor teacher gives us feedback on what we can improve and do differently – it’s really helped to make me more confident.”

Mentor Maria Pacheco has taught for 23 years, 21 of them in Dallas ISD. During the traditional school year she leads a first grade dual-language classroom at Reilly, and her classroom is often used as a model for other teachers. For her, being a mentor is about more than just the mechanics of teaching. “I want them to keep that love of teaching that I still have after 23 years,” she explained.

“I love the fact that they can use the summer school children to get their experience,” continued Pacheco. “This year the parents got to opt in, so the ability of the students in the classroom varies, meaning you have to use differentiated instruction. It’s what a classroom is really like,” she said.

Interns also have the support of a coach, who observes them in action at least once a week. The intern and coach then meet to discuss classroom management strategies, with the coach modeling skills for the intern to integrate into their teaching method.

“Mentors and coaches are all expert teachers, and are really assessing the interns to see if they have the main qualities necessary to become a great teacher – are they interactive, can they take feedback, and do they maintain high expectations of their students,” explained Teacher Effectiveness Manager Nina Bhatia.

This experience also gives assistant principals the chance to step into the role of principal. Carlos Walcott typically serves as the assistant principal at Charles A. Gill Elementary School, but is seeing the value of the Compass program as the principal this summer at Reilly. “I like the fact that they’re getting exposed to actual DISD students,” said Wolcott. “We get to see them interacting, teaching the kids, giving them assessments and analyzing those assessments. But this is a great experience for the mentors and coaches, too, because they’re expanding their leadership skills and they will take that back to their campuses,” he continued.

Interns take part in intensive, interactive training and skill building sessions in the afternoons after their students head home. In order to earn their probationary certification at the end of the pre-service training program, they must pass a rigorous performance screen assuring they are prepared to lead their own classroom.

The process may not be easy, but it’s not designed to be. What the Compass teacher candidates are discovering, however, is that it is rewarding. “On the second day when the students were leaving, they all came up to me and gave me hugs,” said Perea. “That made me feel like I’m having an impact – I’m making a difference for them.”

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