In order to become a districtwide trainer and campus leader, veteran educator and distinguished teacher Teresa Walter overcame new teacher anxiety and being overwhelmed. Now, she helps others do the same.
In addition to her 14 years of teaching experience, Walter serves as the lead mentor at Trinity Heights Talented and Gifted and as a teacher trainer for Dallas ISD’s first-year teachers.
Trinity Heights TAG is a 1st-through-7th grade campus that’s among 30 high-quality magnet schools offered by Dallas ISD. Their Talented and Gifted program maintains and supports a variety of instructional strategies that address Reading/Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies. Students are also guided into becoming high-achieving, bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural through a rigorous dual language, project-based, learner-centered program.
Families who are interested in enrolling their students into Trinity Heights TAG – or any of Dallas ISD 100+ choice schools and programs – can apply online at www.dallasisd.org/choosedallasisd . For the first time, the school will accept eighth-grade students during the 2021-2022 school year.
A resilient educator
Walter was born and raised in the city of Memphis in the Texas Panhandle and moved to Dallas to study at Paul Quinn College. When she began teaching middle school mathematics in 2007, Walter often felt suffocating anxiety about meeting campus standards and effectively educating students. Today, she helps ease the transition for new educators who arrive at her home campus, where she teaches sixth- and seventh-grade mathematics.
“There were so many days that I went to the bathroom and cried because I always felt overwhelmed with everything that was going on. And I know that without my mentor, I wouldn’t have made it through my first year,” she said. “From that year forward, I vowed to myself that I wanted no other teacher to experience the same. For me, to know that I’m providing teachers with the support that they need, it fulfills me. I think it’s my natural calling.”
Walter spoke with us about the ways she supports Dallas ISD’s first-time teachers, her campus staff and her talented and gifted students.
What do you like about working at Trinity Heights TAG?
This is my first year at Trinity Heights, but I worked previously with Principal Marquetta Masters when I taught at Frederick Douglass Elementary. She hired me for my first job in Dallas ISD in 2014, and I worked with her for five years as a fifth-grade math instructor. I switched schools for a few years, and then reached out to Ms. Masters, who asked me to come to Trinity Heights.
I’ve been here half a year and I love this atmosphere. The staff is like family. We help each other when ever needed and we put students first.
Here the students gravitate towards the teachers. They want you to give them the information, and that stems from us being a magnet school. There are also a number of extracurricular activities – like Robotics, Destination Imagination, Lone Star and Project Based Learning – that help students practice their learning and build a stronger bond with the teachers.
Tell us about your work supporting Dallas ISD teachers district-wide.
When I taught at Douglass Elementary, Antoinese Leake – who currently serves as an academic coordinator for the STEM Mathematics department – was our campus facilitator. In Spring of 2018, she asked me if I would instruct a district summer professional development for current teachers regarding the material that would be needed to teach the six weeks of instruct.
I was in a group with other teachers, and we did it so well that they kept us together. We guided the teachers through the learning progression that needed to take place for their students to be successful. Then asked if we would provide a training to new teachers regarding best practices and how to navigate through the district during the New Teachers Academy.
From there, we went on to present to veteran teachers of the district, each six weeks. We provide collaboration and ideas and we share information to help teachers grow and support their students in any way that we need to.
There was a new teacher who I met during that session and she was asking a lot of questions and was feeling overwhelmed. And I told her: ‘Take it one day at a time. And if you need help, email me and I’ll provide any help with the lessons that I can.’ I got an email from her and I was able to provide a few ideas that she used in her classroom. So I try to provide those kinds of activities, or anything that teachers need when they don’t know how to teach a concept.
How do you support new teachers at your campus?
As for Trinity Heights, I am also the lead mentor and part of the Campus Instructional Leadership team. For the lead mentorship, what I do is basically the same thing that I do for the district, but for every new teacher on campus.
Right now, we have two new teachers for middle school. I help them with questions like attendance, or how to put in grades. I show them the ins-and-outs of education and the system, so that they don’t feel overwhelmed. If a teacher has a question about teaching a history lesson, I provide them with ideas of how I would teach that concept to keep the students engaged that they can use in their classroom.
I know that not every teacher likes to dance or sing in the classroom like I do. But what I do is share those ideas, as well as others, with the teachers. I provide all these ideas to the teachers, so that they can use them to see if they can help with their students. Sharing ideas is basically what I do.
Did your work as a mentor change because of the pandemic?
A lot of these meetings now are done through Zoom or in places where physical distancing is possible. But the pandemic has not changed how I build relationships. It changes the distance that you must have with people. It affects the way that I’m hovering over you and I can’t embrace you like I naturally would. I’m an emotional person. And I give hugs and high-fives. But it doesn’t change how I build relationships, or how I help them navigate through the lessons.
My most recent training for the district was over Zoom. But we’re providing the same information. And one of my mentees needed help navigating through his Student Learning Objective, so we just met through Zoom and he shared his screen and we were able to get it sorted out.
What are some things that you do in your classroom to keep students engaged?
My philosophy is to teach with positivity. Many kids will say: ‘I don’t get it!’, or ‘I’m bad at math’; and I tell them: ‘what you speak into existence is what will come forward.’ I teach them never to say ‘I can’t do it,’ or ‘I’m bad at it.’ Speak positivity into your head so that you can be open to learning the material. So that’s my thing: always teach with positivity, and provide those kids excitement about the lesson.
I’m a mover. I dance. I sing. For example: there is an activity that I use to teach order of operations with the game hopscotch and a song, so the students get to have fun with the teacher while learning the order of operations.
Since early October, I’ve been using a platform called Pear Deck that is available through Dallas ISD, and I’ve learned how to maneuver it and keep the students engaged. This platform allows students to play games that will help them learn. Students can drag different icons on the screen, have the slides read to them, or and to watch videos of the material. All of my lessons, for virtual and in-person learning include multimedia factors and mathematical discourse that keeps them engaged.
I also don’t make them feel uncomfortable when they don’t know the answer. I always give them options to work together if they’re having trouble. One option I give is to Phone a friend. I took that idea from Who Wants to be a Millionaire. I allow the student to as a friend for the answer. Once they have an understanding that student reports back. That keeps the students accountable and always engaged.