Teachers play a key role in our lives, not only do they educate us, but they often help us discover our passions and carve a path towards our dreams and aspirations. For Angelina Mendez, a Bluff City High School math teacher, the teachers in her own life inspired her decision to enter the classroom. “I realized that the people who were there for me either in college or high school, were a lot of my teachers. When I think about the people who have influenced me it was my teachers,” said Mendez.
Entering the teaching profession during a pandemic has been anything but normal, however, reflecting on the impact education has played in her own life has helped Mendez thrive amid the first-year challenges of teaching.
Keeping students engaged during distance learning has been a challenge for both veteran and new teachers. It’s why Mendez engages students with stimulating learning experiences by integrating digital tools into her instructional practice. In her classroom, Mendez uses the online tool Nearpod, to observe student work in real-time and collect formative data that helps identify areas where students may be struggling. “I try to use interactive material, things students will like,” said Mendez. “I'll have opening questions on Nearpod, or any questions that I want specific data on. Then I'll use Nearpod to show us where we are on the classwork assignment.”
Mendez’s instructional practices have been noticed by her colleagues and coaches. “She does a really good job of using Nearpod to keep students engaged throughout her whole lesson,” said Clare Stolarksi, a math curriculum specialist at Green Dot Public Schools. “On tackling student understanding, she does a really good job of having students show their work. She'll show student work, whether it's correct or incorrect. She might start with a question or ask the kids what they think.” Mendez asks meaningful questions to challenge students to use their mathematical knowledge to clarify their reasoning, aiding them in developing a deeper understanding.
With one year in the classroom under her belt, Mendez is amazed by how much she and her students have grown this year. “I started off feeling like there was so much I still needed to know, like how to navigate a classroom, what does a year look like, what do our students like, and stuff like that,” reflected Mendez. “But now I’m more in a rhythm, I feel more confident with what I'm doing as far as how I'm teaching and justifying the choices that I make.”
At Green Dot, we’re committed to growing every teacher, both new and experienced, towards professional excellence. At Bluff City, Mendez received coaching from her curriculum specialist and as a Teach for America (TFA) corps member she received additional support from a TFA instructional coach. As a Green Dot teacher, Mendez also participated in weekly professional development sessions that strengthened her ability to provide students with personalized support and rigorous instruction. “So teachers are getting PD at their school site which is hyper focused on what's happening at their schools. Like what strategies or adjustments can be made at that specific school site whether that's with instruction or culture,” said Stolarksi. “Then we have dedicated sessions every two weeks, where we only talk about math which is great because it keeps us focused on improving math so our students can improve as well.”
A teacher’s first year in the classroom is already a challenging experience, but Covid-19 has added a new layer of complexity. “On a bi-weekly basis, we would see each other for content, collaboration and I made it a point to check-in with them. Like how are you doing, as a teacher and as a human being,” said Stolarski. The curriculum specialist has witnessed Mendez grow and refine her approach to math instruction. “She came right into the school year headstrong and ready to go. She has grown a lot in general teaching, but also in understanding how math education works, and how lessons can be structured so that kids can get a good understanding.”
At Green Dot, we deeply invest in the growth and development of our teachers, because we know that a high quality teacher is an essential component of student success. We’re thankful to have great teachers like Mendez in our classrooms, their tenacity, grit, and passion is truly inspiring.