We sat down with MyloWrites’ friend Aleah Tarnoviski, Elementary Special Education teacher at Success Academy Bronx 2 in the Bronx NYC, to chat and learn more about her experiences in the classroom. Click on the soundbites below to listen to Aleah’s passion for her students and what challenges she’s faced as an educator. All audio is transcribed for your convenience!
Aleah, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where do you currently teach, and what grade?
“Right now, I am a first grade teacher at Success Academy Bronx 2. It is a public charter school in the Bronx. I am in a first grade special education classroom, as well as support in a third grade classroom.”
Can you talk to us a little bit about your journey to becoming a teacher?
“I always wanted to be a teacher. I used to teach my stuffed animals. I’d line them up and play school with them using my Sesame Street chalkboard. I always wanted to be a teacher. I grew up idolizing my elementary school teachers, and always wanting that for myself."
“In college, I learned a lot about education reform and the work that a lot of New York City charter schools were doing to reach underserved kids that don’t have access to great schools. That’s how I really got involved with Success Academy.
“I view teaching as a form of social justice, and that is what keeps me in it-- it’s my kids and the equality that they deserve as children in America. That’s what I feel really passionate about, and that’s what turned the page for me in college to become a charter school teacher.”
Can you talk to us about your first teaching job? What was it like?
“I was a first grade substitute [teacher] in Boston. It was after I student taught, and I learned a lot. The teacher went on maternity leave and I had taught with her all year. She left me for the last month of school, and the staff at the school were kind of like, ‘you can do it for the last month.’
“It was really special because I realized, in that brief time, that my relationship with my students was my favorite part of what I did. I had such a special bond with them and what stuck with me is that I loved my kids. I loved watching them become who they were supposed to be in my classroom. That is something that I carried into my first job.
“The first real classroom I had to set up was in New York City when I started working at Bronx 2. I started in a 3rd grade classroom, and it was the same story then, my relationship with my kids is the most special thing for me-- it still is today.”
Your students come from a variety backgrounds, yet you have a pretty unique emotional connection to your students. How did that develop and how does that impact the way you teach your students?
“I have a deep belief that each kid has a purpose, and I get to play a role in seeing them become who they are meant to be while they’re in my classroom. It’s is so special because it overrides the skills that I need to teach them, and becomes ‘a wholistic thing.’ Them being a part of my life and me being a part of their lives is transformative in them becoming the people that they need to be. If I’m not giving them all the opportunities they deserve, as 5 year olds or as 8 year olds, they’re actually missing out on things that can make them better. I think I have always had that perspective with my kids, and it’s the thing that gets me up at 5 in the morning, and gets me through our long days.
“It’s made more special because my classroom is filled with so many diverse backgrounds. My kids are different from me, so I have to go the extra mile, so often, to get to know them. I don’t live in their community, so I have to really be intentional about my relationships with their families, and their siblings, and knowing them in a way that has gone beyond my classroom. I have been a part of my school for years so, that has allowed me to make relationships with families, even with kids I’m not teaching. As a result, when they come to my classroom I know them a little bit. Also, It’s nice that even though my kids are all from different backgrounds they have our school in common. It’s like everything evens out, and we’re all learning together.
“I try to value who they are as much as possible, and make it a part of their story. I make it clear that everyone is bringing something different to the table, and our classroom. We’re one big blended family with tons of different backgrounds. I have kids from Jamaica. I have kids from Mali. I have kids from Nigeria. I have kids whose families have been in the Bronx for years, and years. I try to tell them that it’s special what we have here-- it’s special where you come from. I try to get them to value that, and that has allowed us to grow together as a class.”
What have you learned from other teachers?
“I can definitely think of my fourth grade teacher. I don’t know why I was obsessed with her, but I can still remember the way that she taught us long division. I think I was just obsessed with her because I specifically remember her letting us into her life. She told us stories of when she was in college, and how she met her husband, and why she wanted to be a teacher. I think she stuck in my head because she was a teacher who was real with us. I saw the real her, whereas with other teachers I noticed that they were nice to us, they would do nice things for us, but I didn’t really know them.
“I just want my kids to know the real me, and I think that’s something that I bring to my classroom. My students think, ‘I know Ms. T, I listen to Ms.T, I respect Ms. T, Ms.T doesn’t play around with this, or Ms. T loves this.’ I let them into my life a lot … probably more than some other teachers would. I think it’s really important, because I know everything about them, so I want them to know about me, too. I try to bring my family into my classroom. I try to bring my friends into my classroom. I’m in their world, so I want them to be a part of mine. I think the more that they see me and their families see me as a real person it makes what we are doing in the classroom more meaningful. It’s not just a teacher student relationship, it is a real community within the classroom. When I think back to my fourth grade classroom, I immediately think about real community. That’s what I strive to build and achieve in my classroom each day.”
What is the future of the classroom, specifically considering technology and innovation?
“I was around when technology got introduced into schools. I’ve seen it done well in classrooms, and I’ve seen it done terribly in classrooms. I think our school is in the learning stages. All of our learning happens outside of technology, but we use technology to enrich our library of resources. It’s important for teachers to teach and show kids how to use technology for learning, and not just for entertainment. I am excited to learn more about how to use technology to enrich the lives of my special needs kids, and to give them opportunities to do things that they wouldn’t be able to do in a regular classroom. I think that is what excites me most about the future of technology, and the future of tech in education.”
Are there any specific resources, blogs, or outlets that you like to check out?
“I live on Pinterest! I have been linked to so many amazing teacher blogs. I’m really big on learning from authentic teacher experiences, so I use Pinterest as a way to see what other teachers are doing. There are definitely amazing kid resources online, as well. One of my favorites is Epic Books. It’s free for teachers, and it gives kids access to thousands of books online, and we use it all the time when we do research projects. When my students use Epic Books they can access and read the books they need immediately on iPads or Chromebooks. There is also a listening option, which is useful for my English Language learners. It’s just a really awesome resource for everyday learning, and specifically for nonfiction books.”
What challenges have you overcome in teaching?
“One of the biggest challenges for me has been involving families in what happens in the classroom. I think it’s really easy for me to say, ‘well this is what happens in my classroom from 8-4PM, and this is what I control.’ But I really had to learn that it has to be a team effort in order for a kid to be successful. Their parents know them best and their parents fight for them in a different way than I might fight for them, and we have to work together in order for them be successful. My students have to know that I will hold them to the same expectation as their parents and vice versa. I love when I hear my students say things like, ‘Ms.T won’t let me get away with work that isn’t my best, and I know my mom won’t accept it either.’ I love when they know we are on the same team."
“I’ve also had to learn what it means to hold kids accountable for what they have been taught, and that it’s not mean to do that. I think, especially in special education, we do a disservice to kids because we make things easier than it should be, we think that they can’t accomplish the task at hand. It’s not about them not being able to do it-- it’s about them needing to do it in a different way and taking a different path there."
“I’ve had to learn a lot as a special education teacher. Some of my students need individualized support. For example, writing personal narratives. What does it look like for this student to write his/her personal narrative? How are they going to get there? What support do I need to provide to them, so that they can do it in the most independent way possible making them feel empowered in the process? It’s a giant learning process, and I’m still on the journey, but I feel like I’ve come a long way.”
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