By Nick Lucchesi, City Year AmeriCorps Member on the Gossler Park Elementary School Team supported by Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Lincoln Financial Foundation
As I stood with my teammate, Tonya Andrews, looking around the third grade classroom and waiting to meet with her partner teacher, Mrs. Whitmore, a jingling started from down the hall. Tonya turned to me and confidently declared that the source of this faint sound was the bouncing of Mrs. Whitmore’s keys. Despite my initial doubts that Tonya could identify her on sound alone after little more than a month, we were soon greeted with a smile, as Mrs. Whitmore strolled through the door.
When thinking about City Year, the students rightfully take center stage but I believe that the critical relationships, developed between partner teachers and corps members, often go unrecognized. With that in mind, I decided to conduct brief interviews with both Mrs. Whitmore and Tonya in order to gain insight into what it takes to foster a positive partnership in the classroom.
Tonya, where did your interest in teaching come from?
Tonya: I was inspired by supportive teachers growing up and I have wanted to be a teacher since I was really, really young. My relationships with my nieces and nephews have been major influences in how I approach my work in terms of patience. Teaching is a big way to make a difference and working with younger students matters so much because the early years of a child’s life are very formative and lay down the base for future personal and academic growth.
When I began working in local school systems while studying Early Childhood Education at Bay Path University, I gained an appreciation for the importance of the behind the scenes work that goes into teaching. I developed a “doing what needs to be done mindset” that is vital to working day-to-day in a school.
Mrs. Whitmore, what is your background and involvement with City Year?
Mrs. Whitmore: I have roots in Manchester and graduated from both Parkside Middle School and West High School. I have had my own classroom at Gossler Park for four years now. I’ve had previous experiences working with corps members and believe that year to year, City Year members bring a sense of energy that the kids really pickup on. I really value the presence of Tonya and others before her in my classroom because of their ability to form relationships with students. Their presence adds an extra layer of support.
What has the start of the year been like as you work together in the classroom?
Mrs. Whitmore: I really value Tonya for being a team player and helping out however is needed. As teachers we do what needs to be done and I would never ask a City Year who is in my classroom to do something that I wouldn’t do. I don’t care if you have your master’s or you’re a third grader, if it’s a job that needs to be done, someone’s got to do it.
Tonya: My previous experience in a classroom definitely made my transition into Mrs. Whitmore’s class smoother but I also appreciate Mrs. Whitmore’s ability to place trust in me so quickly.
This kind of trust can be empowering and it is obvious that it is displayed reciprocally between the two of them. To me this shared trust conveys a mutual respect that is vital to any relationship, personal or professional.
Mrs. Whitmore: Tonya made it easy by coming in and actively observing the classroom, engaging with the learning, and never hesitating to ask questions.
Tonya: This is an incredible opportunity for me to learn and grow through my relationship with my partner teacher. I’m constantly jotting down Mrs. Whitmore’s ideas, lessons, and approaches.
How do the two of you work together to teach in the classroom?
Mrs. Whitmore: We often operate on the same wavelength. Tonya reads me very well and that there were moments early on when Tonya and I would connect and make eye contact. In those moments, I could tell she knew what I was thinking and I knew she knew what I was thinking.
Tonya: Mrs. Whitmore and I have similar styles and use similar tools when addressing behavior and giving instructions. This consistency allows us to synergize and create a more positive learning environment for the students. Ultimately, the goal, the core of these important relationships is working together to the best of our ability to help our students.
In summary, the ability to establish and maintain trust, consistent communication, and respect in a work place relationship, which in most cases lasts for only one year, is the challenge presented to both corps members and partner teachers. This undoubtedly takes work and compromise, but, in the end, this relationship creates an impact greater than the two people involved.