California teacher Esther Nodal’s goal is to do her “best all the time for all of the children.” Barry Blackmon, of Atlanta, says teachers succeed when they have the flexibility “to shape their classroom style to that of their students.”
As the new school year begins, the Walton Family Foundation is celebrating the great work that Esther and Barry, and all of our country’s teachers, do every day to prepare their students for a lifetime of opportunity.
“Every teacher deserves the support, decision-making power and an environment that helps them to do their best for all students,” says foundation board chair Carrie Walton Penner.
We asked Esther and Barry what makes their classrooms unique, what they want for their students and what schools can do to support their work.
Esther is a 15-year veteran 1st grade teacher at CHIME Institute’s Schwarzenegger Community School in Woodland Hills, California. Esther, who lives with a vision impairment, works with a co-teacher to create an inclusive environment for all of her students, some of whom have disabilities or require special education services.
What does the public need to know about being a teacher?
We work hard and we are okay with that. We want to make sure that people understand the importance of the work we are doing and how valuable teachers are in the world. We want to do our best all the time for all of the children. We try to do everything we can to get students where they need to be. It’s all about them.
What do you think makes your school unique?
Collaboration. Collaboration between the administration and teachers. Collaboration between teachers. And in my particular situation, collaboration between special education teachers and general education teachers. Teachers talk constantly and share ideas and plan our curriculum together. I am a general education teacher and get to co-teach with special education teachers and we spend a lot of time planning for how to support students with disabilities in an inclusive setting. To be able to work with people who have better and different ideas than you is really empowering.
How can students benefit by being in an inclusive environment?
At CHIME, if you have a disability you don’t receive services outside the classroom. All services are pushed into the classroom. Speech services providers collaborate with everyone on the team. We have great diversity ranging in ability, ethnicity and socio-economic status – all the kids will learn in the classroom together all day long. It really creates an environment that models our community out in the big world. Whether you are struggling or succeeding, everyone has something to learn from each other and we can all teach each other something. It truly feels like a family that helps each other day after day.
Barry is a 3DE Assistant Principal at Frederick Douglass High School in Atlanta, Georgia. 3DE is a school model, developed in partnership with metro Atlanta school districts, which uses case methodology to infuse real-world concepts and business experiences into the student experience. Barry comes from a family of educators and was the 2014-15 Atlanta Public Schools Teacher of the Year.
What can schools do to support teachers?
If a school provides tangible support and structure for teachers, and creates the space for flexibility, the quality of education excels. While we only launched one year ago, I have witnessed how flexibility allows teachers to shape their classroom style to that of their students. Teachers are combining their expertise and creative thinking to deliver learning across disciplines. This allows our students to learn through a dynamic lens that is more reflective of the real world. In every class we are seeing our students engage more – and that positive excitement flows into our halls.
What do you want your students to leave your classroom knowing or feeling?
I want them to know that they can and will make a difference in the world. That every single one of them are smart, passionate and unique individuals and, with persistence, those attributes will enable them to thrive in a meaningful career and life. I want them to know that they’re in charge of their narrative and that no one else should set the course for them.
What makes your classroom unique?
In the classroom I used a lot of different methods to create my own gumbo of teaching, such as discipline, humor and real-world scenarios. What is unique about 3DE is that those type of elements are mixed across every core class in meaningful and tangible ways. Our classrooms are not just about academics. 3DE is education for every dimension of life. We’ve designed school that creates purpose for the students – it’s relevant to who they are and who they want to become. What is happening in our school is special.