Craniums, Owl Pellets, and Dinosaur Bulletin Boards: The Life of a Success Academy Associate Teacher
In the science classrooms of Success Academy Bergen Beach, no two days look the same. Tracy Gaspard, associate science teacher, knows just how exciting it can be to teach a hands-on curriculum to curious scholars. One morning she’s using helmets to demonstrate how the cranium protects the brain, and the next, she’s handing out owl pellets that scholars can dissect for bones. Discovery is the name of the game, and associate science teachers like Tracy make the most of every opportunity to engage their scholars, all while growing in their own careers through our exciting and selective Teaching Residency Program.
When Tracy graduated in 2014 with a degree in health promotion and science from St. Francis College, she never imagined she would be sharing her lifelong love of science with first and second graders in Brooklyn. After receiving encouragement from her friends — who noticed that Tracy loved interacting with children — Tracy launched her education career as a substitute teacher in New York City public schools.
Last year, when a friend and teacher at Success Academy recommended that Tracy take a closer look at our organization, the course of her career shifted yet again. Compelled by SA’s commitment to providing all children with a stellar education, while simultaneously developing outstanding teaching talent, Tracy applied to become an associate teacher. She’s been sharing her passion for scientific discovery with young scholars — and growing as an educator — ever since.
Tell us about how you discovered Success Academy. What drew you to our educational approach?
My friend Tamara Timothe, an associate teacher at SA Rosedale, was so enthusiastic about her experience. As a substitute teacher, I found myself disappointed with the lack of passion from my colleagues. I wanted to work in a place where both students and teachers were excited to arrive each day. Tamara told me incredible stories of first-graders reading at a third-grade level, of bright and beautiful classrooms, and of supportive teachers and leaders. I applied and ultimately received an offer for an associate teacher position at SA Bergen Beach. The interview process and onboarding training were so interesting because we learned all about SA’s unique approach to education, where the learning environment encourages engagement and instills in scholars the belief that they can do anything.
When I arrived at SA Bergen Beach in November, everything I heard about Success turned out to be true. My scholars genuinely love coming to school each day, and they are so smart. The schools really are beautiful — especially our bulletin boards! Right now we have one board with a six-foot tall dinosaur! What’s really important to me is seeing these students, who might not have otherwise been able to access the quality of education that they deserve, have the opportunity to learn in an engaging environment.
What does your role look like as an Associate Teacher at SA?
I support my lead teacher by making sure the scholars stay focused on the lesson at hand. If she needs to step out of the classroom, I’m right there to take over so that the scholars get to absorb the lesson without interruption. I’ve really enjoyed supporting and contributing across a variety of classes, and right now I appreciate working as a team to deliver our engaging science curriculum.
Success Academy takes a hands-on approach to science — cultivating scientific curiosity at a young age is so important. As an associate science teacher, I have the chance to do just that through many different projects and experiments. Right now we’re learning all about bones, so our scholars get to label and describe things like the femur and the humerus. We showed them how the cranium bone protects our brains, just like a helmet. And you never know what connections scholars will draw between different activities. Just the other day, we gave scholars owl pellets and they learned that owls eat mice, but don’t digest the bones. The scholars began to pick through their pellets, and became incredibly excited when they found and identified the different bones. There were shouts of, “Oh, I found a femur!” It is an amazing way to learn.
How have you grown as a teacher since you started at SA? What kinds of support or advice did you receive?
I’ve now been with Success for five months, and I’ve already had so many opportunities for growth. I began as a second-grade associate teacher, and my lead teachers had me taking charge in lessons within a week. With the training and development that takes place regularly after school on Wednesdays, I definitely felt prepared. There were days that I had the opportunity to lead for the entire time, and I loved the real-time feedback.
There are so many opportunities to learn on the job in this program, especially because the schools often seek staff who are eager to try new roles. When the leadership team offered me a chance to work in a science classroom, I was so excited to call on my background in the subject! I was also glad that my principal had noticed that I was growing as a teacher, and had identified an opportunity for me to develop even more within a different classroom. My lead teacher, Sarah Rothman, gives great advice and reminds me why it’s important to be patient when explaining concepts. We know that our scholars are so smart and capable, but sometimes the lessons just need time to soak in a little.
Sarah and I help each other stay focused, which is the key for us to both maintain a strong work- life balance. When we both know what needs to happen by the end of the day, we can prioritize accordingly. I feel that the Success model for co-teaching allows me to balance everything. It’s a wonderfully supportive place to develop as a teacher.
What’s been a highlight of your time at SA so far?
There are so many great stories! One time, a scholar gave a presentation on a dinosaur he invented. He stood up, gave his speech, and then stated: “I’m done. I would like to take questions now. Miles, what is your question?” He was just so professional and had become a teacher out of the blue. Moments like this show just how engaged our scholars are.
Another part of the job that I love is the bond we form with our scholars. Once when I was at a mall, one of my scholars spotted me and ran to me as if I were some kind of celebrity. She hugged me so tight, and it was the cutest thing ever.
What’s next for you at SA?
I’m looking forward to my new role next year as a fourth-grade lead teacher at SA Bergen Beach. I really love our tight-knit school community here, and I am excited to continue growing within the school and gaining a whole new set of skills when I’m leading my own classroom.
What advice would you give someone who was considering applying to SA?
Apply! If you are passionate about supporting the growth and learning of your students — and are excited to learn a lot yourself — I think it’s a great place to be.