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What I Learned from My Mentor Teacher

It’s no secret that new teachers struggle during their first year. A recent NPR report, “Hey, New Teachers, It’s Okay to Cry in Your Car,” recently hit on this reality. It described the plight of new teachers who are overwhelmed by the demands of the job when they are placed in classrooms without any caring, high-quality mentoring. At Success Academy, new teachers — known as associate teachers — receive constant coaching and support from experienced teachers and leaders. We asked former associate teachers to reflect on their first year teaching alongside a lead teacher — an experienced educator — and to share what they learned that helped them improve and become strong lead teachers this year.

Phillip Brogdon was an entry-level teacher last year and taught alongside lead teacher Kelly Muller, who had been teaching for three years. Mr. Brogdon is now a second grade lead teacher at Success Academy Crown Heights.


I owe everything I know to Kelly. She taught me how to teach, how to hold students to high expectations, and how to have honest conversations with parents. Last year, unfortunately, we had to tell a parent that her child was not ready for the next grade. I was so nervous to have the conversation. But Kelly approached it like a true professional. She anticipated all the questions from the parent, she brought the scholar’s work, and, ultimately, helped the parent understand how her daughter would benefit from repeating the grade. What struck me the most about Kelly was how respectful, caring, and loving she was toward the family. It was a transformative moment for me.

Cole Yaverbaum (left) was an entry-level teacher last year and taught alongside lead teacher Annie Ramos at Success Academy Crown Heights. Ms. Yaverbaum is now a second grade collaborative team teacher at the same school.


I’m extremely grateful that I had a year of practice with Annie. One of her greatest strengths is keeping a class calm, focused, and on task, and that’s something I learned from her. I remember one day last year one scholar got really sick – he had a stomach flu – and started throwing up on the rug, in the middle of a lesson. I was in shock. I don’t know what I would have done without Annie. Annie kept her cool and was able to get the scholars to calmly go back to their seats. Soon, the mess was cleaned up and everybody was back on task, learning. She took on her role with such grace and was a strong role model for me.

Annie Longobardo (right) was an entry-level teacher last year and taught alongside lead teacher John Noto, who had been teaching for five years. She is now a fourth grade lead teacher at Success Academy Harlem 3.

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Johnny shaped who I am as a teacher. The biggest thing he taught me was that you don’t always have to have 100 percent control. Last year, we took our scholars on a field study to a farm, and I was sweating things like kids standing in straight lines. Johnny’s advice: Relax and focus on what’s important: are kids enjoying learning? It’s okay when things don’t go exactly as you planned. This year, I regularly let scholars talk and walk around freely during gallery walks. Students are on task and they’re learning. A year ago, a gallery walk would have been my worst nightmare. Working with Johnny, I learned to find a voice and a style that suits my personality.

Jessie Passaro (right) was an entry-level teacher last year and taught alongside lead teacher Darielle Petruccio at Success Academy Springfield Gardens. Ms. Passaro is now a sixth grade math teacher at Success Academy Harlem North Central.


Darielle gave me really great advice about how to build relationships with scholars and families. I remember that she used to send home letters asking parents about weekend events that they planned to attend with their kids and we sometimes joined them. I thought it was great, and I know families really appreciated how we took that extra step to get to know them. On the last day of school, we invited families to our classroom for an awards ceremony. We gave every scholar an award and, at the end, one parent and her daughter got up to thank us. It was a special moment for us. Now that I teach middle school, I use Darielle’s ideas and advice all the time, and it has made a huge difference. I’ve been able to leverage relationships with families to get reluctant students to participate more in class.

Sibo Wang was an entry-level teacher last year and spent half of the year teaching alongside lead teacher Ariel Laifer at Success Academy Harlem 1. He is now a lead science teacher at the elementary school.

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Before I was placed in Ariel’s classroom, I didn’t have a firm grasp of how to hold students accountable for their work. I didn’t have efficient and consistent systems to ensure that kids were learning the material I was teaching. Ariel had these systems in place and modeled them for me. For example, she showed me how to check homework for accuracy, not just for completion. She also showed me a procedure to review exit tickets that involved giving students immediate feedback so they understood the mistakes they had made. This year, I know my students are learning because I can track their progress every day. I am grateful to Ariel for helping me become the teacher I’ve always wanted to be for my students.

Find out more about the entry-level teacher program.

Written by Success Academy November 13, 2015

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