Sitting on the Other Side of the Desk

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This spring SchoolBook formed a partnership with LynNell Hancock's education reporting class at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. During the semester, the students produced articles about issues and people in the city's public school system, and posted them on the class's Web site, SchoolStories: Education Reporting in NYC. For the next few weeks, SchoolBook will be featuring the students' work. This is another in the series.

The white board in Room 7 at the Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science was a picture of mathematical rigor. Tim Jones, one of the school’s veteran math teachers, had spent the past hour filling it with polynomial equations, graphs and questions in an attempt to make sure that the students at Urban Assembly walked away from the lesson with a very thorough understanding of the material.

But Jones wasn’t actually working with any students this Wednesday afternoon. In fact, the only other person in the classroom was Ellie Weille, a first-year math teacher at Urban Assembly who was working with Jones to figure out how to maximize the lesson’s effectiveness before she went live with it on Friday.

“Explain what happens to the graph when you change the constant,” said Weille, trying to come up with the best way to phrase a question that would successfully demonstrate student comprehension.

“So they could say, ‘It moves up and down,’” responded Jones. “You want a more specific answer than that, so what could you ask instead?”

Weille paused. “Explain what happens to the roots, the shape, and the y-intercept?” she asked.

“Here’s what I’m getting at,” said Jones. “What strategy do you want them going through in their head? What’s the kind of thinking you want them to have?”

Meetings like this are common at Urban Assembly, a public school in the South Bronx that teaches students in grades six through 12. Teachers almost always complete tasks such as lesson planning and curriculum development collaboratively and under the guidance of “team leaders,” typically more experienced teachers who have previously taught the class they are team leading. It is one of the main ways Urban Assembly and other schools work to help support, counsel, and enrich their teaching staff.

“People learn by watching people and talking to people who know more than they do,” said Ann Cook, co-director of New York City’s Urban Academy Laboratory High School. “You want to learn how to teach? You have to spend time with teachers who know what they’re doing.”

Read Eddie Small's full story on