July 24, 2013

Teachers Talk Back: Kalyca Thomas

Kalyca Thomas teaches at PS 214 in the Bronx. She recently worked with a team of E4E-NY teachers to publish Preparing for the Classroom: A Vision for Teacher Training in the 21st Century.


What inspired you to become an educator?


I had very supportive teachers when I was a student. Every one of them went above and beyond to support me. I was very lucky. In elementary school I was very shy. My teacher at the time encouraged me to run for class president. Not only did she help me prepare a speech, but also when the time came to deliver the speech, she stood behind me and supported me. When it was time for me to choose a career, I wanted to share with other students what had been shared with me. Encouragement and inspiration are the tools of a teacher. I wanted to give back because so much had been shared with me.


Now as I teacher I support my own students like my teachers supported me. I try to cultivate all their unique skills and talents. Bringing out introverted students is a special joy. I encourage those students to step into leadership roles when working in groups. I try to be a mentor to those students and find opportunities for them to shine.


Has teaching met your expectations?


Yes and no. I have been able to develop an each one teach one, which is mentor mentee relationship, with many of my students. I came into this profession because I wanted to be a mentor and it has been extremely gratifying to watch my students grow.


However, I have been disappointed by what I see as inflexibility in the teaching profession. I’d like to see teachers have more flexibility and autonomy to meet the needs of their kids and the community they serve. Right now there is a lot of focus on how teachers are prepared. Common Core has been a huge resource in developing rigorous lessons. But our lessons need to also include emotional and social development; we need social goals as well as academic goals. And those goals should be rigorous and aligned to what our students need. You can find a story’s main idea while growing non-academic skills like problem solving. You have to be flexible, you have to have alternative ways of addressing the needs of kids. I use this strategy to teach non-academic skills as well as the core content. Unfortunately, only the academic progress is measured. When all the work teachers do is recognized, including the social and emotional growth, we will be able to better meet the needs of student.


Teaching in NYC is hard. What keeps you going?


Having a glass half full mindset is critical. Being able to see what went right and building off of strengths. Teaching is a reflective process, you always need to think about what went well and what went wrong. Every day you need to think, what can I do better next time?


Seeking out organizations like E4E, organizations where you are given the opportunity to empower yourself and be a part of positive change in NYC schools keeps me going. If it doesn’t happen in your school, don’t stop there, look for ways you can be part of larger movements that share your vision. That makes E4E special because it is educators who want to see change happen.


Why is it important that teachers get involved in what's happening outside of their classrooms?


The way education in New York is organized, it can make teachers feel very isolated. Educators are alone and view their experiences as separate from others' experiences, even in their own buildings. Being a part of an organization like E4E helps to create an atmosphere of shared beliefs and shared experience.


Most importantly, being a member of E4E allows me to speak honestly in conversations about education. I don’t feel like I need to modify my beliefs when I’m sharing with this group of teachers. If we rely only schools experiences and perspectives, we limit opportunities to truly think outside those conversations. When you take the conversation outside of your school, you move away from the power structure that limits conversation.