Leslie Baldacci recently traveled to New York to capture the story of a group of parents in the South Bronx who were troubled by seeing a revolving door of new teachers in their schools. As a result, the parents advocated for intensive teacher mentoring and ultimately helped establish a successful partnership between NYCDOE’s District 9 and NTC. The result has just been published as Partnering to Develop and Retain Effective Leaders and Teachers. Here, she writes about her experience seeing the work in action.
Traveling to New York City to see New Teacher Center’s work in the South Bronx involved a whirlwind schedule of interviews, shadowing mentors, and sitting in on professional development sessions with principals, mentors and parents. The itinerary had one brief window of opportunity for a personal adventure. I seized the moment, and the moment set a theme that resonated throughout the week’s work.
Knowing I had just 90 minutes, I threw my suitcase into the hotel room and took the subway to Central Park. Night was falling as I surfaced at 72nd Street, pulling my scarf tighter against the biting wind. A few dog-walkers were out, and the park was quiet except for the crunch of snow under foot. How would I find what I was looking for with snow as far as the eye could see?
And suddenly—there it was! In the white landscape, the Imagine circle was cleared of snow, swept clean! Instantly I sensed that I was not alone, that my visit had been anticipated—that it was the norm. Still, I was touched deeply by the careful tending of this sacred space.
During my short visit, a steady stream of visitors on the same pilgrimage confirmed our community. They paused to simply stand in silence and pay their respects to John Lennon, hero of generations. Some snapped pictures. Some shed tears. The visitors were from many countries, all ages, but gathered as one community with a shared purpose.
In the days that followed, as I observed NTC’s work in the Bronx, the black and white marble Imagine starburst came to mind often. It turned out to be the short trip within a longer journey. “Imagine” became a connecting theme as I observed the work going on in District 9.
First: courage. It took courage for me to navigate the subway alone, at dusk, in a strange big city. I almost chickened out at several points. At schools I was reminded how much more courage it takes to teach and to learn. For many of the students we serve, it takes a lot to get to school every day.
Planning and intention made my little trek possible. I decided beforehand that this visit would be my most meaningful takeaway, and I was determined. But I could not have fulfilled my mission without advanced planning, a map, and collaboration with others along the way. The same goes for teaching and learning.
Love, respect, care, community. All were reflected in the humble act of sweeping snow from the monument dedicated to a man who challenged us to “Imagine.” The same qualities should shine in every school in America.
NTC’s New York City initiative involves mentoring beginning and veteran teachers, principal professional development, and promoting parent involvement. These dedicated educators are daring to imagine that their efforts will break a cycle of failure and improve outcomes for the students of District 9. I left New York City with new heroes, struck by the care they demonstrate in tending to the needs of students of District 9. John would dig it.
Leslie Baldacci is an instructional designer for New Teacher Center, a former Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teacher, and has mentored over 100 beginning teachers through NTC’s work with CPS. She is author of Inside "Mrs. B’s Classroom: Courage, Hope and Learning on Chicago’s South Side."