In a few days, Boston will welcome thousands of runners to participate and compete in the annual Boston Marathon. It’s hard for me to fathom the time, energy, and mental commitment it takes to train for those 26.2 miles much less what it feels like to run them and then recover. Even though most of our associate teachers aren’t participating in the marathon this year (one associate is, miraculously!) I can’t help but see some similarities to their one-year residency program at Belmont Day. As part of their training, associates need to juggle a full course load and attend weekday and weekend classes both at BDS and at Lesley on subjects as far-reaching as technology integration, child development, equity and inclusion, and working effectively with English Language Learners. They work four days a week in our classrooms observing their mentor teachers and their students, designing lessons and units, teaching small groups and full classes, doing recess and lunch duties, running clubs, and meeting with mentor teachers as they reflect on what’s working and what needs adjusting in the curriculum and ways of engaging students. At the same time, they are preparing for and securing teaching jobs for the following year in independent and public schools both near and far. To say that their plates are full is an understatement.
The work of training for the Boston Marathon is done alone for the most part, and this is one way that our associate program is distinctly different. Associates have their mentors alongside them in the classroom to ask questions, problem-solve, provide perspective, offer feedback, and reflect on successes. By developing and learning under the guidance of an experienced mentor teacher, associates grow exponentially faster than their peers who are doing most of their learning in more traditional graduate programs that more often remove student teachers from the day-to-day life of the school. When I meet with associates for our seminar sessions on Fridays, we aren’t discussing textbook scenarios of lesson planning and classroom management. We’re able to use actual classroom experience to tease apart strategies and approaches to particular situations.
Serving as a mentor teacher is an excellent leadership opportunity for faculty, and the associate teacher program also provides our faculty and staff the chance to teach graduate coursework. This year our faculty and visiting teachers from both Cambridge and Lexington public schools and the Brookwood School have led sessions and courses in multicultural practice, project-based social studies instruction, using inquiry to promote engagement, mindfulness, STEM, Reggio Emilia, assessment, technology, social/emotional learning, social justice curriculum, health and wellness, and literacy.
When I spoke with Mary Liston, who founded the associate teacher program 27 years ago, she said the desire to work with graduate students from Lesley University on-site at Belmont Day was born out of the intention to keep the curriculum evolving and teachers engaged in reflection about their practice and choices in the classroom. Associates offer us a tremendous opportunity to fine-tune our thinking about teaching as we respond to their fresh perspectives on curriculum and how we might incorporate current thinking into our work with students. At the same time, our teachers have a wealth of experience and advice to offer. Our students benefit from working with adults who are also learning and growing in these ways.
Perhaps the most significant difference between the training of our associates and the Boston Marathon runners is that runners are preparing for a single annual event, while our associates are building foundational skills for future careers in classrooms and schools. If all goes according to plan, the intensity of our program’s pace and expectations will yield teachers who will continue to train and improve their practice as educators. They will craft curriculum that is engaging, culturally competent, and multidisciplinary in ways that tap into the interests and strengths of the students who will walk into their classrooms for years to come.