By Machael P. Sherry
As an educator and a Buffalo native, I care deeply about the future of our community. That future begins in our schools. We are fortunate to have many committed educators in the Buffalo Public Schools, but there is still work to be done. As a community, we must do even more to expand educational opportunities for our students, which is why I support the Buffalo Public Schools’ proposed partnership with Teach For America.
Teach For America is a national teacher corps of college graduates and professionals who commit to teach for two years and raise student achievement in public schools. After graduating from college, I joined Teach For America and moved to New York City, where I taught kindergarten, first- and second-grade special education. I began my pathway into teaching with Teach For America’s intensive summer institute training. The institute provided best practices for lesson planning and instruction, as well as strategies for creating a positive classroom culture, while emphasizing collaboration and respect for diverse perspectives.
Because of the training and ongoing support I received, I felt prepared to hit the ground running. I learned quickly, however, that teaching was no easy task. My students had a wide array of special needs and several were severely emotionally disturbed or cognitively impaired. My school was one of the lowest performing in New York City.
To ensure that I provided my students everything they needed, I worked extremely hard to learn as much as I could about teaching. I met regularly with my Teach For America instructional coach to sharpen my skills. I sought out veteran teachers, observed them in their classrooms and requested their reviews of my lesson plans. I attended union meetings and school functions, so that I could get to know my colleagues better and understand the issues they faced. Most importantly, I built strong relationships with the parents or guardians of my students, so that they could reinforce the work their children were doing in the classroom.
As a result, my students achieved a minimum of 80 percent mastery on their grade-level math standards and each made at least 1.5 years growth in reading. One of my second-grade students was even reading on a fourth-grade level when she left my classroom. And one quarter of my students were able to join general education classrooms the following year.
Because of Teach For America, working to expand educational opportunities for children growing up in poverty will be my life’s work. As a concerned Buffalonian, I strongly encourage Buffalo Public Schools to bring Teach For America here. I believe it will be a valuable addition to our city, our education community and, most importantly, our students.
Machael P. Sherry is an educator and a Buffalo native.