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Kaitlyn Shorrock, New Haven Teach For America Teacher, Hits Stride And May Leave Town

  Melissa Bailey First Posted: 02/21/2012 11:38 am Updated: 02/21/2012 11:38 am

Teach For America Teachers
Wexler/Grant School teacher Kaitlyn Shorrock, a Teach For America corps member, gives a 7th grader a parting instruction as he leaves class Thursday.

This piece comes to us courtesy of New Haven Independent.

A year and a half after students welcomed the Teach For America recruit with a flash flood in her classroom, Kaitlyn Shorrock is emerging as a model teacher -- and weighing whether to continue her job at one of the city's most challenging schools.

Shorrock, who's 24, is one 30 TFA corps members in New Haven's public schools. Since the fall of 2010, the California native has been teaching middle-school science at Wexler/Grant School in Dixwell.

As the school goes through a "turnaround" focused on improving school climate, she has served as a standard-bearer to other teachers in her demanding-but-friendly classroom management style.

After putting in hours of class prep work on nights and weekends for 18 months, the energetic teacher is finding herself at a crossroads. Come June, she will complete her two-year commitment with TFA, a leading national not-for-profit focused on luring talented young people into urban classrooms and narrowing the racial achievement gap.

TFA takes recruits like Shorrock straight from college or graduate school. In lieu of a standard teaching certification, they attend a five-week summer TFA training course to prepare for the classroom—then take classes during the school year to earn their Connecticut certification. They commit to teaching for two years; they have access to one-one-one coaching and teaching support during that time.

Principal Sabrina Breland said of all the TFA recruits she has come across, Shorrock is "one of the best I've ever seen."

Shorrock "is a great role model, especially for the young teachers," said Breland.

When middle school teachers are struggling in managing student behavior, Breland said, she sends them to Shorrock "to look at how she's doing things."

As her two years wind down, Shorrock said, she hasn't decided whether to stay on with the students she's learned to love—or head back to California to her family.

Young teachers like Shorrock have been enlisted in New Haven's school reform drive, which calls for overhauling low-performing schools into turnarounds, where principals have the power to replace veteran staff. The city's long-running partnership with TFA, which began in 2006, is now targeting vacancies at turnarounds, where young teachers can infuse new energy into long-failing schools.

Shorrock's story highlights one drawback: These bright, hardworking teachers often pack their bags after two years.

FLASH FLOOD

Her voyage to Wexler-Grant began in the spring of 2010, when she was a senior at the University of California Santa Barbara. The environmental science major had already racked up some experience as an educator at a campus aquarium. She led field trips for students in grades K through 12, and rose to become head aquarist.

In the spring, as California's economy suffered, she sent out a flurry of applications to a variety of jobs across the country—including SeaWorld and TFA.

When she got a call back from TFA, she started studying the nation's achievement gap. She decided that "this is what I need to do." She'd be "doing the same thing" as at SeaWorld, "but making a difference in a field where they need us."

She applied to TFA at a time of rapid expansion due to a $50 million federal grant. The organization grew from 8,200 corps members in 2010-11 to 9,300 this year in 43 regions across the country.

As she ranked her most-preferred regions, Shorrock included Connecticut because it has a good aquarium (where she now volunteers). She graduated from college in mid-June. Within six days, flew to New Haven for induction into TFA.

She got hired by Breland, who had just taken over as principal of Wexler/Grant, a K-8 school serving 400 kids at 55 Foote St. Shorrock landed a job teaching science in the fifth to eighth grades.

After five weeks of training, she walked in the door of Wexler/Grant in the fall of 2010 as a brand new teacher. She quickly learned what she was up against.

One eighth-grade class informed her their last science teacher, also a TFA corps member, didn't survive one year. "How long are you going to stay?" the kids asked her.

It was a tough class. Shorrock admitted feeling "frightened, intimidated." During the first week, one kid pretended to trip in the science lab and pulled the cord to the safety shower, sending buckets of "brown, copper water" onto the floor.

"It just poured out," she recalled. An alarm started blaring. Within a couple of minutes, the room was flooded two inches deep.

Shorrock recalled watching, stunned, as her students darted out into the hallway in search of dry land.

"You can't let them see you cry," Shorrock recalled telling herself.

She took off her shoes, which were ruined in the flood, walked barefoot into the library, and taught her next class.

Shorrock laughed as she recounted the story in her classroom Thursday at the end of the school day. Then she wiped away a couple of tears.

"It's funny now," she said.

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