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Sumit Som Headshot

Why I Marched

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A year ago today, I was an attorney, sitting in a midtown office building, poring over legal documents.

On October 8th, I walked over the Brooklyn Bridge with 17,000 teachers, students and parents to stand up for the high quality schools I now work in.

My experience as a brand new teacher over the past six weeks tells me this march is about protecting schools like mine, teachers like me and ensuring the students that I teach continue to have access to the schools that will let them get to and through college. I am marching to protect the promise my school made to low-income families.

I'm marching, too, to protect the progress my organization has made in turning rookie teachers like me into great educators. It's widely believed that it takes three years for teachers to get "good," but the 77 students who pass through my classroom every day don't have that kind of time.

This march was as much about protecting schools that provide low-income children a chance they wouldn't otherwise have, as it is about protecting a new way of supporting teachers to make them masters at their craft.

I am part of a growing army of teachers being trained in a vastly different way than most U.S. teachers -- and the results are undeniable. On August 28, when I faced my very first class of 7th grade science students -- we were able to launch right into a lesson about blood types. Just two days later we jumped into a lab where they used clues to determine a murderer! It was a great first week, and my predominantly low-income black and Latino students learned so much; but I know they can learn so much more as I improve as a teacher.

The key is that from day one I have had essential tools and techniques in my toolbox that I have been studying and practicing with more experienced teachers since the beginning of August. The school I work in has developed a support system for teachers that maximizes my chance of success.

So much debate has centered around whether we can shrink the amount of time that it takes for a teacher to become effective. Critics of charter schools like mine say you can't. But that is because the way most schools in this country prepare and support teachers is not preparing or supporting them at all. What my school does -- any school can do. Here's where it mattered most for me:

Targeted Practice. In early August I joined dozens of other teachers, both new and returning, and we studied great teaching techniques. We watched videos of master teachers delivering rigorous lessons with 100% interest, participation and joy from their students. Then we got to practice those techniques on each other. Importantly, most of these techniques were focused on classroom management skills that I could implement from day one. In most school districts, teachers come back a couple of days before the students arrive. I was so grateful to have had three weeks of preparation before meeting my students.

School-wide Culture and Language. Every single adult in the building has the same expectations of what our students can achieve, speaks the same language, has the same rules in our classrooms and in the hallways, has the same incentives for outstanding behavior, and has the same consequences for students to help get them back on track. This kind of synergy among the adults in the building is powerful. It helps me because I know my actions will be backed up by the rest of the school.

Continuous Coaching. Like a rookie athlete with lots of potential, it is essential that I am coached on my game. Veteran teachers are constantly in my classroom -- coming in to observe, or to handle a misbehaving student and later sending me words of encouragement and invaluable advice as to how to handle certain situations more effectively. In addition, I have a teacher specifically assigned to coach me. My coach is a science teacher who has been teaching for 7 years. We go over my lesson plans and she looks for ways to make my lessons sharper and more fun for my students. She's also in my classroom at least once a week, later talking to me about my technique, how I'm delivering my content and how I can improve the very next day.

Because I have a coach, I can immediately get tailored advice to correct weaknesses and accentuate strengths, even (and perhaps especially) for those that I am unaware of. It makes so much sense. We have coaches in sports, but in something as important as teaching our nation's children, teachers are usually left to their own devices. That's neither good for teachers nor students.

So, when I marched on October 8th, I marched for my students and their families. I marched for the amazing teachers I work with that are making me better every day. And I marched to protect the schools that are developing teachers like me every day and creating the next.