Teachers from the Garfield, Newark, North Bergen and Perth Amboy districts in New Jersey met with their peers from classrooms in Ohio, Texas and AFT national staff trainers to discuss current topics in education Nov. 9 and 10 in Woodbridge. Approximately 50 teachers attended the sessions, which included sessions on managing classroom behavior, early childhood education and strategies for working with English language learners.
“This is peer-led, research-based professional development that you will be able to apply when you get back into your classrooms on Monday,” said AFT New Jersey Executive Vice President for Pre-Kindergarten through 12 Robert Barbier, a high school English teacher from Garfield.
Leslie Velez teaches bi-lingual math at levels one and three in Perth Amboy. She described the English language learners session she attended as “interactive” and full of ideas that resonated with her teaching style. She said she learned more about using an informal assessment to guide instruction and “moving to music” to keep students engaged in lessons. Reflecting on the session, Velez said that she retains the attitude of being a student with a love for learning.
Teachers were challenged to think about their inner motivations for being educators and apply the same critical analysis to students. “We were provided with a lot of references to research about why kids behave the way they do so I have a lot of reading as a result,” said Tawana Hobday who teaches fifth-grade math and science at George Washington Carver in Newark, where she grew up. “I am an advocate to make sure the children have the resources they need and make stronger connection to the parents.”
Rebekah Ozuna is an early-childhood educator in San Antonio, Texas who facilitated workshops on managing classroom behaviors. “It is important to be able to come out of the classroom and support teachers around the country,” she said. “We have all great ideas and we all face the same struggles.”
An early-childhood educator from Cincinnati, Ohio, Ryan Casey co-facilitated the sessions with Ozuna. “It’s important to have collaboration with peer educators to learn from one another how to help students,” said Casey. “When you are working with three and four-year-olds, you are teaching them how to act, what they need to do to be successful. It’s similar to older students, although people expect they already know a lot of those things.”
A retired elementary school self-contained special education teacher, AFTNJ President Donna M. Chiera is committed to working with the division to build a statewide professional development program. “AFT professional development is research-based and vetted in classrooms with real students,” she said.
Then researchers connect with educators to develop the actual professional development strands, Chiera said. “The program and the process is highly effective because it is presented by teachers to teachers.”