Andreas Kidane (LA, ‘21) - On Fostering Genuine Connection With Students
Read about Andreas' evolution as a first-year teacher and how he fosters community and connection in his classroom (most notably with a class pet)
June 28, 2022
Andreas Kidane (LA, ‘21)
2021 CM at Alliance Judy Ivie Burton Technology Academy High School
High School Special Education (SPED) All-Subject Resource Teacher
Walking into Andreas Kidane’s classroom, there is unmistakable energy. Students huddle together laughing over an open book, a group of educators chats casually in the corner, and a bearded dragon suns itself under a heat lamp. “Her name is Charmander,” laughs Andreas, a 2021 Teach For America (TFA) corps member teaching Special Education (SPED) at Alliance Judy Ivie Burton Technology Academy High School in South Central Los Angeles. “The students love her; she’s been great for teaching too. We do weekly health checks, and they have to present how it went…they check her length and weight, the light bulb, the temperature, and the humidity.” He even used naming the bearded dragon to teach his students about the democratic process–the final vote was a landslide victory in favor of Charmander.
Andreas works hard to foster a space of connectivity among his eight students from 9th-12th grade. Growing up, he split his time living in South Central LA and Eritrea, a small country on the east coast of Africa. The regular transitions between countries never felt jarring because he had a strong community in both places. That experience showed him the importance of fostering a sense of belonging amongst teenagers and how it can promote resilience even during periods marked by rapid change. That’s why he tries to replicate this sense of belonging and community in his classroom daily to create an affirming environment that is good for students’ academic and emotional growth.
While many were leaving the teaching profession early in the COVID pandemic, Andreas joined the corps to become an educator, “I've wanted to teach ever since college,” he recalls. After nine years of living in Sweden and Kenya, he finally moved back to the US to make good on his dream. He briefly enrolled in a teacher certification program but ultimately decided to join Teach For America because he saw it as the most “direct and clear” path to the classroom. “I knew TFA could also help place me somewhere I wanted to teach, somewhere I was needed,” he explained. In the fall of 2021, Andreas started as a high school SPED Resource Teacher working only a few miles away from his US childhood home. “It’s like I’ve always kept one foot here—(I’ve) been rooted and grounded.”
“I knew TFA could also help place me somewhere I wanted to teach, somewhere I was needed.”
At Judy Ivie Burton Tech, Andreas has found another place to lay down roots. “This school environment is the best place to start. It’s all I could have ever wished for,” he shares. “We have a lot of TFA alumni here, too, so I lean on them.” Andreas is not shy about how much there is to learn as a newer teacher and regularly connects with other corps members to source best practices, swap notes, and find answers to questions. “My TFA LA Coach, Briana, has also been huge…having very real, honest, and frank conversation as a coach, alumnus, and as a human. She gets it and is always telling stories about her former students.”
For Andreas, that’s what it’s all about, his students. As a SPED Resource Teacher, it’s Andreas’ role to help them succeed in their other subjects. He’s constantly connecting with his students’ General Education teachers. He must know what concepts they’re teaching and their methodology to align his lesson plans and always be prepared to help his students in Math, English, Science, or any other subject. Sometimes this means working with a student on a particular assignment; other times, it’s through re-teaching the subject matter in a more accessible way for that specific student. “I'm learning each student’s strengths and weaknesses as an individual. I have to differentiate every lesson. There are eight students, so there are eight lessons…so that's been tough and challenging,” he notes. “Their academic growth has been slow and steady, but they’ve shaken off a lot of the desocialization of the COVID lockdown and are communicating better amongst themselves, with me, and in their schoolwork.” However, Andreas also thinks of this growth as a gift that allows him to get to know his students as more than just scholars, but as people with unique perspectives, passions, and preferences. He always integrates some downtime into the day, so his classes have a chance to talk and build community. “It’s amazing people’s bad expectations of teenagers, especially from this neighborhood,” he says through laughter, “They’re wrong–it's not like that at all. The students have been really great; (they) are more empathetic, and more generally informed than I was as a kid…they’re just really cool.”