Joreather Settles (D.C. Region ‘15) is a pre-K 4 teacher at Browne Education Campus in Ward 5. Jo is a mother of two, a dedicated teacher and an involved alumna. Jo was matched with Browne Education Campus after working with the Teach For America D.C. Region Talent Hub.
Nick Brooks, Director of Corps Member and Alumni Matching, sat down with Jo to ask her about her experience with education, being matched through Talent Hub and as an alum in the region. As a teacher, she takes the time to understand her students’ needs and use culturally responsive teaching methods. The close attention she pays to her students shows in the success of the children she works with, 65 percent of whom are performing above grade level. Read more about Jo below.
How do you live out Culturally Responsive Teaching in the classroom and why is that important to you?
When I think of TFA, I think of the Culturally Responsive Teaching training that we had for two years, and that has really set me apart in this school. So when I first started, I did “All About Me” posters, and parents were really excited and onboard, and they came in to see their children present their information that they had worked hard on. I have connected our children's lives from their neighborhoods to their home countries. Early on, we discussed our family structures. I gave them language, such as “I am being raised by a single mom or single dad”, and other language like, “My parents co-parent. ”
I have two dual language learners. The movie “Black Panther” was big this year, so we went from talking about the movie to the students and where they're from. My assistant is from Sierra Leone, I have one student from Sudan and another from Cameroon. Bringing in books and working with parents to incorporate their language in the classroom is something I worked hard on in the beginning of the school year.
Also, I think coming out in one piece on the other end of institute; all of my teacher friends I’ve met on the journey; and community organizing through DECC.
How did your school respond to that lesson?
So that was part of Black History Month, I wanted to speak about Africa during the first half of the unit, but I went a bit overboard. You can see the displays that we have outside of the classroom. My parents saw the work we did and gave me the nod of approval. We connected alphabet knowledge, to typing words in search engines, to research on the internet. I'm really happy to have made that connection at this point in my teaching career. Seeing 4-year-olds typing words and making the real world connection is exciting. My EC coach has used my work as an example. Also, my ECE program is a part of a cluster of DCPS schools that are learning how to teach African American boys in the African American Boy project. I’m so grateful to be a part of the project since I spent the last two years teaching all girls. Boys learn so differently! One of our homework assignments is to gather all the culturally responsive work and present it to a group of teachers that we’ve done this school year. In my mind, I feel prepared because of the work I’ve done with TFA.
That's so exciting that you're presenting for other teachers!
I mean it matches the work we’ve done together perfectly. I have a loving, respectful environment in my classroom because of it. Everyone's excited to learn, and I have worked hard to develop my students’ intrinsic drive. Luckily, my school doesn’t have a treasure box or color chart system in place to motivate behavior in children. Right now I'm trying to connect D.C. history to early childhood, and it's challenging. And I'm looking at my daughter's high school book and I'm like, how can I scale this back so that children can know about D.C. and our history?
So what inspired you to jump into education?
I always wanted to be a teacher, but I was worried about standardized testing, and pay, and a lot was going on when I was in college; D.C. was changing but it was always in the back of my mind. When I volunteered in my daughter's school, it didn't feel like work, I just loved being around children, so just having those opportunities to volunteer with children made me want to continue to work with children. And in my government contracting job at the General Service Administration, I had a lot of people say, with the way I handled management, work, and leadership, that I should work in education, so I had a lot of support from my job.
We are so glad you came to TFA!` What were the goals you were able to reach by being a culturally responsive teacher?
I’m glad I was accepted into TFA. So when my children came into my classroom, this particular group, they didn't talk at all. They were quiet, they would look down, they would cry a lot. I have four-year-olds, so most of them had done a year of school already. I just wanted to make school fun for them and connect their home lives to school. For example, the things they like such as music during our wiggle breaks.
Making all of these connections opens love of education. In my data, all but three of my students knew any letters, letter sounds or numbers. But now 65 percent are on a kindergarten level in Lexia. There are 42 units in the pre-K level, and that first 11 had gone through the first 42 units, and now they are on the first and second level in the kindergarten level. As far as letter sounds, they are grasping the information. In literacy, we just don't teach about the ABC's, but we connect the letters to the environment to make real-world connections. Also, in the Jolly Phonics curriculum that I teach from, each letter sound has a song, movement, and story that my students can act out which makes phonics really fun. They dance, they sing, they do acting to the letter sounds, so we try to make it really fun for them, and I’ve heard from parents that their children “hop from their apartment to school” because they enjoy school. Parents say things like “I wish I had this type of start”, etc.
You've seen a lot of growth since you've been here.
Yes, at the ECE level many teachers don’t think it is appropriate to begin collecting academic data and this is my first year in a reading tracking system. It is really exciting to see their growth and beneficial to pinpoint exactly where students are struggling. Currently, all of my students who are still on the pre-K level are struggling with hearing rhymes which is developmentally appropriate. Also, Eureka is on the preschool level so that program has taken my lessons to the next level. Having my students explain their thinking is my current challenge. My students and families took pride when receiving their kindergarten certificates.
What was the job search/talent matching process like for you?
It was really easy. My principal wanted an early childhood teacher, and he connected with you guys, I was sent on an interview that was conducted by a panel. I got an offer a few minutes after I left his office.
How do you feel about the community you work in?
I really love my children. I really like that in this community the families don't leave. Most of my children's parents went here, and there's a lot of cousins and sisters and aunts, so they're all connected in this community, so everyone's talking, and I respect that. I'm a part of a team of vet teachers who have taught a range of 14-35 years and I like the wisdom that comes with the years. There are a lot of male teachers here, and that's amazing. The autism/sped program is developing my son’s abilities. I'm able to talk to his teacher and see how he's going, and push for the academic integration. I push for him. He's five years old, and in pre-K-4, too.
So why did you decide to use TFA as a job searching option?
I would not have known about the opportunities without TFA. After our discussion, you connected me. We [Alumni working with the Talent Hub] are looking and you just looked out, like we didn't have to do much. You did your job well! It was really easy for me, and I just went when the opportunity was presented. I’m very quiet, shy and introverted, and I miss many opportunities so the job search option was very good for me.
What other things put us in a good position to help other alums out if they're looking in D.C.?
Well, the relationships you guys have built with us allow us to be open and honest with you guys when times are tough. We're very transparent, and we get to hear the real deal. You've seen us through our two years of commitment, so you know what we're like, beyond the resumes.