Teachers Teaching Teachers
When experienced teachers use their leadership to support new teachers, they can create a stronger education ecosystem in schools and communities.
May 3, 2022
When Robert “Bobby” Daly decided the join the TFA GNO corps in 2021, he wanted to empower students to tell their stories. “When children are able to perform in a suitable environment, not only do they thrive, but those around them do as well,” said Bobby. He had already had experience working with children in Uganda during his time in the Peace Corps after college. In Uganda, Bobby saw how his students excelled when given an outlet to share their talents and passions. He watched otherwise shy kids struggle in their academic classes and then go on to be the most accomplished chess players at their school, ultimately teaching their peers how to play as well. “My two years in Uganda taught me that being an effective educator means creating environments where all students are given the opportunity to show their true selves,” he said.
Originally from Connecticut, Bobby graduated from the College of Holy Cross in 2016. His commitment to students inspired him to apply to Teach For America and he now teaches Math at Abramson Sci Academy in New Orleans.
Although he came into the corps with some experience working in schools, he was surprised how challenging it was to create the classroom he wanted for his students. “My original expectations were that a fun and productive classroom environment would occur naturally, organically, and unforced,” said Bobby. “However, in actuality it required a strong focus on structure.”
To help him build the skills he needed to meet his teaching goals, Bobby worked with 2018 TFA GNO alum Taylor Johns, who coaches corps members through the Teach For America Greater New Orleans Alumni Coaching Fellowship. As an alum teacher at Abramson Sci Academy, Taylor had a unique understanding of what Bobby was going through and was able to support him to meet his goals.
“Being the experienced teacher she is, Taylor has a wealth of knowledge,” explained Bobby. “Every challenge I was facing, she had also encountered at some point in her career. Her ability to offer suggestions from experience while encouraging me to believe in myself and create systems that are unique to my teaching style allowed me to grow more confident as an educator.”
“Being the experienced teacher she is, Taylor has a wealth of knowledge. Every challenge I was facing, she had also encountered at some point in her career.”
With Taylor’s help, Bobby was able to build the structure he needed in his classroom. “Once I implemented that,” he said, “teaching became more like I expected. One of my greatest successes was realizing that structure allows students to feel comfortable and be themselves. When students are able to be themselves, they are very fun and very productive.”
Taylor Johns is a native of New Jersey and came to Teach For America after graduating from Muhlenberg College in 2018. “At first I became a teacher because education equity is very important to me and I wanted to play a role in giving students of color the same access that I have had as a Black woman,” said Taylor.
After teaching for five years in New Orleans, Taylor’s experience has helped her hone her commitment to educational equity and excellence in a way that drives her leadership to go beyond her initial reasons to become a teacher. “I am passionate about teaching because I get to help the kids believe that they belong in spaces where learning happens,” she explains. “I want to become an excellent teacher so that my students associate feelings of joy, empowerment, and safety with learning for the rest of their lives, because every accomplishment begins with learning how to start.”
Taylor was also influenced by her TFA GNO teacher coach when she was a corps member in much the same way that she inspires Bobby.
“When I was a corps member, I leaned heavily on my TFA coach for support,” shared Taylor. “Throughout my first year of teaching, my coach stepped in as the warmth and guidance I desperately needed. She embodied the characteristics that we aspire to as excellent teachers. She would call me when I asked for help with pedagogy, and she’d show up to my school when I was facing challenges that I felt like I couldn’t overcome. She gave me sincere validation, honest feedback, and genuine encouragement. It was so beneficial to me to have a mentor who always reminded me of what I inherently brought to the classroom and my school community. Her unwavering support helped me define my own vision of excellence and see a clear path towards becoming the educator and mentor that I aspire to become.”
This experience ultimately led Taylor to join the TFA GNO Alumni Coaching Fellowship which pairs alumni teachers in years three through five as teacher coaches for corps members at their schools. The fellowship allows corps members to have the benefit of an in-school coach to support the training and development that they receive through TFA GNO’s teacher development programming. It also provides alumni teachers with additional leadership opportunities at their schools, which helps support teacher retention.
The program is wrapping-up its second year and has garnered incredible results. After its first year, ninety percent of alumni coaching fellows were retained in their school for another year, two fellows were promoted to leadership roles in their schools, and all school leaders reported they would participate in the program this year.
“I joined the TFA GNO Alumni Coaching Fellowship because I believe that supporting the ‘whole person’ applies to teachers just as it does to students,” said Taylor. “Teaching is just as challenging as it is rewarding, but the challenges often make new teachers believe that they are unfit for the job. It is important to me to hold space for teachers that allows them to work through their challenges and emotions collaboratively without fear of judgment and help them see that they are in fact the right person to be in the classroom.”
“It is important to me to hold space for teachers that allows them to work through their challenges and emotions collaboratively without fear of judgment and help them see that they are in fact the right person to be in the classroom.”
Bobby agrees, stating, “the great thing about Taylor is that she would listen, validate my feelings and frustrations, and then also push me to choose one topic to focus on for our meeting. Her calmness made me realize it was normal to be frustrated, it was normal to feel flustered; it was all just part of the growing process. Her push to focus on one specific, manageable aspect of class allowed me to declutter my brain and come up with effective, and often simple, solutions.”
Taylor’s approach to her coaching work has helped Bobby to reach his leadership potential in his classroom. This year, he was nominated as the only teacher from Orleans Parish for the prestigious Louisiana New Teacher of the Year Award.
“One of the biggest challenges of teaching has been that the true beauty of the job only reveals itself with time,” explained Bobby. “Having an experienced teacher as my mentor really showed me how helpful experience can be in teaching.”