Meeting challenges of teaching adolescents

Meeting challenges of teaching adolescents



“We are like the Rodney Dangerfield of the school system,” joked Richard Mantell, the UFT’s vice president for middle schools, as he opened the UFT’s third annual Middle School Conference on Saturday, March 19. “We get absolutely no respect.”

UFT Vice President for Middle Schools Richard Mantell (left) presents Senator Chuck Schumer with a UFT Middle Schools jacket.

But that was not the case for the nearly 400 middle school educators at the conference as they attended workshops, heard from elected officials and chatted with each other about the joys and challenges of teaching adolescents.

“We have a dual role,” said Mantell. “We’re not only teaching students, we’re helping them navigate the twists and turns of adolescence.”

The conference kicked off with a surprise visit by U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who recalled his own middle school teachers and noted, “There are very few elected officials whose kids go to public schools, but I know what a great education I got and I believe in you.”

Sounding a similar note, keynote speaker Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, spoke about the power a teacher’s attitude can have on students.

“Young people have come into your classrooms who have been broken,” he told the educators. “The power of you telling them, ‘Yes, you can,’ turns them around.”

Tina Schneider and Jackie Herman, both teachers at IS 98 in Brooklyn, give Senator Chuck Schumer a standing ovation.

Participants had their choice of 14 workshops, from nuts-and-bolts sessions analyzing the new scope and sequence of the Common Core Learning Standards to seminars with broader ideas about social and emotional learning in adolescents.

In one workshop called “Stand Up and Lead: The Art of Effective Communication and Creating Win-Win Dynamics,” participants shared personal examples of challenging conversations they’d had with administrators, parents or students. Facilitator Lindy Crescitelli then role-played the given scenario with a colleague, pausing to deliver an internal monologue to demonstrate that “what you mean to say is not always what they hear.”

In a social studies workshop, teachers worked in small groups to develop inquiry questions for their students using primary-source documents.

“I loved it,” enthused Thimoty Dally, who teaches special education at Kappa V in Brownsville. “Some of the documents used political cartoons so there was a visual learning component, and I was able to look at the documents and figure out how to scaffold them for my students.”

Educators learn how to integrate visual arts with social studies in a workshop called "What's Art Got to Do With It? Common Core and Arts Integration."

In a workshop on how to integrate theater and visual arts into Common Core subjects like ELA, science and social studies, participants worked at various content stations to complete challenges like creating a visual representation of mathematical directions to the Statue of Liberty or delivering a spoken phrase in different tones of voice.

“Sometimes when you’re teaching another discipline, you don’t want to teach outside the box,” said Rhonda Marmon-Harris, a history teacher at MS 61 in Crown Heights. “This helps dispel the fear of incorporating the arts when you’re teaching.”

As the day drew to a close, invigorated participants were eager to bring their new knowledge back to their classrooms.

“I’m a work in progress,” said Cheryl Saunders, a 6th-grade special education teacher at the Hudde School in Midwood, who has attended all three middle school conferences the union has held. “This betters my skills and helps me become a better teacher.”

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