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A Supportive Community For Teachers

A Supportive Community For Teachers

Friday, April 20, 2018

Duke TeachHouse exteriorIt’s been 19 years since the Columbine High School massacre felt like a galvanizing moment for gun reform.

Since then, an estimated 206,000 children have been affected by gun violence in American schools including the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida when 17 people were killed on February 14.

Students from Stoneman Douglas have since led the push for common sense gun reform. They’ve coordinated voter registration drives, national marches, and kept the conversation focused on the needs of America’s youth.

Today to mark the anniversary of Columbine and continue the push for safer communities, students across the nation took part in planned walkouts at 10 a.m.

But for teachers today, walking out of the classroom isn’t an option. For many more, neither is walking away.

Talking With Teachers

Teaching is more than a profession for Emily Stout, Corey Bray, and Yolanda Qin. It’s a calling. As Duke TeachHouse Fellows in their first and second year in the classroom, they’re also more than colleagues, they’re housemates.

Photos of Duke TeachHouse 2017-18 FellowsA living and learning community, Duke TeachHouse supports recent graduates of Duke’s teacher prep programs as they begin their careers in local public schools. Based in a historic home in the Cleveland-Holloway neighborhood of Durham, Stout, Bray, and Qin share the house with three other resident fellows who are early in their careers.

Originally, we were going to discuss what it was like transitioning from student to teacher and their experience as fellows.

But with the Stoneman Douglas shooting happening the day before our conversation—and now the student-led national movement keeping it in the headlines—it seemed impossible to avoid discussing the impact it had on their day.

An Atypical Day

A social studies teacher at Northern High School, Bray’s school day included two lockouts when administrators received reports from an unnamed source about a possible gun on campus.

During a lockout, no one is allowed in or out of the school but instruction is supposed to continue as planned. Lockdowns, on the other hand, are when students and staff must lock classroom doors and shelter in place until the threat has cleared.

Two other Durham schools, Eno Valley Elementary and Carrington Middle School, were also placed on lockout that day. While security investigated the threat—and ultimately found there was none—Bray and his students continued their lessons like normal.

Of course, their day was anything but normal. Cell phone videos recorded by Parkland students during the shooting made their rounds on the internet and many of his students—as well as Stout’s—had watched them.

“The whole day was just lots of jitters in the air. I had a lot of kids come up and tell me that they didn’t feel safe, that they were worried about getting shot, they had seen all the videos from [Parkland],” Bray said.

“They were the worst,” Stout added soberly.

A Supportive Community

On a typical day, the Duke TeachHouse offers a space for early career teachers to learn, grow, and feel supported. Programming for the house includes special dinner guests like Bryan Proffitt, the President of the Durham Association of Educators. Opportunities for meaningful conversations with other educators, administrators, and policy leaders are routine in the house.

Stout, Qin, and Bray are particularly excited about an upcoming visit to Finland with TeachHouse Director Jan Riggsbee. They’ll be touring schools and speaking with Finnish educators about the educational system there. It’s one of the most esteemed education systems globally, Stout said, so it’s an honor just to be invited into the schools.

The day after the Stoneman Douglas tragedy, TeachHouse was an invaluable space for frank conversation and support. Bray and Stout talked about the challenges they faced in the classroom as high school teachers while Qin spoke about her own unique challenges in the elementary school setting.

But Stout was also quick to point out that while the news often focuses on education cuts in the state, the debate about gun reform, and the continuing trauma of school violence, teachers are going about the business of educating students and savoring moments of success in the classroom.

Removed from the legislative decisions, their schedules are more than full planning lessons, responding to individual student’s needs, managing parental involvement, and working with administrators. Those responsibilities alone make for an exhausting day.

“The adult coworkers I have are very supportive and wonderful, but we don’t always get to see each other and talk about these things as they happen because we have so much going on with planning, and grading, and meetings, and everything,” Stout said. “It really can feel like you’re on another planet sometimes and TeachHouse has helped me feel less isolated. I have a community that’s going to back me up and express genuine appreciation for what I do.”

The premise of Duke TeachHouse is a powerful recognition that the first years of teaching can be difficult and that support from peers can make all the difference at the beginning of their careers.

“I definitely had a bit of trepidation going into year one and it was nice to know I had the infrastructure of the house below me,” Bray said.

While the TeachHouse programming offers incredible opportunities for professional development, it’s often these small moments connecting with one another in the house that sustain them and strengthen their love of teaching early on.

With backing from Duke’s Social Science Research Institute (SSRI), Duke’s Program in Education, Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, Duke’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs (DARA), Durham Public Schools (DPS), and Forward Impact, Duke TeachHouse is designed to bolster teacher recruitment and retention efforts within the local public education system.

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