Brianne Ellis ’13, who was accepted into the Teach for America (TFA) Program this summer, was mentioned in an article in Tulsa World, which discusses the training program that TFA recruits are participating in at Key Elementary School in Tulsa, Okla., this summer.
Ellis is one of 700 new Teach of America recruits participating in the five-week training program under the guidance of TFA’s own instructors, plus the local teachers who serve as advisers to the recruits.
Ellis graduated from William Smith with a B.A. in anthropology/sociology and Latin American studies with a minor in child advocacy. She will begin her two-year teaching stint with the program in Miami, Fla., following the training curriculum.
The full article follows.
Teach for America recruits gain experience locally
Andrea Eger • World Staff Writer • June 22, 2013
Sixteen years of teaching is not so long that Kelly Vilner can’t remember what those first anxious weeks in the classroom were like.
So when she was chosen to be one of 200 veteran local teachers mentoring 700 new Teach for America recruits this summer, she didn’t just show up with knowledge and experience to impart.
The Key Elementary School teacher also brought an entire carload of classroom supplies with her.
“Being a brand-new teacher and coming here from out of state with just one suitcase, I didn’t have anything with me,” laughed Brianne Ellis, 22, a Cleveland, Ohio, native who is here training for her upcoming two years of teaching in Miami, Fla. “We would have very bare classrooms without all of those materials she brought because Wal-Mart and Target are sold out of everything right now.”
The local faculty advisers each mentor three or four of the Teach for America recruits who are in Tulsa for five weeks of training to prepare for at least two years’ service in a classroom in underserved communities around the country.
Part of the five-week crash course that these mostly non-education majors get is teaching Tulsa Public Schools’ 6,000-plus summer school students. They do so under the watchful eyes of Teach for America’s own instructors, plus the local teachers who serve as their faculty advisers.
Vilner, faculty adviser to Ellis and three other recruits teaching at Skelly Elementary this summer, applied for the gig because of what she witnessed as a substitute at last year’s summer school.
“I saw the way they worked and how professional they were and how they were able to figure out what made different kids work,” Vilner said. “It’s also really nice having small class sizes and parents who are really motivated.”
Faculty advisers are there in the classroom each day to both demonstrate instructional and classroom management techniques and to provide feedback about the newbies’ approach.
As Ali Fendrick, a 21-year-old recent graduate of the University of Michigan, leads a discussion of story structure with first-graders, Vilner quietly watches from the wings.
“The beginning is the start and the end is what? The end!” Fendrick said, using verbal cues to keep her young charges on task.
“I am so impressed. They have full control over their kids and they’re here because they really want kids to learn,” Vilner said proudly. “Sometimes I whisper suggestions or pass them a note because it is their space, so I respect their space.”
After just a few days in the classroom, Fendrick, who is also Miami-bound, said Vilner’s insights are already helping her adapt to her many new tasks and responsibilities.
“We are always looking for how to be better at everything because we’re new to all of this and one thing that is really hard is finding that balance between wanting to be their friend and being their teacher and being in control of behavior,” Fendrick said.
She offered an example of when Vilner gently nudged her to be more firm and another example of how Vilner had demonstrated for her how to address a problem student in a respectful way.
“One child’s behavior problems were so serious that it was almost time to call the parent, and Kelly modeled for us how to have a discussion about behavior with a student in that situation,” Fendrick said.
“And she will be in control of that next round,” Vilner said.
Ellis, who just graduated from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York, noted that Vilner has attended instructional sessions with the new teachers she is mentoring and has taken notes right alongside them.
“It has been so exciting and kind of nerve-wracking, but I have felt very successful,” Ellis said.
“Kelly’s definitely more seasoned than us, but she doesn’t just want to help. She’s so willing to learn and that’s very inspiring to us.”
Teach for America in Oklahoma
A group of Tulsa leaders banded together to bring Teach For America to Tulsa in 2009, beginning with 75 new teachers for classrooms in Tulsa Public Schools and Community Action Project of Tulsa County. By 2011, TFA’s teacher recruitment expanded to include Oklahoma City, and now the TFA teaching corps in Oklahoma classrooms numbers more than 300.
In 2012, Tulsa was selected as a new site for a TFA Summer Institute, where nearly 700 new recruits undergo their five weeks of initial training before beginning their twoyear teaching commitment in cities across the U.S.