The most important element of my
pre-service teaching experience was my cooperating teacher, Keri Crocco. She welcomed me into her seventh-grade classroom at North Shore Middle School on Long Island and gently guided me through every aspect of what makes a great teacher‚in practice, not just theory. The lessons she taught me were invaluable and even today, seven years later, I remember and utilize everything she taught me. Even though I have always had a raw talent and a heartfelt passion for teaching, without the jewels of knowledge and experiential opportunities that Keri so freely provided to me during my six months with her, I would not have had the confidence as a new teacher that I had. That confidence opened up many doors for me and over and over again I have been commended for my sometimes unconventional methodologies and approaches to teaching kids. Keri is a huge part of that.
Keri Crocco sets the bar high for what a cooperating teacher is supposed to be and do. She taught me not only how to draft a potential lesson into a written-down plan, but also the importance of spending time planning. She taught me to be malleable with those plans in order to meet the needs of my students; she taught me to always trust my instincts; she taught me to hone in on my innate love of the arts and to bring them into my English language arts classroom at every turn; she taught me to hold classes outside whenever possible; she taught me to just be me, regardless of who enters into the classroom, and to teach my students to do the same. She taught me to know how to use technology, but to always have a back-up plan of old school resources—pen, paper, crayons, markers, glue sticks, and construction paper—just in case. She taught me that teaching is an all-consuming profession and that I will forevermore be thinking about my students and will see everything as a teachable moment for my students as I go throughout my everyday life. Because of these truths, she taught me to never take my work home: instead, pick one or two days a week where I stay late or come early to work and do my paperwork, grading, and tutoring. Family first. What wisdom.
Paying it Forward
I earned my certification to teach during my undergraduate studies of English/Secondary Education at the CW Post campus of Long Island University. This was my mom’s, Phyllis Hemans’ (RIP), alma mater. I grew up hearing great things about my mom’s experience at Post, which played a major role in my choice to go there. As a burgeoning teacher, one of the most beneficial aspects of Post’s program was allowing me to pick the school where I would conduct my pre-service teaching hours. This is a major decision because it is ultimately the equivalent of your teaching boot camp. Luckily my experience was a positive one; however, I remember being in senior seminar class with fellow soon-to-be teachers who were treated like glorified babysitters during their months of pre-service teaching. They weren’t allowed to pick their placement. The teachers they were placed with to mentor them did not want the responsibility. The whole experience deterred many who started off with high hopes going into the profession. At a time when we need passionate teachers in the classroom, this is not something we can afford to do. In turn, do not agree to be a cooperating teacher merely for the college credits that you will get. You have to sincerely want to pay it forward to the next crop of teachers. At the end of my student-teaching, Keri and our students threw me a surprise going-away party. I will never forget that day, especially the moment when they presented me with a book of poems that the children had authored and illustrated for me. During some of my most challenging days as a teacher, those poems have reminded me why I became a teacher. Those students graduated from high school two years ago. They showed me a lot of love. Just like Keri, they taught me well.
Vivett Dukes (nèe Hemans) is in her eighth year as a middle and high school English Language Arts teacher. For her first four years in the DOE, she taught in an all-male, all minority, urban public school in Southside Jamaica, Queens erected for the express purpose of counteracting the pervasive school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately impacts Black and Brown boys. Currently, she is ...