May 25 2017

New York City Nonprofit Fosters Community and Supports STEM Teachers

Through flexible learning opportunities, teachers find inspiration to stay in the classroom.

About 46 percent of teachers report a high level of daily stress that negatively impacts their health, sleep and teaching performance, a study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Penn State University finds. In turn, when their teachers are highly stressed, students exhibit lower academic achievement. All in all, the study finds that this stress likely leads to educators leaving the classroom.

Founded in 2004, Math for America is a nonprofit organization working to support some of those educators by offering paid fellowships to New York City-based science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers.

In New York City, MfA educators have only a 4 percent attrition rate, compared to the 9 percent of other STEM teachers in the city.

“We’re trying to build community in really intentional ways that teachers need,” says MfA’s executive director Megan Roberts. “We try to respect and recognize teachers at every turn. Really, we try to be a catch-all for the highly-accomplished teachers who might choose to leave the profession.”

MfA’s highly competitive fellowships rely on flipped and personalized learning concepts that teachers are using for their students, to create a program that Roberts calls a “choose-your-own-adventure.”

Personalized PD and Tech Tools Are Key Components

The courses in the MfA fellowship are separated into five different formats:

  • Professional learning teams (PLTs) that are co-led by two teachers and meet for four sessions to deeply explore pedagogy.
  • Mini-courses, which are multiple connected sessions on specific content areas.

  • Extended-length courses that meet throughout a semester or year on specific content or pedagogy.

  • Single-session workshops, which are essentially seminars.

  • Interest groups, where teachers meet informally to work together on an issue.

“Our structure of learning is completely voluntary and each type is incredibly different depending on if a teacher is interested in pedagogy or leadership skills,” says Roberts.

MfA also doesn’t shy away from the cutting-edge technology that is needed to teach 21st century STEM skills. Roberts says their courses don’t spend a lot of time on introductory STEM. Instead, educators are working on coding in Java and C++, as well as 3D printing and modeling.

Patrick Honner, a Brooklyn-based math teacher who has renewed his four-year MfA fellowship twice, says a mini-course on 3D printing was what inspired him to regularly use the tools in his classes.

Initially intrigued by a generous stipend, Honner says the strong community support and flexible opportunities play a big role in why he has stayed with MfA for so long.

“It’s really helped me craft an identity as a teacher,” says Honner. “It’s helped me realize what’s important and how I want to grow. The flexible support makes it possible for me to find those opportunities to grow and learn.”


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