At barely five feet, Brenda Miranda-Gomez is smaller than most people. But she moves faster, and with much more purpose. Trailing her around Match High School is to see a young woman who has found her calling: teacher.
She’s already developed eyes in the back of her head. During the four minute transition time between classes she doles out a series of instructions, reprimands and encouragement to students as she weaves her ways through the crowded hallways: “Tuck in your shirt, Israel.” “I’ll see you in tutorial later, right?” “Where are you supposed to be right now?” “Hey, I consider freakin’ a bad word.” “High-five, let’s go.”
Brenda has two little brothers. She credits this with her natural tendency to be in charge. Brenda grew up with her two brothers, and her mom, in an urban and largely Latino neighborhood in Riverside, CA. Brenda knew from an early age that she wanted to move away from her home city, in her words, “to get out and be successful.” She excelled in high school and attended UC-Berkeley, where she majored in math.
As graduation approached, she started researching education-focused organizations and got curious about charter schools. “I wished I’d had the ‘no excuses’ charter model for myself growing up,” she says. She had friends who’d done Teach For America, but nobody she knew stuck with teaching after they’d completed their two-year TFA commitment. She knew she wanted to try something different. And she knew she wanted to live on the East coast. So, she applied and was accepted to the Match Teacher Residency (MTR), the first year of the Sposato Graduate School of Education.
MTRs spend the first year of Sposato’s two-year Master’s program working full-time as a tutor at a Match campus or teaching assistant at one of our partner schools, and completing coursework and practice (including Group of Six) on the weekends. During the spring semester of the school year, MTRs also teach at least two full class periods a week. During the second year of the program, Sposato graduate students work as full-time teachers, continuing their coursework online and receiving regular feedback and coaching from Sposato faculty. (Brenda has accepted a job teaching 9th grade math and Excel Academy High School next year.)
The culture of continuous feedback is one of Brenda’s favorite things about Sposato, along with her students, the good friends she’s made and the opportunity to live in a new city. (Her first time in Boston was when she moved here.) “I love how immediate and specific the feedback is,” she says. “I can implement it quickly and keep getting better.”
The day we visit, Brenda has several tutoring sessions and is student teaching a 9th grade algebra class. Brenda can do high school math in her sleep, but during tutorial, she slows down the pace of her kids. She bounces her right knee under the table as she works and clicks her four-color ballpoint pen from red to blue ink. “We’re going to go through it step by step so it sinks in a little more,” she says. Together, they work through math problems that require students to factor out the leading coefficient, write equations as binomials, identify the vertex and write quadratic equations for given points on a graph.
In class, Brenda immediately gets her kids to work on a “do now.” She gives a kid with the sniffles a tissue (early-spring colds are hanging on), and walks to the back of the classroom to stand next to a student who looks disengaged, slumped over in his chair. The aim of the day’s lesson is to transform quadratic equations. Her class is an energetic mix of lecture and independent practice. It’s orderly and you can see how hard she works to put the thinking work – the cognitive load – back on her students.
Being a teacher, especially a new teacher, is hard for many reasons. But it’s especially hard because of the thousands of decisions teachers are required to make every hour. Sposato gives its students lots of on-the-job and simulated practice to help many of those decisions start to feel instinctual. Before every student teaching day, Brenda’s faculty coach from Sposato gives her something specific to concentrate on- an instructional move or a classroom management technique called a big takeaway – during class. On this day, Brenda is working on setting clear expectations by being more intentional about how she uses the white board at the front of the class. This is the kind of nitty-gritty, specific feedback she loves, because it’s so actionable.
After her lesson, Brenda has a 45-minute feedback session with her Sposato coach, Jawad Brown. (Jawad was a 7th and 8th grade math teacher for several years before joining Match). He starts off the coaching session by asking Brenda how she thinks the class went – what went well, what could have gone better, what she was thinking and feeling at certain moments in the lesson. He congratulates Brenda on a great day. Her big takeaway for the next lesson? Challenging students to use more mathematical vocabulary. She’ll implement it during the following day’s lesson.
“In middle and high school my teachers kept me going,” Brenda says. “They helped me believe I could go to Cal, that I could major in math. When I look at my kids, I know I want to do the same thing for them.”