This year, Sanchez is full-time in the classroom, where she observes and teaches alongside Kaye, 26, who has five years of experience and also entered the profession through an alternative route.
Sanchez feels lucky she got placed with Kaye. Both have upbeat personalities and can be warm and friendly with students while also being direct and strict. They hit it off from the beginning and often text each other in the evenings, sometimes about school and sometimes about their weekend plans or recipes they’ve tried at home.
Research suggests that mentors should have at least three years of experience, show evidence of being an effective teacher, and be able to provide feedback and lead professional conversations. They should also be willing not only to work with a student teacher, but to hand over their class to an amateur.
Jacqueline Greer, the executive director of Urban Teachers in D.C., believes spending a full year in a classroom as a co-teacher gives residents a leg up on their peers. “Urban teacher fellows in their first [solo] year just don’t look like first-year teachers,” Greer said. “You’re not going to see a classroom in disarray. You’re going to see a confident teacher.”
Teaching 4-year-olds requires specific skills and knowledge that isn’t always taught in preparation programs, said Robert Pianta, the dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia and the director of the National Center for Research on Early Childhood Education. “Four-year-olds are very curious and interested in being learners … they’re very eager to engage in conversation. They’re physically active.” Pianta said. “A teacher of 4-year-olds has to be an orchestra conductor.”
Back in Kaye and Sanchez’s classroom in the fall, it was time for Sanchez to work with a small group of students. At a table on the side of the classroom, Sanchez, wearing a gray shirt and black dress pants, sat down with four 4-year-olds to discuss their plans for the next activity of the day: free play.
First, Sanchez announced, each student would need to “play plan,” or write how they would spend their time during free play.
One boy immediately burst into tears. “I don’t want to play,” he said.
Sanchez calmly tapped the table where there was an empty seat and directed the boy to sit down. She turned to another student.
“Would you like to go first?”
“I’m going to make something,” the student responded.
“What would you like to make?” Sanchez asked.
“Umm … something beautiful.” She said quickly. “For the bathtub.”
“For the bathtub? So a toy for the baby?”
The student nodded.
Sanchez turned to the little boy who had slowly stopped crying.
“Are you ready to play plan?” she asked gently. He nodded. He had decided to go to the plastic toy kitchen area along a wall.
“OK, so you’re going to the kitchen. What are you going to do at the kitchen?” Sanchez asked.