Guyneisha Johnson

BRI Math Coach

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

After graduating from college in Denver, I attended Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, where I majored in African-American studies and history. During my senior year, as I prepared to apply for law school, a former Gustavus alumni came to speak to our class about Teach for America. I wanted to be a juvenile defense attorney, but that speaker made me realize that teaching was the best way for me to reach students. This is my seventh year in education, mostly teaching third grade math, science, and social studies.

What do you like about teaching / coaching?

Teaching allows me to be creative, mentor, collaborate, and continuously grow.  It’s exciting to do for students what my teachers did for me. I love it when my students know they have built the skills and confidence necessary to be successful at math.

Now,  in my role as a math coach, I am able to collaborate with teachers to build their skills, provide professional development on the Common Core state standards, and give specific feedback and coaching. Teacher support is key to teacher retention. My job is to give teachers the support and development they need to ensure student achievement.

What challenges do you face in your current environment?

As our upper grades have transitioned to teaching the Common Core standards exclusively, teachers are charting unfamiliar territory. With the new standards, there is a new assessment to measure student achievement. The standards and assessment require shifts for students and teachers.

Teacher turnover and retention has also been a challenge. We work hard to recruit and retain quality educators so our students can have the best education possible, but working in a rural area is not always the most attractive thing to a teacher.

Who are your students, and what challenges do they face?

I have taught mostly third graders, but I spent one year teaching a third grade transition/accelerated class. With a group of 15 students who had retained between one and three years before reaching the third grade, I taught third and fourth grade math standards in one school year, with the goal of these students successfully promoting to fifth grade at the end of the year. This issue of retention causes a number of unintended consequences including, but not limited to, potential loss of self-esteem, higher risk of dropping out of school and higher risk of misbehavior.

What are your thoughts on the Common Core?

As an educator, I am excited about the Common Core standards, as they will allow us to narrow the scope of skills so that we can teach them more thoroughly. The progression of skills from kindergarten through later grades makes sense. Each math standard builds on previously learned skills so students have the foundational knowledge necessary to prepare them for algebra.

The PARRC assessment means that we can move away from strictly multiple choice questioning and start to have students justify their answers and explain their processes for solving problems in writing and manipulate items to show their answers.  This will change the formative and summative assessments that teachers give students, and the assessments’ requirements prepare students for college, as professors consider answers in multiple ways.

What’s your relationship with BRI like? How has the Institute supported or helped you?

I have worked at a BRI school for the past five years. The institute partnered with our school to turn it around. They have provided professional development and evaluations on teaching and culture to give us feedback necessary to turning our school around. While working with my school, I have been able to have some of my most successful years as a teacher and complete graduate school and an administrative internship.

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