For most students, there is nothing more daunting than figuring out what they want to do once they graduate. But for more than 150 students from several Long Island schools, they have a pretty good idea, or at least something they are interested in: teaching.
“It’s nice to see all the young faces around, actually being excited about possibly becoming a teacher and the experience itself has been wonderful here,” said Kaitlyn Kayserilioglu, one of the students attending and president of her school’s Take a Look at Teaching Club.
The Take a Look at Teaching Convening was held at Long Island University in Nassau County, and hosted students from local schools including Brentwood, Roosevelt, North Shore, Farmingdale, Rockville Centre and Oceanside. The more than 150 students who attended heard from New York’s 2024 Teacher of the Year Zach Arenz, 2021 Minnesota Teacher of the Year Qorsho Hassan, New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Lester Young, Board of Regents Member Roger Tilles, and NYSUT Executive Vice President Jamie Ciffone, among others.
“Take a Look at Teaching allows potential future educators to get a glimpse into this wonderful profession and to foster the growth and development of our next generation of teachers,” said Ciffone.
Organized by 2021 New York State Teacher of the Year, Jen Wolfe, the TALAT Convening looked to bring TALAT clubs and classes from around Long Island together to introduce students to several aspects of the teaching profession, including how to build a classroom community, teaching wellness and the basics of the job.
“We want world class students, we need a world class teaching force,” said Chancellor Young. “But that means we need to treat teaching as a profession. And I’m not sure we do that right now.”
While New York state, and the rest of the nation, are facing a teacher shortage, the Convening showed the enthusiasm these students have for a potential future career. “The Take a Look at Teaching program has tapped into something that was not tapped into before,” said Brentwood High School English teacher, Natalia O’Brien. “I’m teaching a class on Exploring Teaching that really does show them that the pathway is possible and successful. It has success at the end. I think Take a Look at Teaching has made that possible.”
O’Brien created the Exploring Teaching course after a meeting on Zoom a couple years ago and hearing about a similar course in the Half Hollow Hills Central School District. After connecting with the teacher running that program, she started her own at Brentwood. Students in the class, which is structured like a college course, write lessons and lesson plans, and have the opportunity to teach elementary students while being observed by O’Brien.
“I love seeing the diversity of the students here,” said O’Brien. “It’s an incredible honor to be an advisor and be a part of this program because you’re seeing the diversity that wasn’t there when I was a kid.”
Being exposed to diverse voices and cultures is important to Desiree Romero, another one of the students who attended. She is looking to become a teacher in either English or Social Studies and work with special education students. “It’s one of those things that when you see a teacher who shares the same skin color as you, it instills that strength of, “I can do this. I can go beyond,”” said Romero, who is indigenous.
What students and educators came away with from the Convening was universal: that teaching is and can be an exciting and worthy career.
“I think they often harp on the negative or what they see as the negative, especially in the media, and to understand that it is a career that is fulfilling on so many different levels,” said O’Brien on what she wants students to take away from the conference. “It’s the idea of your soul being fulfilled, it’s a calling. And oftentimes they don’t see that. They have to see the bigger picture and showing them that picture makes it a more viable pathway for them.”
Romero agreed. “I think, at the end of the day, if a teacher can inspire a student, I think that’s one of the most magical things that can happen.”