For Manuela Hurtado, a student in SUNY Old Westbury’s Teacher Opportunity Corps (TOC), seeing is believing — and motivational.
An aspiring bilingual teacher, Hurtado said the TOC program’s intensive, hands-on approach gave her an early chance to see what a bilingual classroom looks like.
“TOC gives us a head start on student teaching by allowing us to see what actually goes on inside the classroom, not just read about it in a textbook,” Hurtado said. After entering TOC in her sophomore year, Hurtado was amazed when she got to see a bilingual kindergarten in action.
“Sitting in on that classroom expanded my vision of the bilingual educator I would like to be one day,” said Hurtado, who came to this country at the age of 3 but never had the chance to attend a bilingual program.
“I saw myself in many of these students and I know they will be so much more prepared than I was."
For TOC intern Joshua Barrett, his special ed fieldwork with one of Freeport’s mentor teachers has been such a positive experience that he’s chosen to continue his placements in her grade 3–4 inclusion class. “I really like her teaching style and I’ve learned so much,” Barrett said.
The early field placements, which continue each semester right up until the traditional student teaching placement senior year, are among the many supportive activities under a statewide grant program to 16 public and private colleges.
“The purpose of TOC is to increase the number of historically underrepresented and economically disadvantaged individuals in teaching careers,” said Nancy Brown, dean of Old Westbury’s School of Education.
TOC interns, who must meet admission requirements including a 3.0 grade point average, must be full-time students taking at least 12 credits per semester.
“Our goal is to recruit and support high quality teacher candidates and create a supportive learning community,” said Michelle Wohlman- Izakson, an adjunct professor and assistant director of SUNY Old Westbury’s TOC. “We emphasize important lifelong skills and culturally responsive teaching. We want to give them all the tools they need to hit the ground running and be successful."
To do this, TOC offers a wide range of support, including tutoring, mentoring, ongoing professional enrichment and leadership opportunities.
The state’s Teacher Opportunity Corps II program provides $3 million annually to 16 public and private colleges, including: SUNY Cortland, Oswego and Old Westbury; and CUNY Brooklyn, Hunter, Medgar Evers, Lehman and Queens colleges.
Aside from the traditional teacher education coursework, interns attend “professional polish” seminars every semester, which include guest speakers and practical workshops such as how to set up a classroom — and tips on how to pay for it.
“The workshops are really valuable,” Barrett said. “Last year, we had a resume workshop with a number of principals who came in and told us what they look for, what stands out."
Student interns are encouraged to submit ideas for future seminars, and at times, lead them themselves. They attend various professional learning events sponsored by area schools, colleges and organizations such as The Regional Center for Autism.
“The financial support TOC offers our interns toward tuition, books, certification exam fees, etc., is important; however, our TOC has grown to offer more,” said Project Co-Director Jeanne Shimizu, a member of UUPOld Westbury.
Hurtado agreed, saying the TOC support system is crucial to getting over all the hurdles to becoming a teacher. “Being part of TOC allows us to network with students and faculty on a deeper level,” she said. “We are brought into a community of advisers and professionals who help us get through every step of the process."
NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango said expanding promising programs like TOC is essential if the state wants to recruit and retain a more diverse teaching pool.
“All students, whether in urban, suburban or rural schools, benefit from a diverse teacher workforce.”