July/August 2021 Issue
June 13, 2021

‘Grow Your Own’ initiatives inspire future educators

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
take a look at teaching
Caption: Half Hollow Hills teacher Caitlin Caiazza, at right, says a high school elective course led by Jessica Nolan, left, helped inspire her to become a special education math teacher. Photo provided.

For Caitlin Caiazza, an “Exploring Teaching” course at Half Hollow Hills High School was eye-opening.

“When we shadowed teachers at different levels and subject areas, it was super helpful,” Caiazza said. “It made me realize elementary is definitely not a good fit for me, so I focused on secondary instead.”

The course also helped steer Caiazza into becoming a special education math teacher at her high school alma mater.

“I still remember the director of special education — my current director — coming in and giving us a presentation,” she said. “It certainly helped guide me.”

Caiazza’s experience is typical of the many students who have participated in Jessica Nolan’s “Exploring Teaching” high school elective and Future Educators Club at Half Hollow Hills. “The goal is to expose them to as much as possible,” said Nolan, a social studies teacher who has taught the course and run the club for about 15 years.

For some, the experience inspires a student to enthusiastically pursue a career in education. For others, she said, a day shadowing a teacher prompts some students to conclude, “Whoa, this is hard work!” and decide that education is not a good career choice for them.

Nolan shared her experiences earlier this spring at a Take a Look at Teaching conference co-sponsored by NYSUT, United University Professions, SUNY and the State Education Department.

Nolan’s coursework and club offer various “buddy” programs, after-school elementary tutoring, job shadowing and school-wide activities such as celebrating teacher appreciation week. Students design 15-minute mini-lessons and present them to elementary classes. Others volunteer in a specialized program for students with autism.

Nolan believes it’s important to introduce students to a wide range of options within the education profession beyond teaching, including school counseling, social work and occupational and speech therapy. She has also arranged visits to New York City classrooms so that students can see what it’s like to teach in an urban setting.

NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango said the union will be working with local teacher unions around the state on a wide variety of “Grow Your Own” programs for middle and high school students, thanks to a major grant from the National Education Association.

“NYSUT’s priority is to develop a strong pipeline of diversified and talented educators who are valued and supported,” DiBrango said. “‘Grow Your Own’ programs like these two at Half Hollow Hills are a wonderful way to develop aspiring educators who are strongly connected to the school and community.”

Grow Your Own

For local leaders and members interested in starting or expanding local “Grow Your Own” initiatives, NYSUT has posted resources at takealookatteaching.org. The TALAT Educator Career Framework offers a menu of suggested activities to help middle and high school students learn more about themselves and think about a career in teaching.