Schooling teachers in the realities of urban education

When Jesse Solomon ’91 first started teaching at a middle school in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the 1990’s, he was overwhelmed. “I had 25 students working at eight different grade levels – some learning English, some on individual education plans,” he says. “I wasn’t ready for that level of complexity.” Fortunately, an experienced teacher was in the next room. “Every day before school, I would go and copy what she wrote on the board. She would talk to me about what she was going to do that day and how to think about the whole course, “he recalls.” That’s how I learned to be a teacher. “

In 2003, after teaching mathematics in high school for a decade, Solomon co-founded the Boston Teacher Residency (BTR) to replicate that experience on a more grand scale, helping new teachers become effective urban teachers. As executive director of the nonprofit Boston Plan for Excellence (BPE), Solomon oversees the program with two charter schools in Roxbury, a densely populated, low-income Boston neighborhood that is highly diverse and multilingual. At Dudley Neighborhood School (K – 5) and Dearborn STEM Academy (6–12), he leads a network of teachers, many of whom came through BTR. Solomon says, “There is no substitute for being a wolf alone and being a great teacher. “Network building is an essential part of the job.”

Solomon grew up in Cambridge, where his mother, Vicky, was a school librarian, and his father, Frank Solomon, was a professor at MIT Biology (now Emeritus). At MIT, where he majored in mathematics, Ross in urban studies inspired him to take a course on town-gown politics. Although he earned a master’s degree from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, he felt he needed more targeted training to teach in urban schools.

Prepared after medical residency, BTR guides teachers from one-on-one interactions to small group lessons to whole classes. Instructors practice them, first with other adults and then with students.

The goal is what Solomon calls “ambitious instruction” which is both “rigorous and exciting” so that students will enjoy learning and be challenged to do their best. BTR has trained more than 700 teachers, half of whom are color teachers, and helped build a network of dozens of other teacher residency programs across the country. This year, Solomon saw Dearborn’s first students graduate from college. Solomon says, “Clearly or not, our country teaches that not everyone needs to be smart. “Our goal at BTR is to teach a mindset that holds everyone in the class accountable for being brilliant – and we support teachers on the skills needed to push for that.”

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