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Meet NYC Teacher Erin Daly

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    April Hattori

Erin Daly is a fifth grade teacher at P.S. 36 in the South Bronx where 69% of the students are Hispanic and 91% receive Free and Reduced Lunch. She is in her sixth year of teaching and left a “boring 9-5 office job” to pursue a master’s in Elementary Education at Hofstra University to realize her dream of being in the classroom. Her class consists of 16 general education students, 11 special education students, and three English Language Learners.  

In the summer of 2012, Daly was part of a curriculum development team for fifth grade trying to develop lessons that would be rigorous, challenging, and meet the high standards of the Common Core. “We were frustrated because we were spending many hours trying to find resources and create assessments and projects to accompany our units of study and nothing was coming together as we wanted it to,” she said.

A few days before the start of the 2012-13 school year, the team found and decided to use Expeditionary Learning's curriculum, a year before it was recommended as an option by the New York Department of Education. “After reviewing the lessons, we were so excited because these were the type of lessons we wanted to create but were unable to.”

Daly noted that she finds the curriculum “engaging, rigorous, challenging, exciting, and successful.” She added:  “I was pleasantly surprised at how many different activities and protocols were included in each lesson. I also loved all the group work that the students got to participate in.”

She said the progress she has seen in her students has been amazing. “All of my students have moved at least two reading levels so far this year, and some as many as four. I have seen the struggle with the Common Core but I also have been lucky to see the success.”

She noted that the lessons are designed so that the students do the “heavy lifting” and they become much more responsible for their own learning.   “I have even begun incorporating some of the ELA protocols found in the lessons into my math lessons and I have found them to be surprisingly successful,” she said.

Daly views the curriculum as a framework to help adapt to the needs of her students. “Any state-approved program is going to require some modifications because no program is going to be perfect for every student. It is our job as teachers to make it work for our students,” she said.

For example, she modifies graphic organizers or adds “fishbowls” (group discussions that teach a variety of social skills) or “chalk talk” (silent way to generate ideas, solve a problem or reflect on learning) to some lessons to allow students to begin to build ideas.

“So when it comes time for deep discussion and hard work, the students feel more prepared and have something to build on others’ ideas or enhance their writing,” she noted.

One of the most important success factors in implementing the curriculum has been the support of school leadership.  “Having a supportive Principal who allows us to take our time, break lessons down, and give students the time and materials they need to be successful has been key. I am lucky to work with a wonderful principal, Elvira Maresca, who allows us the time and freedom to make the modules work for us.”

In addition, other support structures also ensure her success. Daly noted that as the grade leader, she meets with other teachers once a week to share information and plan how they are going to make the units work for their students.  The school also offers regular professional development and has an “amazing literacy coach,” - Christine Lally - who helps “in a million different ways to make the modules successful.”  

Daly notes that she has heard more concerns about the Common Core than praise, but believes in its promise.  “We are asking our students to challenge themselves and elevate their thinking to the next level.  In my school we call it a productive struggle.  We recognize the struggle that students AND teachers are going through to be able for all learners to reach the standards successfully,” she said.