Being a teacher resident during the pandemic, with its upending shift from teaching in a classroom to virtual lessons, fortified Tara Strade, BA ’19, MS ’20—as a graduate student and as a teacher in training. She had no choice but to find ways to balance her studies and lead second grade classes alongside her mentor teacher.
It was intense. The experience proved that she’d found her vocation. “There were times when I was stressed, but I just loved what I was doing so much,” said Strade. “The realism of this program is what makes it so hard. It unapologetically presents itself in a way that is just the most rigorous and intense thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Last year, Buffalo Public Schools hired her to teach fifth grade at the Buffalo Elementary School of Technology, where she did her residency. She flourished. When she started teaching science and English language arts, she was confident in her classes and felt freer to share her personality with her students. Her residency experience was key.
“It allows you to really play out and experience the struggles and frustrations of a teacher—without being totally crushed by it,” said Strade. “You have some support systems, and you have much of the weight being pulled by your mentor teacher, but it allows you to be in an environment that is very, very, very true to what it will actually be like for you to teach, as opposed to imagining situations that might never occur.”
The self-assurance that followed her residency year also gave Strade more time in the classroom. She stayed on top of the curriculum. She easily responded to a new district-wide initiative and integrated social-justice-related, culturally responsive instruction. She led conversations with students about topics in the news, like the Juneteenth holiday and the January 6 insurrection. “They saw what happened on the news and they wanted to talk about it,” said Strade. “They had the greatest comments, without me guiding them anywhere, like ‘Why is this happening?’”
And, because she felt comfortable sharing her informal, joking self with her students, she experimented with new learning approaches as they worked through the hybrid learning year that began online and finished in the classroom.
She could tell her students were responding to her authenticity. “I really am this crazy person trying to get you to love books and science and I think it makes them love it more,” she said. “It worked out really well. All my kids did very well.”
She led game show style quizzes. She called parents to share good news. During the December break, she spent nine hours driving to each of her student’s houses to deliver a holiday present—Mason jars of her homemade green slime. On Fun Fridays, when her students were feeling burned out during on-screen time, she used a microphone to make announcements and reveal the week’s winner of an MVP award, a distinction, highlighting good acts, given throughout the year to every student. She gave second chances for missed homework. She offered help anytime. An administrator observing her in action gave her strong evaluations.
“I had great relationships,” she said.
To her fifth graders, it seemed as if she’d been teaching for a long time. On a July evening, after dinner, a few of them came together on Zoom to reminisce about what it was like to have her as their teacher when she was a new graduate.
“You talked to us like you knew us for the whole year,” said Dontae. “I really miss you.”
Helen agreed. “It didn’t feel like your first year. It kind of felt like you were there for a very long time, teaching students,” she said. “You were the best teacher I ever had … When I forgot to do my homework, she was like, ‘You could have another chance.’ … Also, I always recognized she always complimented me … She was always on time. Also, she was like, ‘If you guys need help, you can always ask me later.’ … I had a lot of questions about the writing and stuff. She always answered politely.”
“The year went by quick,” said Demere.
“I miss getting yelled at with the microphone,” said Helen. “You’re always happy and joyful.”
When Strade laughed, Helen added, “That’s a fact.”
Then, before a chorus of goodbyes and an end to the Zoom call, Strade made the students promise to visit her in her classroom when school started this fall. “I cannot wait to see you in school,” she said. “Thank you so much for joining me. I’m so happy to see you!”
The profession benefits from having more than one model for preparing teachers, she said. She admits she would not have thrived as a first-year teacher if she’d only had the more standard 15 weeks of classroom practice as a graduate student. For her, the residency approach to teacher training worked.
“I would not be in this position, I would not feel as prepared as I am now,” she said, “and I would certainly not love what I’m doing, if I did not have this program.”