Bobbie Finocchio’s first teaching experience launched her career as an advocate for change and, three years ago, led to a job as one of the leaders of UB’s three-year-old Teacher Residency Program: As she began to work as a teacher educator associate and help lead this new program in Buffalo Public Schools, she was motivated by her own experience as a new teacher at 21.
When she first started teaching special education with 25 students in grades three, four and five in a public school outside of Boston, she felt stranded. She had to learn curriculums for each grade without colleagues on hand to assist.
As she remembers it, she was hired, directed to a classroom with a whole bunch of students and told, “OK, go!”
“It inspired me to become a principal,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘This isn’t right. There’s got to be a better way to support teachers.’”
When she moved to Buffalo in 2019 after working as an educator, teacher and principal for 15 years in Massachusetts, she did not expect to land a job that aligned so closely with her experience and vocation. When she noticed the GSE posting for someone to guide the new Teacher Residency Program, she applied. Her work coaching new teachers and helping them become great educators has been a surprisingly good fit. A week after she settled here with her family, she was helping to launch the program.
“This job doesn’t really feel like a job,” said Finocchio. “It’s really married all of the components of my experience and my favorite parts of my work.”
Like the graduate students selected for Teacher Residency, she is committed to urban education. Program training includes guidance about the complex nuances of an urban environment, like Buffalo, where students are racially, culturally, ethnically, linguistically and socio-economically diverse.
Residents learn to choose culturally responsive materials, like books with characters who reflect the students in the room. They also learn how to tune into and offer support for student needs, like food, that fall outside of academics.
“They’re sensitive issues,” said Finocchio. “It’s like social work really. That’s not part of a typical teacher training.”
For example, she said, a student who is a refugee may have trauma from the experience. Teachers need to be aware and offer support. When a class conversation shifts to topics, like current events, that touch on violence the student may welcome an offer to take a break.
“Empathy is part of the mission of the Teacher Residency,” said Finocchio. “This past year was a challenging year--politically and racially charged ... You don’t want to avoid those conversations. You want to have those conversations in a way where you’re approaching them carefully and empathically.”
For Finocchio, support would have been transformative when she was starting out in her 20s. As a new college graduate studying for her master’s degree in special education, there was little to prepare her when she held her first class in a room full of students. She had no formal guidance as she worked on reading, writing and math.
“Thinking back … I feel bad. I feel bad they had me for a teacher,” she said. “I wasn’t prepared.”
The experience inspired her to continue her graduate work. As she worked in her first teaching job, she finished her master’s in special education. From there, she earned a master’s in educational leadership. That work led her to get a doctorate in educational administration, a degree designed to train school superintendents and principals.
Her experience has helped her appreciate the residency’s changes and adaptations. “I’m witnessing an amazing collaboration between UB faculty, staff and Buffalo Public Schools that has evolved and gotten better,” said Finocchio.
They’ve worked out kinks like the logistics needed for residents to get inside school buildings. A new effort to have UB faculty share coursework details with mentor teachers was particularly effective, helping mentor teachers connect their input to topics in the news, like civil rights and the January insurrection. “The residents are getting awesome practice with support,” said Finocchio. “Every year, I feel that we’re getting better.”
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