Published January 15, 2020
Sydney Favors stands before a history class at South Park High School and asks the students to consider what led citizens to rebel during the French and American revolutions.
She then discusses the sense of pride, a feeling of belonging and the need to support others that people experience within their culture. Think of the Bills Mafia or Patriots Nation, she says.
“The Bills Mafia is a community,” she says. “It’s your culture, your people.”
Merging 18th century world history with Sundays at New Era Field is just one way that Favors and 11 fellow UB graduate students are excelling in UB’s new Teacher Residency Program.
Led by the university’s Graduate School of Education, the program offers a different route into the teaching profession. Traditionally, students earn their degree and spend a few months student teaching before taking a full-time job.
In the residency program, the 12 teacher residents in the inaugural class are working full time the entire school year alongside veteran teachers. They take classes in the summer, at night and online. They receive an $18,000 stipend and obtain their master’s degree after 15 months.
“In Buffalo and across the nation, school districts are struggling with teacher shortages, as well as with a lack of diversity in teacher candidates,” says Suzanne Rosenblith, dean of the Graduate School of Education. “This partnership with Buffalo Public Schools will help address these critical issues by building a foundation of qualified teachers who ultimately will help students succeed while improving the quality of education in our city schools.”
The program is supported by funding from the Buffalo-based Cullen Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Quality Partnership grant program.
While UB’s teacher residents have been in city schools only a few months, they’re already connecting with students.
Isa Salim, 15, is a student in the South Park High history class led by mentor teacher Paul McPartland. Salim loves eating lunch in the classroom because that’s where Favors eats her lunch.
“She’s, like, chill,” he says. “She’s like a cool wave.
“I can talk to her and I feel comfortable,” he adds. “You won’t get mad at her or too bored with her.”
“Most of the students prefer her,” says Laura Boland, special education teacher in McPartland’s class. “They like us, but she is the cool one.”
This connection between teacher resident and students is a key ingredient, says Amanda Winkelsas, the program’s director.
“There’s research to suggest that students who have strong connections with just one adult in the school building are more likely to come to school and graduate,” Winkelsas told the teacher residents during a group meeting in Baldy Hall on UB’s North Campus.
She added: “Your impact is real, whether you can immediately see it or not. You could very well be the reason they are coming to school because you are the one saying hello and expressing an interest in their lives.”
Winkelsas recently asked each teacher resident to share a story of a special relationship they’ve developed with a student.
Teacher resident Matthew Cato remembered accidentally knocking over one of the student’s Pringles one morning. Cato bought the student new ones for lunch, just as he said he would. Ever since, the student keeps telling other students how Cato keeps his promises. “Trust me,” Cato heard the student say. “He’ll follow through.”
“He’s always dressed in black,” Cato told his UB classmates. “He never smiles, and he usually has his head down. He’s an athlete, a rough kid overall. So I love trying to make him laugh because he is so serious. When he does smile, it’s like gold. He just has the sweetest smile, even though he is the biggest, toughest football kid.”
Favors, who feels strongly about urban students seeing women — and women of color — in the classroom, says student connections are the “best part of my experience.” She met a senior named Cantajah, who Favors describes as assertive, hilarious and curious.
“When she comes into class, she immediately comes over to my desk and says something like, ‘Ms., why are you always smiling at me?’ I always tell her I am happy to see her,” Favors says. “In response, she will usually give a slight smirk. Cantajah and I have talked about her future career aspirations in the health care industry. She wants to become a nurse or health care worker.
“I find that when you invest time with the students and respect them, they likely will reciprocate with similar actions,” Favors adds.
The teacher residents have built intense and sometimes revealing relationships with each other.
“We’re like a family. We look out for each other,” says Angelique Santiago, echoing several fellow teacher residents. “We can always lean on each other if we don’t understand something. We are all in this together.”
Resident teacher Tara Strade called the program one of the most emotionally, mentally and physically taxing journeys she has ever undertaken, but she is thankful for it, nonetheless.
“Despite our hardships and struggles as a cohort, we are a family — the bond we have created with one another is indescribable and comforting,” Strade wrote in an email to UBNow. “At the end of the day, it is the beauty of these relationships — with each other, with our students, professors, mentors, and the lot — that continue to drive us to be the best we can be.”
For teacher residents, the “main feature of the program is the sustained, clinical experience of one year in a Buffalo public school with a mentor teacher who is able to provide guidance and support throughout the residency while residents engage in coursework,” Winkelsas says.
But teacher residents aren’t the only ones benefitting from the program.
McPartland, the South Park history teacher, says the fact that Favors and other UB students are in the classroom year-round — not for the usual eight weeks — makes a big difference.
“I’ve been teaching 23 years,” he says. “To bring in young, up-to-date ideas of teaching, it helps me expand my own experiences. She brings in a younger perspective the kids are maybe more familiar with. I think the children relate more to her, especially as a woman of color.”
The mutual benefits of these relationships are exactly what the program was designed for, Rosenblith says.
“UB is committed to building strong relationships with the community, especially in Buffalo Public Schools. The Teacher Residency Program and other efforts we’re undertaking reflect that mission, and they will create a stronger, more resilient public education system that serves students throughout Buffalo,” she says.