Freire Charter High School
Mediation Program Co-Coordinator, Teacher Coach, Director of the Broken Leg Players
Brooklyn College, Chestnut Hill College
How did you decide to go into teaching?
I lived in New York City for eight or nine years before my wife and I moved to Philadelphia. In New York we had had our own theater company, and a lot of the things we produced were very socially conscious—we wanted to make a difference through our theater. I just thought, “Well, let me try to do that in a different way,” and I went back to school to get my teaching certification.
I got hired as a long-term sub at another school, and they hired me for the next year. The year after that, I came to Freire. There was just something about being here in the building when I visited Freire that I knew—I was like, “I want to end up here.” I felt it was right. And it was.
How did the Broken Leg Players come to be?
Obviously with my theater background I wanted to do something, but at first all the theater I did was within my class. Then, a few years ago, the school started up an after-school theater club in partnership with an outside organization, and I was the staff liaison. And sitting in that classroom watching the sessions after school fired me up to want to do it myself. So the next year, I became the sole director of the company.
We wanted it to be a legit company, that wasn’t in English class, that anybody could be a part of. The first year, we met one day a week after school. We put together a series of monologues for our first show, and then in the second half of the year we put together an original piece. The next year we bumped it up to two days a week after school to allow us to rehearse more, and then this has been our third year. Each year we’ve been able to produce our own show by collaborating and writing the entire thing. I think it’s probably one of the more attended groups in the after-school program. I regularly have double-digit numbers of kids showing up.
When [Freire High School expanded its building], they showed me this room. I was like, “You’ll let me convert this into a theater?” He said, “Go ahead—if you want to do it, do it.” So I started a fundraising campaign through social media, and I raised about $1800—I couldn’t believe how many people from across the country, from different parts of my life and other staff members’ connections, were giving. It was enough to get the stage built, order these lights and the light board, and make and install the curtains. Now this space is the official home of the Broken Leg Players.
What does your role as mediation co-coordinator look like?
As a mediation program coordinator, I’m responsible for getting the program up and running every year, finding and interviewing new student mediators, training them, and helping set up student mediation sessions.
When we nominate student mediators, we like to take students who you might not think would be a mediator, students who have had conflict or behavioral issues in the past. They tend to have a really great perspective and understanding of conflict, because most of the things the mediations are about, they’ve been through it. And I’ve found it’s helped them to deal with their own conflict—seeing and reflecting on other people’s conflicts helps you reflect on your own and realize, “Oh, I’ve been in mediation for this same thing.”
At the beginning of each year we do a full-day training with our mediators. We go over all the skills that are involved, we talk about conflict, we do mock mediations. We teach them that they’re not there to judge or take sides or be lawyers. Their job is to get their peers to talk, get them to figure it out. And that can be tricky—we teach a lot of strategies to help when people aren’t talking, or they may be talking, but you can tell there’s something bigger underneath.
It’s a great program. There’s nothing like knowing two kids are on the verge of getting in a fight when they used to be friends, and then having your student mediators come to you and tell you these two kids hugged at the end of their mediation. It’s amazing.
Can youtell us about your role as a teacher coach?
Teacher coaching is another aspect of my job here that I’m really, really excited about. I’ve done it for two years now. Every first and second year teacher gets a coach, and we’re there to support them however we can—help them mentally, help them physically, just help them in life to be able to keep going and help them become great. It’s great to get to work with new teachers—and watching anyone teach is good for your own practice and helps you reflect. I oftentimes will work with a teacher and give them some advice about something, and it’ll make me think, “I better start sharpening that up in my classroom too in case they come see me.”
What are your favorite things about teaching?
It’s the relationships with the kids. I enjoy seeing them become better writers, I enjoy talking about the books we read with them, but most of all, it’s the relationships. It’s seeing confidence grow in them. That’s what I really try to bring to the table—we’re going to get you outside of your comfort zone, and we’re going to take some risks. We start the year in the first week with them writing a poem about themselves, about their past, present and future, and they all have to read it to the class, and they’re terrified. Fast forward to the beginning of June, and every single one of them is performing a play, and half the guys are dressing up in dresses in order to play their role. That is such an awesome journey, to see them open up. Students come to me all the time after they’ve moved on and say, “The one thing your class helped me with the most is being comfortable talking in front of people.”
What stands out to you as unique about Freire?
This is a place where you can be creative and innovative. You can create a role for yourself here. If you work here and you realize, “Hey, we should probably have X,” you bring it to the administration, and if you present it the right way they’ll say, “Okay, show us how it works.” And if it does, it can turn into a paid position.
There’s flexibility in the classroom—you’re able to design your own curriculum, you don’t have people breathing down your neck to do it their way, yet you also have a ton of support. Freire is a place where people believe in you. If you’re hired here, it’s because they believe you’re talented and you can do this and we want to see you bring something to the table. This is a place where our teachers gladly work hard every year to get better, no matter how great you are or how long you’ve been here. I’m always trying to improve as a teacher, and Freire’s great about that. There’s constant support, there’s always people to talk to, people willing to help out.
The school is socially-minded—we’re very aware of what’s important to our students, and I love that. I love that our professional developments will be centered around empathy, understanding Black Lives Matter better, understanding things that are important to our students.
Anything else you want to add?
Teaching is like putting on a one-man show four or five times a day—you have to engage the kids. If the show is going well, then you can actually teach them something, because they’ll listen. You can be a great teacher—smart as can be, well-read, know everything—but if you can’t capture the room’s attention, you won’t succeed. If you can get up there and do something dynamic so they’re wanting to watch you, then you can teach anything, really.