School teachers in real-life practice of rural education

When Jesse Solomon ’91 began teaching at a middle school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the 1990’s, he was devastated. He relates: “I had 25 students working in eight different grades — some studying English, others the subject of personal study. “I was not ready to go down that road.” Fortunately, in one room was a former former teacher. “Every day before I went to school, I would just copy the notes on his blackboard. He tells me what he will do that day, and how I can think of all the lessons, “he recalls. This is how I learned to be a teacher.

In 2003, after teaching high school mathematics for a decade, Solomon reiterated his experience in founding the Boston Teacher Residency (BTR), which helps new teachers become more effective urban teachers. As the head of the non-profit organization Boston Plan for Excellence (BPE), Solomon oversees the program along with two rental schools in Roxbury, a densely populated, low-income Boston region with a wide variety of colors and languages. At Dudley Neighborhood School (K-5) and Dearborn STEM Academy (6-12), he leads a group of teachers, many of whom came through BTR. “It’s not just a matter of being a wolf and being a good teacher,” says Solomon. “Building networks is an important part of the project.”

Solomon grew up in Cambridge, where his mother, Vicki, was the school librarian and his father, Frank Solomon, was a professor of biology at MIT (now outgoing). At MIT, where he excelled in math, interest in urban education inspired him to pursue urban politics. Although she obtained a masters degree from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, she found that she needed well-trained courses in urban schools.

Followed as a hospital resident, BTR guides teachers from one-on-one discussions to small-group lessons to the entire classroom. Instructors train them as they practice, first with the other adults and then with the students.

His goal is to make what Solomon called “the counsel of the wise ones,” which is “hard and appealing,” so that students will enjoy learning and being forced to do what they can. BTR has trained more than 700 teachers, half of whom are international teachers, and helped create a network of other teacher programs to live across the country. This year, Solomon saw Dearborn’s first students graduate from college. “Obviously, our country teaches that not everyone should be wise,” says Solomon. “At BTR we want to teach ideas that make everyone in the class answer that they are smart – and we support teachers on the skills needed to do that.”

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