School of teachers in the realities of urban education

When Jesse Solomon ’91 began teaching at a middle school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the 1990s, he was overwhelmed. “I had 25 students working at eight different grade levels – some who were learning English, some who were on individual education plans,” he says. “I wasn’t prepared for that level of complexity.” Luckily, a veteran teacher was in the next room. “Every day before school, she would just go and copy what she had written on her blackboard. She would tell me what she was going to do that day, and how she would think about the whole curriculum,” she recalls. “That’s how I learned to be a teacher.”

In 2003, after teaching high school math for a decade, Solomon replicated that experience on a larger scale by co-founding the Boston Teacher Residency (BTR), which helps new teachers become effective urban educators. As executive director of the nonprofit Boston Plan of Excellence (BPE), Solomon oversees the program along with two charter schools in Roxbury, a densely populated, low-income district of Boston that is very diverse and multilingual. At Dudley Neighborhood School (K-5) and Dearborn STEM Academy (6-12), she leads a network of teachers, many of whom have come through BTR. “It’s not an option to be a lone wolf and be a great teacher,” says Solomon. “Building networks is a necessary part of the job.”

Solomon grew up in Cambridge, where his mother, Vicki, was a school librarian, and his father, Frank Solomon, was a professor of biology at MIT (now retired). At MIT, where he majored in mathematics, an interest in urban studies inspired him to create a course on city politics. Although she earned a bachelor’s degree in Harvard School of Education, she found that she needed more targeted training for teaching in urban schools.

Modeled after a medical residency, BTR guides teachers from one-on-one interaction to small group lessons to whole classes. Mentors train him while practicing, first with other adults and then with students.

The goal is what Solomon calls “ambitious education” that is both “rigorous and challenging,” so students will enjoy learning and be challenged to do their best. BTR has trained more than 700 teachers, half of them color teachers, and has helped create a network of dozens of other teacher residency programs across the country. This year, Solomon saw the first Dearborn students graduate from the university. “Explicitly or not, our country teaches that not everyone is supposed to be smart,” says Solomon. “At BTR we aim to teach a mindset that makes everyone in the class responsible for being brilliant – and we support teachers on the skills needed to push for that.”

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