Secondary social studies teacher Bernadette Desario taught almost exclusively in urban schools—from Chicago to Washington, DC—for the past twelve years. She teaches public policy classes at Eastern Senior High School, located in Southeast DC, and partners with American University as a cooperating teacher. Cooperating teachers are experienced teachers in the DC area who mentor AU student teachers in their classrooms for a full semester. We recently had a chance to sit down with her and asked her to reflect on her work with the AU School of Education teacher education program.
On working with cooperating teachers during her own pre-service preparation:
Desario began her teaching career with very little collaborative support, and although that experience forced her to be resourceful and adaptive, it didn't help her grow as an educator. Desario enjoys being a cooperating teacher because she can ensure that pre-service teachers are receiving meaningful mentorship and support. She appreciates what unique background experiences AU student teachers bring to her classroom and how they push her to think about and explain her actions so she can consciously continue to improve her own teaching skills.
On being a cooperating teacher with AU:
Desario enjoys her partnership with the teacher education program in part because the staff and faculty set clear expectations for students and cooperating teachers. There is a deliberate and careful process in pairing the student and cooperating teacher in order to create a productive and meaningful working relationship. In one case, while teaching a public policy class focused on volunteering, Desario worked with a student teacher who had a background in community organizing in DC. AU's student teacher brought practical experience to the classroom that enhanced the students' learning.
On teaching in DC:
Desario loves teaching in DC because it is an exciting urban landscape and, at the same time, there is a real sense of community among the social studies teachers in the area. Although there are many great benefits to teaching social studies in the nation's capital, that proximity can also create a unique set of obstacles. Bernadette has noticed that students in DC can have a hard time distinguishing between federal and local issues; when she asks her students where to go to solve community problems, they tell her they'll go knock on President Obama's door!