Voorheesville teachers reflect on successful Master Teacher Program

— Photo from Jessica Bradshaw

Jessica Bradshaw

— Photo from Kimberly Simon  

Kimberly Simon

VOORHEESVILLE — Governor Andrew Cuomo this month announced that 275 educators from across the state were selected to join the New York State Master Teacher Program. Two teachers from Voorheesville are wrapping up their participation in the program, and say that the things they’ve learned have helped them a great deal in the classroom.

The New York State Master Teacher Program was established in 2013 to recruit, retain, and reward the best teachers in the high-demand subject areas of math and science. To do so, teachers receive an annual stipend of $15,000, totalling $60,000 over four years, as well as professional-development opportunities through the State University of New York system.

Jessica Bradshaw, a seventh-grade life-science teacher, and Kimberly Simon, who teaches a class in anatomy and physiology as well as Advanced Placement — college level — chemistry in the high school, were selected in January 2015 to participate in the four-year program. Both say that connecting with colleagues was an important part of the program.

“I saw it an opportunity to do more, and to …  join a group of science teachers beyond my school,” said Bradshaw. “And it was another opportunity for professional development; to network and connect with teachers with a similar background and kind of see where it would take me.” Bradshaw, who has taught in the district for 16 years, is the lone life-science teacher in Voorheesville Middle School.

Simon, a 12-year teacher at the district, said, “I teach AP chemistry. I’m the only AP chemistry teacher so I really liked the idea of networking with other teachers from other school districts so I can share ideas and lesson plans.”

She went on,“It’s such a positive thing for teachers from other districts to work together as a team,” she said. “For me, that is the strength of the program … It benefits the students when teachers can share resources; it benefits the classroom ultimately.”

To stay in good standing as a Master Teacher, Bradshaw and Simon have to each participate in 50 hours of professional development, which is in addition to what they already do for Voorheesville. “Bare minimum is 50 hours,” Bradshaw said, “but a lot of Master Teachers are doing well over that.”

“We are not limited to our particular content area,” Bradshaw said of the training opportunities.  

For example, she said, she was able to join a robotics professional-learning team, at the Center for Advanced Technology, in the Mohonasen Central School District, and was taught about robotics by a teacher who had completed the New York State Master Teacher Program.

As part of the robotics professional-learning team, she learned about drones — which she couldn’t really bring back into her classroom. However, she also learned about Sphero, a spherical robot, that rolls around and can be controlled by a smartphone. Bradshaw was able to use Sphero to teach students to code in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) class that she teaches.

Simon is currently taking a physics and optics course. The optics portion of the class, she said, goes into detail about vision and how we can see different colors, which has helped her teaching her anatomy and physiology class.

“It’s a course that I started last year,” she said. “It’s really helpful because the kids at Voorheesville are really inquisitive, and the questions that they ask are pretty high level. So I feel like with the [professional development] it keeps me up to date with information. I feel like I do a better job at answering their questions.”

The state program also offers courses on teaching, which has been helpful for Simon. She’s learned how to pose questions better, she said, so that she isn’t eliciting only one-word answers from her students.

“We had a panel of professors from the University at Albany who sat down and worked with us,” said Simon. “They talked to us about problems that they have with freshmen in college — some of the gaps and things that they would like to see high school teachers work on with seniors in high school so that we can minimize those gaps before they go off to college.”

Very early in the program, Bradshaw said, she had learned about three-dimensional printing, and has incorporated that into her STEM class, as well as using it in an enrichment class that she teaches. “So, that is a direct result of the Master Teacher Program,” Bradshaw said of learning about and teaching 3D printing.

She is part of a nanotechnology professional-learning team with another teacher, from Guilderland’s Farnsworth Middle School. The two teachers started the group as a way to learn more about nanotechnology. On Saturday, she said, the teachers are hosting an event with SUNY Polytechnic Institute at its Albany campus that will educate kids about nanotechnology.

Simon is part of a chemistry professional-learning team. Her group, she said, has put together two big training sessions for teachers across the Capital Region, not just ones that are in the program. One workshop, whish Simon calls Lab Day, has teachers present laboratory exercises that they use in their own classroom, so that others can learn and use them.

In the fall, she and her learning team hosted a workshop to analyze data from the Regents chemistry exam.“We go through the most-missed questions among the teachers who attend, as well as the most-missed questions statewide,” Simon said. “Then we sit down and we try to figure out why the kids missed those questions.”

Bradshaw said that she has become more confident with material that is not part of her direct content area. Being a New York State Master Teacher, she said, has allowed her to branch out in ways that she otherwise wouldn’t have.

“They have so many different opportunities that aren’t necessarily available to a [single] school district, because they’re working with multiple districts,” she said. “You can really submerge yourself into different areas, that you can then can bring back to your school.”

The money will stop flowing soon, but Bradshaw and Simon will still be able to participate in professional development offered by the program, provided there is room.


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