5:00 – 6:30 AM 

Five o’clock sure does come early some mornings! But then again, early mornings aren’t anything a pot of good, strong coffee can’t take care of. It seems I’ve been designated the “coffee maker” of the apartment—probably since I’m usually the first one up—and it’s become just another part of my morning routine. Other items on my morning checklist: pack a lunch, have a bowl of cereal, peruse the morning Times, as well as assemble a suitable combination of button-up, tie, and cardigan to wear for the day. And with that checklist complete, I’m out the door and on my way to school..

7:00 – 7:30 AM

My first role of the day is as part of the arrival team. Ms. Traish (another tutor), Mr. Taillefer (our Executive Director), and I wait just outside the front door of the school to welcome our scholars into the Great Oaks community each and every morning. As our scholars arrive they queue up on the sidewalk with their homework folders out, ready to shake hands with Mr. Taillefer. He asks every individual scholar two questions: “Why are you here? What will it take?” to which they respond: “I am here to learn. It will take Respect, Integrity, Self-Discipline and Excellence.”

Seeing our scholars affirm our core values daily isn’t the only perk of arrival, though; arrival also means I get to see all of our scholars—and especially the scholars I tutor—each morning, before they’re even inside the school building. This gives me a chance to check in with them about their weekend, their homework from the night before, or how they’re doing so far that morning. Together we can be sure to get the day off to an excellent start.

8:00 – 9:00 AM

Since I tutor scholars in both sixth and eighth grades, my first tutorial of the day is sixth grade mathematics. Tutorial gets underway with two minutes for Fast Math and then another five for the “Do Now”. These two activities are great ways highlight both the strengths and weaknesses of my scholars. When JB finishes close to 200 multiplication problems in 120 seconds, I can’t help but be proud of her self-discipline! However, the problems that my scholars struggle with on the Do Now often become the focus of that tutorial; this is just one of the many ways that I, as well as all of the other Great Oaks tutors, seek to individualize instruction for our scholars as effectively as we can.

9:00 – 11:00 AM

It’s nine o’clock and it’s time for my break! Well, sort of. The next two hours are my prep periods, and the first item on the agenda is homework check. We collect our scholars’ homework from the night before during arrival as they come upstairs and head to their silent reading period, so that homework sits and waits undisturbed until now when it’s time for it to be organized, checked for completion, then graded and entered into the grade book. This is also the time that I prepare for the rest of my tutorials that day by printing out supplementary material or going over Exit Tickets from previous tutorials. We collect a lot of data at Great Oaks, so I spend this time putting it to use: to recognize my scholars’ accomplishments as well as underscore their areas for growth.

11:00 AM – 12:00 PM

For eighth grade mathematics tutorial, we start out again with our Fast Math and Do Now, which set the tone for tutorial: productive. My eighth grade scholars frequently have more energy than they know what to do with, which can prove challenging at times, but after a few overtures on my part they start directing that energy into the lesson for the day. My two boys are both especially competitive so a quick flashcard review game usually gets everyone in the mindset of craving those positive GO points!

12:00 – 12:30 PM

Another break time?! Well, again, sort of. At noon both the seventh and eighth grades transition to the Big Hall for lunch. Officially, I’m on bathroom duty, which means I have to make sure all of our scholars sign in and out of the bathrooms. Unofficially, I’m on eat-lunch-and-check-in-with-other-tutors-or-teachers-or-scholars-to-see-how-their-day-is-going duty. It’s not half bad.

12:30– 1:30 PM

On Tuesdays and Thursdays I head to social studies after lunch. As the eighth grade social studies teaching assistant, I collect and grade homework, tests and quizzes, as well as my favorite part: helping out in the classroom! Sometimes it’s my job to deal with any behavior that may be disrupting the class, but most of the time I circle around to answer questions and help out those scholars who need a hand.

This role at Great Oaks is the one that most directly connects to my future career goals of becoming a college history professor. As a teaching assistant, I witness a variety of instructional strategies firsthand, I delve into lesson planning and I get to see what really gets our scholars excited about history. Few scholars enjoy memorizing names and dates, but when I see them think critically about historical and contemporary events and relate them both to their own lives and experiences, I’m inspired to continue doing the work that I do!

1:30– 2:30 PM

Next, I round up my sixth grade scholars for English Language Arts (ELA) tutorial. Thank goodness it’s also snack time because although they finished lunch only two hours prior, they’re almost sure to be “starving.” Middle schoolers! During this time, we focus on reading and writing strategies, vocabulary, and critical thinking skills. My scholars particularly enjoy the weekly installment of Mr. Dec’s saga “The Principal King,” which introduces them to new college-ready vocabulary in the context of savvy heroines and hostile villains. We also practice forming arguments based on evidence, honing respectful debating skills, as well as giving constructive feedback to peers. My sixth grade scholars work very well together and put me in such a good mood! However, this means that I occasionally have to be wary of them steering our conversations away from tutorial towards other random topics of interest; they can be so tricky sometimes!

2:30 – 3:30 PM

Eighth grade ELA tutorial is in many ways quite similar to sixth grade, except maybe for the fact that my eighth grade scholars seem to take pride in how much they dislike explaining their ideas in writing. They don’t typically mind explaining their thoughts or opinions to me or to each other out loud, but the moment I ask them to form complete sentences on paper it seems I may as well have asked them to read and summarize War and Peace by tomorrow. After the grumbling subsides, I proceed to ask a lot of questions to prod them to really think. My scholars have come to recognize that how? and why? are my two favorite questions in the world, and I’m pleased that they roll their eyes slightly less when they hear me ask questions now than they did at the beginning of the year.

3:30 – 4:30 PM

For the last period of the school day, I pull a handful of eighth grade scholars out of their enrichment course to give them additional support in ELA. I pull materials from ELA tutorial packets and social studies classwork to strengthen reading comprehension, critical thinking skills, and basic grammar. This is also one of my favorite times of the day because I get to look at our scholars’ class and tutorial work in a different way; we identify the different parts of speech in sentences from ELA tutorial and categorize the types of nouns in social studies readings. It’s also another opportunity for me to talk about social studies with scholars, which is something I can never pass up!

4:30 – 5:30 PM

Since some of our scholars do struggle to complete their homework at home each night, some of them stay after school for an hour to get some help from a tutor during Power Up. Sometimes we really do need to “power up” for those last sixty minutes of the school day, so I’m grateful that our scholars each receive another quick snack as an energy boost to help them finish out the day strong. During this time, I work one-on-one with a scholar who sometimes has a hard time focusing. More often than not he keeps me on my toes, but when he finishes an assignment one hundred percent correctly, seeing that smile of his truly is the cherry on top of a remarkable day at Great Oaks.

Bryce Luttenegger (Mr. L) is a 2013-2014 member of the Great Oaks Tutor Corps Urban Education Fellowship in Newark. He is also a Teacher’s Assistant as his secondary position at Great Oaks.  Originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin, Bryce is a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Madison, with a Bachelor’s degree in History.  His career plan is to become a college history professor.

For more information or to apply to our Tutor Corps Urban Education Fellowship, please visit www.greatoakscharter.org.

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A Day in the Life of Ralph Robinson, Member of the Great Oaks Tutor Corps

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5:15 AM: The sound of my alarm going off used to jolt me from my sleep, as though my body was experiencing a great shock at being awoken so early. These days it seems I wake up just before it goes off. I’ll glance at the time on my phone. Usually this will happen about ten minutes before my alarm actually goes off. This gives me a moment to lie there and feign sleep for a few more moments, as my brain slowly starts to process what I need to do to get my day started.

6:20 AM: The walk to the train from my apartment in Brooklyn is a short one. I have not been living at the tutor house this year, so instead of taking the clunky, old J train from Bushwick, I get to take the clunky, old C train from Fort Greene. The train arrives at my stop pretty reliably on the 5s each morning, and I shuffle on to a full train that is dead silent. The quiet is only punctuated by the occasional set of headphones that is turned up too loud.

6:45 AM: It is another cold walk from the train to the school as I ponder the prospect of winter never ending. We got a bit more snow overnight, and what didn’t blow away is quickly freezing to the sidewalk. I toss a bit of salt on the steps when I get to school, then drop my things off and head down to cover my landing as the children come in in the morning.  A moment later the first students begin to come up, part of our “early birds.” Sometimes it is hard to get myself going and excited about the day, but seeing just one student coming up the stairs with a smile on their face can really serve to re-energize and reaffirm all of the hard work that goes into the day. With the students now here, and my inspiration renewed, I head upstairs to truly get the day started.

7:30 AM: As part of my responsibilities as the social studies co-teacher I check homework during morning advisory. This is generally pretty seamless. I float from advisory to advisory, where the kids will have their homework out on their desks. You get to hear some creative excuses at times for why things are missing or not finished, but for the most part the kids know without me even telling them that whether they have earned homework center or not. This level of accountability is hard for our new students to adjust too, but is an integral part of our success with these students.

8:00 AM: During first period I have tutorial. I have some new kids this semester, and in this period are two very bright, but very different students. The boy loves minecraft and anything to do with science, while the girl would much rather talk about just about anything else. It is a fun challenge finding things for them to do that will both engage and challenge their thinking. In the morning we will do ELA work, with the days being split between doing work that reinforces what they are doing in class and doing what we call Literacy Circles. Today the students will be reading a short story by Jack London that I have picked out for them based on what I know about their own reading level, what I think they’ll enjoy, but also what I in my infinite wisdom think is important to learn about. For the next few weeks, they’ll learn about some of my favorite writers like London and Stephen Crane. Having a chance to share some of our favorites with the kids is the best part of tutorial for me as a tutor, and I love having a little bit of space outside of the usual structure to plan fun and engaging activities for my kids.

8:55 AM: Following my first period, I have some time to print things and prep for my other periods. This time is also an opportunity for me to get a handle on my other diverse responsibilities, which have included things like teaching an art enrichment, planning a weekly packet for ELA tutorial, and doing other various odd jobs. It was discovered early in the year that I know how to use a hammer and am not afraid of ladders, so I’ve been tasked with doing a number of handy-man type things around the building. All of us in the corps have evolved these secondary roles, some of which include translating newsletters for our Chinese and Spanish families, running the library, and helping the dean of students with various discipline issues. These secondary roles can be time consuming, but allow each of us to gain some experience in an additional area related to working in a school, whether that be administrative or otherwise. It is readily apparent within our corps that some of us are well on our way to not being not only effective teachers, but effective administrators and school planners if we should so choose to pursue that aspect of a career in education.

10:40 AM: I am back in tutorial for another period before lunch. The group I have this period is a lot of fun, as they do a great job of not only  focusing on their work, but they always ask great questions that really test my ability to explain things. Today, as part of preparing to read a short story, we are talking what working in a factory may have been like in the late 1800s, as I try to straddle that line between activating their imaginations and not totally horrifying them.

11:45 AM: Lunch time. I always pack a lunch, which allows me to make the most of this time. Usually I’ll do a mix of going over again what I’ll be teaching in the afternoon, as well as taking a few moments to just veg out and let my brain relax. With the long days we work it is good to find a spare moment here or there to just let all the things running around your mind to settle. I’ll give myself ten minutes here to not think about anything related to work, then get right back to it in time to get revved up for fifth period.

12:15 PM: The sound of feet coming up the stairs followed by the opening and closing of lockers lets me know it’s time to get going for the next period. I greet my students at the door and start my first math tutorial. The two students during this period are my greatest challenge, but in a really great way. They’re part of what we sometimes call our Mozart kids, which means they pick things up about as fast as you can teach it to them. Since they work through their math work so quickly, I’ve used some other resources from the blended learning website we use to put together an extra project for them to work on when they finish their other work. For this week, they’ll be using the what they’ve learned about geometry to find the composite area of certain places.

1:10: I head over to Ms. Jones’ room for the next two periods. In here is where the bulk of my co-teaching responsibilities are. These two periods are mostly kids who have the most trouble with retaining information, so I make sure to actively circulate around the room to make sure everyone is on task and doing all the things we ask of them. I also have a chance to lead some parts of the lesson, as well as answer questions that kids may have during independent or group work. Since my ultimate aim is to one day teach social studies, I really value this time as a chance to learn from a great teacher and to have an exposure to the challenges some kids face with learning this material.

1:32: Every class has that student that you call on with a bit of trepidation each time. Here I am calling on that student for this class. Thankfully, his question has nothing to do with whether they had Pizza Hut in ancient Greece, and adds in a productive way to the class discussion. Today is a good day.

3:00: After two periods in Ms. Jones room, I head off for my last tutorial period. Here I have two very energetic boys, and the stern approach I need to use to keep them working productively requires an extra layer of focus from me at the end of a long day. It pays off though as we successfully navigate a number of problems related to the distributive property, which they struggled with on a quiz I gave them the week before.

3:55: We’re almost through the day. Now I head over to afternoon advisory for the last part of the day before dismissal. Here we have a group of all girls at the start and end of the day. We’ll help them track their grades, their demerits, and how they’re doing with completing the college exploration and enrichment hours they need to have in order to move on to seventh grade. Apart from being a time where everyone can get to know each other a little better, it is also a great opportunity to talk to the students about their interests and where they see themselves going in the future. Most importantly we use this time to reiterate our core goal as a school, which is to prepare every student for success in college.

4:35: After dismissal my responsibilities vary from day to day. On Tuesdays I’ll run my after school activity, a drama club. I’ll have a plan for how I generally want that to go, but I also like to hear from the kids in my group and allow them some space for deciding the activities and games we’ll do. Doing this is a fun break after the day, and the kids seem to really enjoy having a chance to spend time with their friends in a fun, and enriching way. Other days include things like monitoring homework center, or working with Ms. Jones with struggling students in office hours. Whatever I’m doing, the slow tick of the clock towards six o’clock is usually lingering there in my mind, which is when I head home to eat, watch jeopardy, and unwind from the day. The satisfaction of another successful day is usually the last feeling I have as I crowd onto a busy train to head home, and start the process all over of getting ready for what I hope will be an even more productive day tomorrow. You have to take this job one day at a time. Today was a good day, but even if it wasn’t, there is still the promise of getting to try again tomorrow.

Ralph Robinson is a first year tutor at Great Oaks – New York. A native of Brookline, Massachusetts, he first gained exposure to working in a charter school as a teacher’s assistant at Benjamin Banneker Charter Public School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After completing his degree in Geography at the University of Richmond, Mr. Robinson relocated to Brooklyn last May and has been happily spending his weekends exploring the history, architecture and diverse beauty of the city. His long term ambition is to have his own social studies classroom and a show on the Travel Channel.

For more information or to apply to or Tutor Corps Urban Education Fellowship, please visit www.greatoakscarter.org.
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