Jeffrey Ng, a 2012 alumnus, shares his journey from student teacher to assistant principal of Andrews Elementary School in Whittier City School District and the importance of saying yes to opportunities for growth.
Share a little about how you started teaching.
I began working with an after-school program called Gear Up (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) in the Boyle Heights area with middle school students. I would follow a group of 7th grade students through 12th grade, teaching them about college and college awareness. Eventually, California went in to a teacher shortage and one of the assistant principals at the high school suggested that I get my emergency teaching credential and teach since I was on campus most of the day.
After I received my credential, I began to realize that my students were lacking the joy of being at school. I did some research and found that many students lose that spark around the 3rd and 4th grade. I realized that elementary education was where I needed to go to really get in to the heart of this profession. I went back to get my multiple subject teaching credential and I volunteered at Mill School and Technology Academy in Whittier City. The principal at the time, Trudie Efstratios, pushed me and believed in me. I ended up becoming a student teacher in the same classroom where I volunteered and then I was hired as a full-time teacher the next year.
How did you get involved with the Cotsen Foundation for the ART of TEACHING?
I want to begin by saying that my whole involvement with Cotsen is because of Trudie. I was in my second year as a full-time teacher when Cotsen came to present to our school. Trudie pushed me to apply when I didn’t think I fit the requirements. She is definitely one of the first people to propel me in to the ART of TEACHING. I don’t know how it happened, but I was accepted. However, this was around the time when teachers were receiving pink slips because of the recession. I was placed at Andrews Elementary while my mentor, Michelle Aceves, and the fellows were still at Mills. I would drive back and forth between the schools for meetings or trainings, and Michelle would drive to Andrews to coach me at my site.
Unfortunately, in 2010, I left Whittier without being able to finish my fellowship because of cuts in positions. Then, an opportunity to teach presented itself as an administrator friend of mine was opening the charter school, Castellanos, for the Camino Nuevo Charter Academy. Through pure luck, one of their charter schools, Burlington, was starting the Cotsen fellowship program that year. Burlington and the foundation let me join their cohort, so I spent three years in the fellowship instead of just two.
What did you take away from your time and journey with the ART of TEACHING?
The process of becoming a Cotsen fellow is learning to say yes to things that push you out of your comfort zone. I think that is an important function of any professional development. Saying yes to things that make you uncomfortable, and living in discomfort, is not necessarily the normal thing to do.
My move to the Charter Academy also helped me grow as a leader. At Castellanos, the majority of our staff were new teachers. They didn’t know much about the ART of TEACHING fellowship. They actually thought I was crazy for spending all day teaching, spending late nights planning with my mentor, running off to professional development opportunities to grow, and after all of that, immediately taking it back to my grade level partners. Because of what I was learning in the fellowship, we began to visit each other’s classrooms at Castellanos. In a way, it was like I was an unofficial mentor to these teachers.
What were your next steps after the fellowship?
About three years later, another opportunity presented itself when my former principal, Trudie, announced that she was retiring. I went to her retirement dinner and she suggested that I apply for an opening in Whittier City. Trudie is not one of those people to whom you say no. She’s tenacious. I love her for that because she always wants the best for others.
So, I interviewed for a teaching position and I was hired. I taught third and fourth grade the first two years. Then, my principal at the time asked me to make the switch up to 6th grade to help the school expand to a K-8. During those three years I was approached three times by people suggesting that I consider a coaching role. The third time I was approached by Curriculum Coordinator and a former Cotsen mentor from Phelan, Angie Baltierra. She just asked if I had ever considered coaching. Right then, I knew I needed to stop whatever was going on with my mindset and just say yes. So, I pursued it and I became the middle school language arts TOSA in Whittier at Dexter and Edwards Middle Schools.
What was is like taking on a TOSA role for middle school teachers when you had spent so much time in the elementary school setting?
For me, it was about embracing the fall forward. You have to accept that you are going to make mistakes and that there will be shortcomings. For the teacher and the coach, it’s really just having a sense of “we’re trying it together.” When I took the role, I felt confident with all the professional development that I had received. Empathy is the biggest part of being a TOSA. Nudging the teachers and encouraging them to make those leaps of faith and helping them know that I’m holding their hands along the way.
There is something I’ll never forget as I was leaving that TOSA position for an opportunity to serve as assistant principal back at Andrews. The middle school teachers all approached me and let me know that I helped them feel valued. They felt that I saw them, I understood their struggle, and encouraged them through the experience. I’ll always take that with me.
This is your first year as assistant principal. How do you take all the life lessons you’ve learned over the last several years and move forward in the position you’re in now?
When I joined Andrews’ administrative staff, the principal, Chris Quirarte and I started talking about how to engage our staff and their professional development. The incredible thing is that Chris had been a mentor in the ART of TEACHING fellowship and I had been a fellow. During the fellowship, he was working to develop others while, on the other hand, I was the one that was being developed. Chris has this drive to nudge and bring out the best in his staff and I’m able to give him a better insight into how teachers might interpret that pushing.
Whatever is around the corner, we’re going for it!
The Cotsen Spotlight highlights the stories of alumni and current members of the ART of TEACHING fellowship. If you know of anyone who has a story to share, please email us at email@example.com and we will consider them for the next Cotsen Spotlight. Thank you!