KIPP Newark Lab High School teacher Mahesh Kumar knows what his students are going through as they tackle remote learning—he was in their shoes just five months ago! A recent graduate of Georgetown University, Kumar’s passion for educational equity led him to begin his career as a computer science educator through our Teacher in Residence program.
When he accepted his offer, he didn’t know what our school year would look like, but he was ready to partner with his new teammates and help our students succeed in unprecedented times. Step inside Mahesh’s role as a Teacher in Residence (TiR) below!
What inspired you to become a teacher? How did you discover KIPP NJ?
I didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher when I entered Georgetown. But then I took a biology course with a professor who spoke often about the importance of equity in education which really resonated with me and drove my interest in teaching in a STEM field like computer science. When I studied abroad in Australia, I took all the education courses I could and learned about everything from the connections between education and poverty, to how to write a curriculum.
When I came back, I enrolled in a student teaching program and loved it. I met KIPP NJ recruiter Patricia Rodrigues at an education career fair and she encouraged me to apply. I chose KIPP because I felt like the professional development and preparation I would receive as a new teacher would be excellent and that mattered a lot to me as a new teacher.
What is a typical day like for a Teacher-in-Residence in a virtual classroom? What’s it like to teach virtually?
The first day of teaching, Zoom crashed across the country! I’ve been repeating the mantra to myself, that if I can survive this year, I can survive anything my teaching career can throw my way in the future.
The day is structured so that the lead teacher in the classroom teaches the first class, we co-teach the second class, and then at the end of the day I lead the last couple classes. I have some time in-between to plan my lessons. Right now, my students are learning the ins and outs of Google Classroom and developing basic computer and problem-solving skills. In our next unit, they’re going to start learning to code HTML.
The structure of my day allows me to really understand what a strong class should look like by the time the classes I lead come around. I also spend time making calls to families. The hardest part so far about virtual teaching is that it’s more difficult to build relationships virtually when you’re a new teacher, but I’m working hard to improve relationships with families each day.
Tell us about how the TiR program helps you develop your teaching skills. What are you learning?
During the summer, we received professional development that included several ‘at-bats’ to help mimic what teaching in our classrooms (virtually or in-person!) would look like. I learned a lot that I’m able to apply in the virtual classroom so far, like the importance of positive narration to praise students for demonstrating great engagement in the classroom. Another thing that was emphasized throughout our summer professional development was the importance of building relationships with our families. To me, treating parents as partners in their child’s education is the heart of what we mean when we talk about equity in education.
I regularly get feedback from my coach, and other leaders based on observations. I love that I get to apply feedback so quickly after receiving it—and when you receive a lot of feedback, you get to the point where you can identify your own areas of improvement. My coaches encourage me to offer my own reflections on a lesson before they offer their opinions. For example, my goal as a teacher is not to feel like I’m just dropping knowledge on students, but that the students can follow smart questions to arrive at the answers themselves and relay that information back to me. In meetings with my coach, she’ll offer advice on how to chunk information for students into more digestible pieces, or to slow down and repeat information for students if I’m going too fast. We also use the software platform Whetstone to make it easier for coaches to observe and offer feedback.
What would you tell a college student considering our Teacher in Residence program?
I think it’s a great program for aspiring teachers who are ready to dive into the classroom, but still want to be supported in their first year. One big plus for me is that through KIPP NJ’s relationship with Relay School of Education I’m able to also work towards my Masters in Teaching, which is free for TiRs. I like that I get to be both a learner and an educator. It means I can relate to what my students go through!