Ms. Sarah Mueller, PPS mentor: On remote teaching and PPS
While enrolled in their master’s program, WW Teaching Fellows work alongside a mentor teacher for the entire school year. Mentor teachers are an integral part of the WW Teaching Fellowship experience—they share their teaching knowledge while simultaneously supporting Fellows’ growth.
We spoke with Sarah Mueller, a teacher in the Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) who is currently mentoring a 2020 WW Teaching Fellow. In this three-part series, she offers insight into how she is working with her WW Teaching Fellowship mentee, what he’s adding to the classroom, why PPS is a good district for novice teachers to start their teaching career, what remote teaching looks like in the COVID-19 pandemic, and more.
WW Teaching Fellowship: How has the pandemic affected your classroom and the role of the Fellow you mentor? Also, if you have worked with teacher candidates previously, what is easier and what is more difficult about mentoring a novice teacher now?
Sarah Mueller: Initially, I was concerned about how mentoring a Fellow would go when it became evident that we would be teaching remotely. My anxiety quickly evaporated—my assigned Fellow jumped into helping with the day-to-day tasks of virtual school. In some ways, it was easier this year to have someone take on some of the responsibilities of the virtual classroom than if we were in person. Ceding control of habitual tasks such as grading or choosing activities is harder when you can use things that you used in previous years. Everything is new this year, and it has been helpful to have another adult to help get us settled into a routine.
WW Teaching Fellowship: Why is Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) a good district for a novice teacher to begin their teaching career?
Sarah Mueller: PPS is a great place to start for a novice teacher because it gives you a chance to see what it is like to work with a highly diverse group of students in a large district. I believe that ultimately, your ability to teach comes down to your ability to get to know your students. This district gives novice teachers a chance to learn about connecting with students from many, many different backgrounds. The more that I have learned from my students about how to listen to them and how to make them feel seen and heard, the better my teaching practice has become. Giving novice teachers the chance to start here will give them a chance to develop rapport-building skills immediately.
WW Teaching Fellowship: What are some challenges future Fellows should expect in PPS? How are you preparing your Fellow to navigate those challenges?
Sarah Mueller: Given the pandemic, there are a few challenges that come to mind. When/if we are able to switch to some type of hybrid instructional model, we will have to determine what that means for our day-to-day class responsibilities. The challenge that always comes up for novice teachers under normal circumstances is how to transition from the mentor having primary responsibility for a class to the novice teacher leading that class. Change is hard for students, and this sometimes leads to behaviors that need to be addressed. It can be very hard for the novice teacher to take the behaviors in stride and not personally. I have done my best to give my mentee some warning about this very common occurrence. An advantage of being virtual has been that students are seeing him and me “in front” of the class from the beginning, which I hope will lessen the transition stress for our students.