Seminars aim to help local teachers, build community ties

This year, Yale students are not the only ones benefiting from the guidance of the University’s faculty.

Fifty New Haven district educators participated in this year’s Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, in which Yale professors led seminars for public school teachers on topics ranging from 1950s U.S. history to math in architecture. The institute, which debuted in 1978, seeks to help local teachers put together their own lesson plans based on information presented in the seminars, its directors said. The newest lesson plans have just been posted on the institute’s Web site and will be used in classrooms throughout the Elm City this year.

In the seminars, which met 13 times this year, Elm City educators of all grade levels came together to learn the ins and outs of a topic. They were then responsible for transforming the information into units which explored different aspects of the seminar topic and were designed to meet Connecticut’s academic standards.

YNHTI Associate Director Josiah Brown ’92 said the duration of the institute’s seminars facilitates a level of collegiality not often developed during other curricular programs.

“The curriculum units that the [teachers] develop are done in several stages,” Brown said. “Work and research over a period of months is one of the distinctive aspects of the program.”

The seminars themselves were flexible in content. As a seminar progressed, New Haven teachers suggested topics to the Yale professor, who then taught based on what the teachers were looking to incorporate into their classes. On alternating weeks, various Yale faculty members, including current and prospective future seminar leaders, gave talks to the teachers.

Teachers who attended the seminars said they found them to be both educational and empowering.

“It really is a very organic process, where teachers are looking for info that best allows them to complete the units to serve their kids back in the classroom,” said Chris Willems, a biology teacher at Wilbur Cross High School.

Willems, who took the seminar “Engineering in Modern Medicine” with biomedical engineering professor Mark Saltzman, said the program’s approach enables teachers to help develop their own curriculum, rather than simply delivering it.

Yale professors said they also enjoyed the professional experience and appreciated the chance to aid fellow teachers.

Art history and American studies professor Alexander Nemerov, who taught the seminar “Photographing America: A Cultural History, 1840-1970,” said he was both inspired and educated by the other teachers in his seminar.

“I really admire public school teachers,” Nemerov said. “I really enjoy discussing not only the content of my courses with these teachers but also the practical matter of how you would teach something in the classroom.”

The benefits of the course extend to New Haven public school students, said Justin Boucher, a U.S. history and Advanced Placement psychology teacher at Hill Regional Career High School.

“Each unit has the benefit of the resources of Yale, and the knowledge and understanding of the professor,” Boucher said in an e-mail. “This makes the finished project extremely solid in terms of pedagogy and materials.”

The seminar Boucher attended, “Anatomy and Art: How we See and Understand” with surgery and anatomy professor William Stewart, was Boucher’s fifth in the YNHTI program. The structure of each seminar he has taken has varied with the professor running it, but he said that each professor provided expertise in the subject, helping him to create units that went into greater depth with greater accuracy than he otherwise might have.

For his part, Nemerov said the program’s enrichment lies in more than just curricula.

“I’ve learned a lot about my subject matter from teaching it,” Nemerov said. “I’ve also gotten to know people in the New Haven community that I would not have met otherwise. That’s been wonderful.”

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