Teachers learn from Yale profs

At the John S. Martinez School, seventh graders will create their own versions of the detective game “Clue,” inspired by Sherlock Holmes. At James Hillhouse High School, students will be creating conic sections to understand space navigation. At High School in the Community, students will be creating graphic arts posters to fight eating disorders and drug addiction.

These classes and more have developed from one of Yale’s longest town-gown relationships.

English professor and English Department chair Langdon Hammer speaks with fellows in a seminar he led in the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute this year.
English professor and English Department chair Langdon Hammer speaks with fellows in a seminar he led in the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute this year.

This year marks the 30th year of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, a professional development program permanently endowed by Yale. From March to July, 55 teachers from 28 New Haven schools attended seminars with prominent Yale faculty members, including English Department chair Langdon Hammer, Geology and Geophysics Department chair David Bercovici, and Biomedical Engineering Department chair W. Mark Saltzman. At the end of the Institute, they develop creative new curricula to take back to their home schools.

As part of the program, which aims to “integrate curriculum development with intellectual renewal,” the teachers, called Fellows, receive full access to libraries and campus facilities for the school year in addition to a $1,500 honorarium for their time.

After submitting an application to the institute, those who are accepted pick a subject to research and attend seminars, which do not necessarily have to relate directly to their chosen field of research. This year, seminars included “The Science of Natural Disasters” and “Voyages in World History before 1500,” and culminated with Fellows creating 15- to 20-page curriculum plans used to teach students their respective subjects.

This year, Hammer, who was taking part in the Institute for the first time, taught a seminar on “American Voices: Listening to Fiction, Poetry, and Prose.” In the class, he said, he tried use his own excitement and experiences in the Yale classroom to help the teachers with their own students.

“All teachers share a common mission, and it was an invigorating experience for me to learn about what teachers were doing in New Haven schools,” Hammer said.

Associate director Josiah Brown ’92 said the project is different from other professional development programs because the teachers meet “at a collegial basis” in seminars. The program provides an opportunity for participants to advance their understanding of their subjects and then to transfer their knowledge to students.

Teacher Mary Lou Narowski said she found out about the program two years ago through a colleague at John S. Martinez School. After taking a seminar on detective fiction, Narowski created a curriculum where students play the detective game “Clue” and read works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in order to create their own board games.

“For the students, it’s an innovative way to learn on a more hands-on way,” she said.

Ralph Russo ’88, who teaches at Wilbur Cross High School, first heard about the program during his undergraduate years at Yale, when he was considering a career in teaching.

“I really didn’t know about it at the time, but when I started teaching at New Haven in 2001, I was contacted by a teacher representative, and he told me all about it,” he said. “I thought it was a great opportunity, so I took it.”

He found the “close work” with colleagues and his seminar leader over the months of the Institute helped him improve his history lesson plans. This is his sixth year in the program.

Though Narowski and Russo both said that the time commitment was at times difficult to juggle with their other responsibilities, they found the experience to be very rewarding.

“I liked the fact that I got to pick something that I personally wanted to do and get to research with people who are there for the same purpose,” Narowski said.

In 2004, the Institute extended the project to establish similar programs across the nation under the Yale National Initiative program. Houston, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh all have programs modeled after the Institute, and their teachers are also invited to participate in seminars led by Yale professors.

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