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Alliance College-Ready Public Schools announces Teacher of the Year

Craig Clough | May 6, 2016

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In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, LA School Report spent some time recently talking with Brendan Wallace, a math teacher at Alliance Marc and Eva Stern Math and Science High School. On Thursday, Wallace was named the Teacher of the Year for Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, an organization that runs 27 charter schools in Los Angeles. (Check out the above video to learn more about Wallace.)

The interview is lightly edited for clarity and length.

LA School Report: Tell me what your reaction was when you found out you were being recognized for the award.

Brendan Wallace: My reaction was very surprised because I actually found out before Alliance announced it. My principal came into my room during home room and said we were going to have a senior assembly in my room, which I thought was very odd because there’s like 160 seniors. So I said OK, and when she came back, my assistant principal came in first and he had a huge smile on his face, and that gave it away.

And then all these seniors came in and they gave me the award, which is like a crystal apple. And I was surprised I won, because Alliance had been releasing the videos for the finalists this past week, and I was watching their videos and I was thinking that they looked more qualified, or their videos made me feel not as confident that I would win. So I was genuinely surprised when I won.

LASR: So it was tough competition you are saying?

Wallace: Yeah, based on my interaction with Alliance teachers through my own school and at our professional developments, I know there are a lot of high quality teachers at Alliance and I figured there would be a lot of people applying and that it would be competitive. I didn’t even think I would even make it to the final round. When I was announced as a finalist it was a shock, so to win was super surprising. I’s definitely competitive.

LASR: Tell me about your background and why you became a teacher. 

Wallace: I am from the East Coast originally and I went to George Washington University in D.C. and I was a math and economics major, and I was recruited into teaching by Teach for America. My placement school through Teach for America was at [Alliance Marc and Eva Stern Math and Science High School], which is where I continue to teach.

I decided to become a teacher because through college and the classes I was taking I started to realize how fundamental a good education is to not only to achieve your life goals, but to progress through life in a way that allows you to not be taken advantage of. You have to set goals for yourself in order to achieve them. And I always thought that being involved in that field would be obviously a great service to the students I was teaching, but also be rewarding for me just because I am helping young adults develop into intelligent and fully capable adults. 

LASR: You’ve only taught at Alliance, so you obviously don’t have anything to compare it to, but what is your understanding of what it is like to teach at Alliance and what makes it different?

Wallace: Well, yes, not being able to compare to specifically, but I have experienced a school culture that really encourages people to take on new projects and challenge themselves and fully supports teachers who, for example, want to create new classes. I created a class this year for multi-variable calculus.

My principal told me if I wanted to make a new class that I should go ahead and do that, so I did it over the summer, also creating student organizations and sports teams. I think the Alliance is a place where if you have ideas and passions where you want to explore, and students are interested in those passions and ideas, that the Alliance and a charter and the people that they hire as administrators are incredibly supportive. So that’s something I think is not necessarily true in other areas, where I don’t think teachers have as much room to explore outside their classroom or beyond what they are already teaching.

LASR: What do you think you have learned the most about teaching compared to your first few weeks on the job teaching your first class.

Wallace: I think I learned that as a teacher you need to be really patient with students and you really need to force yourself to adopt the mindset that your students have when it comes to content. When I was first teaching I was teaching algebra I, and it was sometimes hard for me to understand why students were not able to grasp concepts and that can lead to frustration, just because I learned that stuff when I was their age and I just don’t remember the process of learning those concepts.

Now when I am preparing a lesson I think, OK, where are all the possible places that a student could get confused and I adopt a Murphy’s law approach in that anything that could confuse the student will probably confuse the student. So I think for teachers that can be a source of like severe frustration, not being able to understand the misconceptions from the student’s perspective, so I definitely have learned to completely think through the lessons because it keeps my ability to be patient more sustained.

It also helps me answer the questions because if I have thought through how students will be confused then I am more readily able to answer their questions.

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