Tyler Alabanza-Behard returned to the KIPP Houston High School classroom this fall after completing a seven-week summer fellowship position at the District of Columbia’s Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education (Read more here).
We recently spoke with Tyler about his summer experience and how it has it impacted his teaching.
How did this fellowship come up?
I’ve always been interested in politics and policy because of the impact that they can have on the population that we serve at KIPP. I pretty much saw teaching as a means of enforcing great political change in our country.
How did you find the fellowship and what was the process like?
I’m a Teach For America Corps member and the fellowship is open to anyone who is a TFA member or alumnus. It’s run by a nonprofit called Leadership for Educational Equity or LEE, which seeks to inspire leaders with classroom experience to engage civically and politically. So I heard about LEE through TFA and then I was connected with another big KIPPster who had done the fellowship before.
Although the fellowship itself runs throughout America, I knew that I wanted to go to D.C. because it is the political epicenter of education policy and politics in the country.
What was your initial biggest challenge?
I think one of the biggest challenges was learning and absorbing a lot of information about a new education landscape. Through Teach For America and KIPP, I’ve become used to the terms that we use in Houston and things that are specific to Texas, like the different kind of networks and initiatives in our cities. But then moving to D.C., I had to be prepared to serve D.C. parents, and traditional public schools, and public charter schools, so I had to learn a lot in a very short amount of time - such as D.C.’s district codes and its unique policies.
What are some similarities and differences between a day at the fellowship and a day as an English teacher at KIPP Houston High School?
I’ll start with the similarities. The work I did was mostly in mediation. You’re resolving disputes between families, schools, and districts. When you’re mediating and you’ve got a client or a family on the phone, you’ve got to make a lot of quick, strategic decisions. For example, which question do I ask next that will give me the information I need? What resolution do I suggest for them? How do I best communicate with the parents, and then how do I summarize it back to the schools?
There’s a lot of quick decision making in the fellowship and then of course when you’re a classroom teacher you’re defined by your decision-making ability. At any moment, there are a number of students who need my help. So that was a big similarity.
During the fellowship, I was writing a lot more, so I had the chance to refine the academic skills that I picked up at Oxford in England. Because I was writing memos for the senior advocate at the office, I had to translate dense federal laws into a more reader-friendly form. Also, I had to craft letters for school leaders across the city, explaining what was happening in cases and then offering my recommendations.
So, a lot more writing compared to my job as an English teacher.
How will this fellowship make you a better KIPP teacher?
It’s a good question. As a mediator, or as someone working in conflict management, you are really dealing with what happens when there is a breakdown in communication between families, students, and schools. The fellowship reemphasized the importance of creating strong, transparent relationships between educators, schools, and families so that it does not get to the point where government has to be involved. If schools, families, and students were communicating regularly, openly, and honestly then you wouldn’t need government intervention.
Overall, it's helped me to become even more active in my communication with parents and students.
Since his summer fellowship, Tyler feels he has a broader outlook on school-family relationships and aims to help his families understand the ins-and-outs of education policy and the power of their voices.