Aziel Rosado is nearly through his first year as a teaching assistant at People’s Prep. In our latest edition of Wolfpack Voices, Aziel discusses his journey as a first-generation college student and how our instructional leadership coaches have helped him develop as a new teacher.
My first challenge was informing myself about college and the application process. Even small concepts, like the difference between a major and minor, were all new to me. Being a first generation college student, I would tend to ask my family questions, but they didn’t have any answers. We didn’t know what FAFSA and other financial aid programs were. So I had to inform myself about the programs and colleges out there and how to get financial aid.
Another challenge that I faced was figuring out my own identity. I was born in Newark but I moved to Keansburg which was a predominantly white town. I didn’t have teachers or friends who looked like me, and I was really wondering if college was right for me because I didn’t see anyone who looked like me going.
When I got to college, I was faced with a new set of obstacles. I went to Rutgers New Brunswick which is a whole different world from the one-square-mile town that I grew up in. The academics were way more rigorous, I was in a study hall with hundreds of students, and I had to find resources on a massive campus. It was stressful and discouraging; I remember calling home and crying my first semester. I told my mom I wanted to drop out and join the military because I thought that was the only option for me. But she encouraged me to stick with it, and once I adjusted and got my first GPA back, it wasn’t so bad. I was finding my way.
Financially I found that I was struggling a lot with paying for tuition and all the other expenses that go along with college. Even feeding myself was a challenge because there were days that I would go without eating. Luckily, I joined a fraternity and I found out I wasn’t the only one who was going through those problems. I lived in a house where there were seven of us who would collaborate on sharing meals and finding out how we can eat. We found there was a food pantry on campus for students. They met us with open arms and connected us to the resources we needed. It was extremely emotional. We eventually hosted a food drive and we were able to donate almost 1000 pounds of food back to the pantry that fed us.
In those challenges I was able to find my way and find things that resonated with me. Even today, food insecurity is something I try to bring to everyone’s attention.
Why did you choose to work at People’s Prep?
I was in a program to get my masters in education and my teaching certificate. COVID turned the world upside down, and so there was a lot of uncertainty with the program. At the time I was also going through my own challenges with finances with trying to find a way to fund finishing the program. Because of COVID, I was also working less at my job, so I decided to take a gap year and find somewhere I could continue to work with students but not yet have my masters. I started looking at charter schools and I noticed that People’s Prep was in Newark where I was born. I love going back to where I was born and seeing all of the different cultures.
Then I saw the school side. People’s Prep is a smaller school, and that goes a long way for students who need more help. It would afford me the opportunity to work one-on-one with students who also look like me.
What are some key supports have you received as a first year teacher at People’s Prep and how has this helped you to better serve your students?
Definitely the weekly coaching sessions. I have been lucky enough to have two coaches who have provided me with a lot of feedback that has changed my whole approach to teaching. Transitioning from a teaching assistant to a full-time teacher was completely different in the sense that I was now responsible for developing and modifying the curriculum to meet student needs. Through the coaching sessions, I am able to meet my students where they are. Without my coaches, there wouldn’t be a Foundations of Geometry course.
Our morning meetings and professional development sessions have also helped me acclimate to the school culture. I’ve been able to ask a lot of questions and learn how to be a strong teacher through them.
What kind of supports does your team offer our students with special needs during the pandemic, and what impact do you see it having?
In modifying the curriculum, there was an emphasis on visual learning and allowing students to see the things we were teaching them. We give students step-by-step guides with examples throughout the lesson which are also incorporated into their asynchronous work.
Every week students also receive class notes. If students struggle with note taking, they are able to go back to the document which allows them to clear up any misconceptions they have. They have my phone number and they can reach out to me for one-on-one help at any time. They always have the opportunity to get extra office hours.
Overall, I’d say the school has done a great job transitioning to online learning. It’s really well done and we are doing the most we can given the situation. Everything is well planned and admin is always easily accessible.