Teacher Feature: Brittany Clark is a Teacher, Plus, Plus, Plus

Brittany and her resident Janessa Jordan at Prom

Brittany and her resident Janessa Jordan at Prom

Brittany Clark is an MCHS teacher, plus a college adjunct teaching Dual Enrollment English College, plus a Mentor Teacher with the Memphis Teacher Residency Program, plus a Teaching Policy Fellow working with teachers to have a voice in policy decisions that affect the teaching profession. Those could be viewed as four separate roles, but to Brittany they fit into the core of beliefs she has about improving results for students and teachers.

Before making the decision to teach in urban schools, she earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Rhodes College in Memphis and a Masters in Literary Linguistics from the University of Birmingham, England. She plans to begin her doctoral work in Education Policy or Literacy. Brittany Clark teaches 10th through 12th grade English, ACT prep, and Dual Enrollment Composition at Middle College High School at Christian Brothers University, Memphis, TN. Brittany has mentored teachers for the past two years through the Memphis Teacher Residency Program, and is also involved with The New Teacher Project as a consultant working with school districts around the country. At Middle College, Brittany has served as the English Department Chairperson and in-house New Teacher Mentor. In June 2010, she presented a workshop entitled, “Bridging the Gap Between High School and College.” at the Middle College National Consortium summer conference.

The dual-enrolled course she teaches, Composition 1010, takes the place of senior English. It is completely writing based, using inquiry and in depth research. Ms. Clark believes, “This prepares students for all the college disciplines and is therefore a more appropriate course for my students. AP courses also count as freshmen English, but those students don’t learn the necessary skills taught in freshman English.”

One of her favorite roles is that of a Mentor Teacher with Memphis Teacher Residency program. In this program, college graduates in a content area, commit to teaching full time in Memphis City Schools and are mentored for an entire year by a master teacher. Brittany feels that she can help beginning teachers with some insight into organizational systems and consistency with students. One example she cites is “to always have homework due on the same day of the week.” She recalled how hard the first year of teaching was. “I didn’t even know what questions to ask”. Still her work with the residents helps her reflective practice. “Having to explain why I do something in a certain way helps me be a better educator. My residents also bring a sense of vibrancy to the classroom and keep me up-to-date with new technologies such as downloading of videos to use in the classroom.” (Photo: Brittany and her resident Janessa Jordan at the prom)

MCHS Principal Michelle Armstrong has high praise. “Brittany and a number of other teachers in our building are really leading the way in terms of mentoring. We have had eight aspiring teachers move on to teaching positions through the Memphis Teacher Residency (MTR) program, which is an affiliate of the national Urban Teacher Residency Program. Given the small size of our high school, it has been a true compliment that MTR placed so many residents at our school in just two years. Brittany and Felicia Anthony have served as mentors for both years, and it has been amazing to watch them grow through their mentoring relationships. They are testaments to evolving as a teacher when you have to teach someone else what you do.”

It would seem that her schedule is already tightly packed, but Ms. Clark is also passionate about the Teach Plus network, a rapidly growing national movement of teachers who want to connect with highly-motivated peers and national and local policy leaders, learn about innovative policies to empower effective teachers, and be a voice for change within the teaching profession. The Memphis network began in October 2010 and has engaged over 200 teachers.

Ms. Clark became involved in Teach Plus because she perceived that teachers are always being told, “this is what’s happening”, and they didn’t understand what or why. This was then a chance to look deeply into the policies of the state and the district. Along with the federal “Race to the Top” funding came a new evaluation system. One goal of Teach Plus is to have teachers have a voice in the evaluation system. They wanted to collect data on what teachers were saying, something never done before. Teachers wanted to know how they were going to measure the teachers’ content knowledge. Would even those with masters degrees have to be re-examined? How much would student “value added” standardized tests be counted in evaluation and in teacher retention? How could the prior year results be used to motivate both students and teachers?

Her goal is to grow as a teacher and to develop leadership avenues that are not administrative. According to Principal Armstrong, Brittany is succeeding. “In addition to her mentoring, Brittany’s work with Teach Plus is really helping our building grow in our knowledge of how policy is affecting our work, specifically regarding understanding student growth and achievement data and how these data points inform and impact teacher practice and accountability. It feels good to work at a school where so many other people are leaders, not just the principal!”