They could get a job anywhere, but these educators chose to put their skills to work in high-need schools.
On the wall of Dana Pedersen’s third grade classroom at Sheppard Elementary School is a sign that reads “Teach! Not Tell!” She encourages her students to be “problem solvers” as they go through a science lesson in describing the liquids found in the various rooms of their home.
Less than two miles down the road, Jenny Fleischer is teaching a class in cell biology at Elsie Allen High School. She’s unveiling the mysteries of human genetics that lead to some people having curly hair, some having blue eyes and others unattached ear lobes.
On the board is the last assignment of the day … SpongeBob DNA, after the popular TV cartoon character.
Both of these teachers earned their teaching credentials at Sonoma State University and then went on to complete the rigorous National Board Teaching Certification program conducted by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
This is a competition that winnows out almost 60 percent of those who attempt it, but both Fleischer and Pedersen mastered this “gold standard in teaching” and then chose to teach in schools where families fight poverty and English is often the second language spoken at home.
“They could get a job anywhere, but they chose to stay in high-need schools,” says Martha Ruddell, recently retired dean of the SSU School of Education. Research has shown that board-certified teachers like these are among the most effective in classrooms where the students face limited resources both at home and at school.
Elsie Allen’s student population draws from the most culturally diverse section of Sonoma County. Twenty-nine percent of the student body are English language learners compared to the county average of 10 percent. Many of Fleischer’s students may be able to speak English in social situations but cannot read it at the academic level required for a science such as biology.
Fleischer works to develop an engaging curriculum to meet the needs of her students and also mentors new teachers in the SSU teaching credential program.
“A one-size-fits-all approach to education does not work for our population,” she says. “Teachers need to have a greater variety in their arsenal to help children learn.”
“Jenny has a deep and rich understanding of what it means to be a teacher,” says one colleague. “She is a natural — firm and yet compassionate.”
The majority of students at Sheppard Elementary School are English language learners — 72 percent of the student body is Hispanic or Latino. Despite the fact that the poverty rate has almost doubled in the past 10 years in its service area, the school boasts a great deal of family participation and teacher leadership.
Pedersen teaches bilingual classes for third graders and is the coordinator of the Gifted and Talented Program for the Roseland School District.
“Dana has an ability to challenge all kinds of students from English language learners to the gifted,” says Sheppard principal Tom Castagnola. “It is rare to have someone that is that well organized and dedicated, especially for English-language learners.”
“The biggest challenge in transitioning students from Spanish to English is to help them academically and socially and to do it in meaningful ways,” Pedersen says.
National Board certified teachers making a difference in Santa Rosa, Calif., schools: Jenny Fleischer, left, teaches biology at Elsie Allen High School, and Dana Pedersen teaches third grade at Sheppard Elementary School.