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The Partnership Fellows Program

When Asia Malone graduated from college, her professional ambition was shaped by role models who inspired her: “I always admired the teachers who have been so influential in my life—encouraging me when I didn’t think I could do things.” Her goal: to find a position where she could provide the same encouragement to others.

But her college only offered teaching certification as part of a Master’s degree program, and the timing of that step was complicated by a global pandemic, during which Asia moved from California to Cleveland. Amid those factors making her next steps uncertain, Asia came across the Partnership Fellows Program—and this winter, she became one of its first participants.

Now, in a room full of second graders, she gets to be that inspiration for others. “The kids’ ‘a-ha’ moments—when they say “ooohhhh” when they finally understand something—that’s my favorite,” she shares.

The Partnership developed the Fellows Program this year to accomplish a win-win: Our schools get additional staffing support that is crucial during the pandemic—particularly substitutes who can step into a classroom quickly in the event that a teacher needs to quarantine. In turn, individuals who are interested in teaching but who are not perhaps traditional candidates for classroom openings get an apprenticeship-like hands-on entrée into the profession.

“I couldn’t have picked a better program to give teaching a try,” Asia says. She finds the focus on job-embedded professional development really beneficial. “I can learn from different grade levels and see what I like—that was influential in taking the position.” The fellows also receive robust, targeted professional development—a full thirty hours in their first month in the network—along with coaching from the school leaders they work with and regular one-on-one check-ins with the Partnership’s academic team.

Asia’s first placement as a fellow has been with that second grade class at Archbishop Lyke in Cleveland, and her students have been as eager to welcome her as she is to have an impact on them. “The kids were open to me from the first day. I think I’m the youngest teacher they’ve had, and I try to incorporate fun into the lessons whenever I can.”

Asia wasn’t simply babysitting; she was guiding students through learning new material provided by colleagues at the school and in the network. As someone who had tutored and coached cheerleading, she was used to helping children develop new skills—but doing so with a whole class definitely presented new challenges.

”I didn’t think about how important it is to be super-intentional about what you say to get things done, but the training spent lots of time around the importance of the do-now at the start of class.” She dove into using cues and creating routines, and now, she says, “there are definitely way more students actively participating and working hard.”

Two weeks after Asia began as a fellow, the teacher she was subbing for indicated that she needed to step down from her position. In another win-win, Asia took over the class for the long term. Already, she realizes, “I get to be that adult in their lives who tells them they can do things they don’t think they can, for eight hours every day.”

The work is undeniably hard. “My nights don’t come to me any more—they go straight to the kids. That’s the part I didn’t realize would be so time-consuming: emailing parents, getting work graded.” But, she adds, “I have a lot of support from the Kindergarten and first grade teachers at Archbishop Lyke. And Nehemie Villarceau from the Partnership supports me. So I’m not left to my own devices—I’m not alone, like I was scared to be.”

Even amid the long days, she’s quick to name what it is she wants to get better at: “I want to get more intentional about planning every minute of my lessons. An activity that you’ve planned for 5 minutes can become ten; I don’t want time to slip away like that. And I want to be the teacher who doesn’t perform as much, so I’m not so exhausted at the end of the day, but can still be effective and engaging.”

Other fellows in Asia’s cohort include a former City Year Corps member and a career-changer transitioning to education after ten years in law enforcement. With their diverse experiences, the fellows all have in common a desire to make an impact on children, potential to become full classroom educators, and non-traditional trajectories into teaching. Indeed, one of our network’s goals in establishing the Fellows Program is to expand our pipeline of dynamic candidates for teacher positions. While tapping into that pipeline after just two weeks came sooner than we anticipated, the stability Asia Malone is providing a group of second graders who adore her makes it worthwhile.

The signs are that Asia is already effective and engaging—and that the experience is rewarding for her too. “When I see their scores on an assignment improve—that is a heartwarming moment. I know then that I am doing my job.”

Beth Blaufuss is Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at Partnership Schools.