March Person of the Month: Georgina Pierre
Ms. Pierre is a sixth-grade English Language Arts teacher at MS45 Thomas C. Giordano Middle School in the Bronx. Instructional Coach Tami Hill-Washington nominated Ms. Pierre because of the environment she has created in her classroom, noting that she “stretches herself and has come out of her comfort zone and works to create “thoughtful and meaningful activities that celebrate her students’ experiences.” Ms. Pierre has attended professional development sessions and participated in one on one coaching over the course of Turnaround’s three-year partnership with MS 45.
THE 180: Did you always know that you wanted to be a teacher, that you wanted to work in education?
GEORGINA PIERRE: Yes. I started teaching in 1995, quite some time ago. I started on the Lower East Side for a year and a half, then I did some work on the Upper East Side and then I came to MS 45. I’ve been here about 22 years.
THE 180: Have you managed to stay in touch with students you’ve taught in your 6th grade classroom over the course of your career?
GEORGINA PIERRE: I do, because many times, these kids, they have sisters and brothers, cousins, and I get to meet each and every one of them in their family. I have kids who say, “Oh, my mother was in your class.” So then I tell them, “Oh, my goodness, I taught your mother. Your mother was awesome and never gave me any trouble, so you have to live up to that.” [LAUGH]
It’s always a bit surprising because in September, students, without ever meeting me, will know all about me. And I’m like, “Where do you know me from?” And they might say, “Oh, I don’t know you, but my brother was in your class.”
THE 180: What strategies or practices has Turnaround brought to MS45 that you find yourself using the most?
GEORGINA PIERRE: It’s a lot of community building, which I feel students really need at this age. Students come in September and sometimes they’ve experienced things, maybe at home or in different settings, and they need some guidance on how to treat each other better – respect a person’s personal space, not to be disrespectful and be able to communicate how they’re feeling. We talk about empathy and being aware of how someone is feeling or reacting. We also do connections – called the circle of power and respect.
THE 180: What do you mean by the circle of power and respect? What does it look like in your classroom?
GEORGINA PIERRE: Turnaround gave me The Advisory Book by Linda Crawford that tells you step by step how to do connections, which helps adjust a child’s behavior. We’ve been doing it every Wednesday, fifth period, and students move their work tables to the back of the room to clear space to form the circle on the floor. From there, they learn to greet each other in different ways – how you would greet a professional, an authority figure or a friend. And then there are activities where we share. It’s a lot of life skills and building community, which I think is important for their grade level.
Tami and the Turnaround team have been coming in and giving me suggestions for how to improve the communication with the students. At first, the students were not respecting each other much; they were getting on each other’s nerves. But once we put the connection in place, we made what Tami called “a transformation.” She’s like, “Oh, my God, I noticed that you changed, the students changed. They are nicer, they are kinder to each other.”
THE 180: Have you seen a shift in the overall school environment since partnering with Turnaround?
GEORGINA PIERRE: I’ve definitely seen a shift. I find that students are more caring and friendly. And if I use a strategy, students respond. So one thing is the quiet signal. I raise my hand, then everyone starts to raise their hand; this means that we’re waiting for everyone to be quiet and stop what they’re doing. If I raise my hand with other students, I usually see a response. That signals to me, “Oh, they know this, they know what I’m trying to get. I’m trying to get quiet.”
THE 180: How has Turnaround influenced your teaching strategies?
GEORGINA PIERRE: I’ve been working with Turnaround for quite some time, so I continue to try to build on my experiences with them. I don’t see myself going back to how it used to be. I’ve seen the difference. It’s more enjoyable to be in the classroom, for the kids and myself.
THE 180: What’s one of your biggest takeaways from working with Turnaround?
GEORGINA PIERRE: Sometimes a student acts out in your classroom and it’s important to know that it probably has nothing to do with you. This child may have problems at home which causes him to act out in a certain way. You have to step back and have an open mind in order to best support the student’s needs.