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Herald News to Chronicle First-Year Teacher, 2011 RWU Alumnus

The Fall River newspaper began a series that will follow first-year educator Sam Podbelski '11, who is now teaching at the city’s B.M.C. Durfee High School.
Photo by: Jack Foley | Herald News

The daily newspaper for Fall River, Mass., began a series this week that will follow first-year educator Sam Podbelski, a 2011 graduate of Roger Williams University who is now teaching at the city’s B.M.C. Durfee High School. In the introductory piece, Podbelski shared his thoughts on his first post-college professional assignment teaching history to special needs students.

From THE FALL RIVER HERALD NEWS

New Teacher Settling into Work at B.M.C. Durfee High School

By Derek Vital, Herald News Staff Reporter

September 26, 2011

Fall River — A few short months ago, Sam Podbelski was living the life of a college senior. He was completing his final season as a pitcher for the Roger Williams University baseball team, getting ready for graduation and scrambling to find a job. Now, the 22-year old is embarking on his chosen profession — teaching.

The Herald News will follow the first-year educator as he teaches history to special needs students at B.M.C. Durfee High School. Podbelski will share with our readers his thoughts as he molds these young minds. What are the biggest hurdles a new teacher experiences? What works well and what is more of a challenge?

“It’s surreal that students are going to get their schedule and it’s going to say Sam Podbelski,” he said. “It’s letting go of that safety net which is exciting and nerve-racking at the same time.”

Podbelski said he had quite a culture shock the first time he stepped foot on the Durfee campus last year. He graduated from East Greenwich High School in Rhode Island with a class of about 150 students.
“I grew up in a suburban town,” said Podbelski. “It was nothing like Fall River.”

Podbelski describes himself as the oldest first year teacher at Durfee. He spent the entire 2010-11 school year as a student teacher in the high school’s history department, shadowing veteran educator Jay Correia. Podbelski also worked at Durfee’s summer program, so he was more acclimated to his surroundings than most rookie teachers.

“I’ve been in the building for a year and a half,” said Podbelski. “I know enough to get around and I know the people that work here. I was more familiar than other people on their first day.”

One of the challenges for Podbelski is getting adjusted to working with special needs students. His degree is in history and secondary education and he spent his entire student teaching tenure working with typical classrooms consisting of 30 students. Now there are no more than 12 students in his self-contained classroom, all of whom have moderate to high learning disabilities.

“It’s a learning process, especially with the special education,” said Podbelski. “What are the best learning strategies for these students? I majored in history, I didn’t major in special education. It’s finding out what works best in the classroom, what works best for me.”

Podbelski is working on a waiver, but will have to begin making strides toward obtaining a license to teach special education. He is putting those classes on hold until he gets acclimated to his teaching routine.

He is excited for the opportunity and looks forward to the challenge.

“It’s a new model here at Durfee, which I think will be successful because it’s taking kids out of the regular classroom, giving them a smaller group to work in,” said Podbelski. “When you look at the MCAS scores in Fall River, these are the kids we need to bring to the top.”

He said veteran teachers like Correia and Derek Farias along with his mentor Anthony Martin have been instrumental in getting him up to speed. They have provided him with tips on how to keep the students engaged in the learning process.

“The first thing I wanted to do was create an atmosphere with the students where they would be comfortable with me and to make a good impression,” said Podbelski. “Out of the many things Jay (Correia) taught me it was set the bar from day one. I wanted to make a good impression with the kids. That was my goal the first day.”

Outside of scrambling around the building because first-year teachers do not have their own classroom, Podbelski feels that the first few weeks of his career have gone well. He gives himself a passing grade with some room for growth.

“So far so good,” said Podbelski. “I have the days where I go home and feel this wasn’t the best lesson plan. But the principal told me don’t get discouraged and I’m not going to get discouraged. For as many bad lessons that I didn’t think worked, I’ve had just as many good lessons. I think I made the right choice to be here.”

Copyright 2011 The Herald News. For full story, click here.