This week, Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School teacher Andrew Hoyt answers our questions about his experience as a teacher, a Melody Teaching Fellow, and a witness to the difference Catholic schools make.
How did you come to be professionally involved in education?
My first exposure to teaching (aside from my own experience as a student) came in an unusual setting: a homeless shelter. While I was an employee at the Center for the Homeless in South Bend, a group of graduate students from the MFA in creative writing program at the University of Notre Dame started up a writing workshop for our guests at the CFH. These graduate students were nice enough to let me sit in with them, and they amazed me with their ability to engage even the most unlikely students in the written word.
A few years later, I became involved with a community of educators and ACE-grads who were [interested in] the Cristo Rey model. The more we researched it, the more impressed I became with the intersection of academics, spirituality, and social justice that drives these schools. When I heard of the plans for a new Cristo Rey school in Houston, Texas, I started shopping online for belt buckles and cowboy hats. I've been lucky enough to teach English at Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory of Houston for the last four years.
What led you to Melody Teaching Fellows, and how has the program helped you as an educator?
The Gwen and Larry Melody family have been incredible supporters and friends of Cristo Rey Jesuit in Houston, and when I heard of the idea for the Melody Teaching Fellows, I thought it would be a great opportunity to hone my practice and develop responses to some of the unique challenges my students face. In particular, the program gave me an opportunity to investigate, understand, and address some of my students' vocabulary deficiencies. With the help of my mentor and outstanding colleagues, I developed a curriculum to promote morphological awareness that I never could have imagined or completed without the Melody Teaching Fellows program.
I believe that the purpose of education, and literacy in particular, is to provide our students with freedom. With that in mind, the goal of my work with the Melody Teaching Fellows program has been to allow my students to feel hope when they encounter words and terms that they have never seen before, rather than despair or frustration.
Will you share with us a story from your classroom that affirms the value of Catholic Education?
My students work in a dojo-like environment to "chop" words into morphemes, and they earn bracelets of various colors, much like the belts in a karate dojo. Just last week a senior student, who earned a "black belt" in my class as a sophomore, sat in my room for a study hall with the rest of the varsity basketball team. As all of the students worked on their homework, one freshman ran across a word in his reading that gave him trouble. He asked three people what the word meant, but no one seemed to know. Finally, the third student suggested, "Ask Nghia, he's a black belt." The freshman looked in awe at the senior (it's insanely hard to become a black belt), and took his reading over to the older student. Though they didn't know I was listening, two things happened in that conversation that affirmed for me the value of their Catholic education. First, the senior admitted that he didn't know the definition of the word, but asked the freshman, "What should we do?" The freshman tentatively responded, "Break it down?" And the two began working together to determine the definition of the word. When faced with a challenge, Nghia didn't back down. He felt free to begin an investigation of his own; more importantly, he shared that freedom with the younger student. I could hardly hope for more than to see two students, helping one another, emboldened by a sense of hope, and relishing a challenge in front of them.
Read more about Andrew's curriculum on his blog here.