Meet Ms. Brigitte
Campus: Freire Charter Middle School
Classes: 6th Grade Social Studies and Language Arts
Leadership Roles: ELL Coordinator, 6th Grade Team Leader, Writing Center Coach
Alma Mater: University of Pittsburgh, DeSales University
Who was your favorite teacher as a kid?
Ms. Breid, my kindergarten and second grade teacher. She was so nurturing and supportive. There was very little diversity in my district growing up, so it was very important for me to feel accepted. She went the extra mile to make me feel like part of the classroom environment.
How did you decide to go into teaching?
I was studying political science at the University of Pittsburgh, and I became a tutor in Pittsburgh public schools. Seeing the disparities in education in the low-income neighborhood where I was tutoring made me want to do something about it. For me, it was shocking to see kids in my third-grade classroom who were reading and doing math at a kindergarten or first grade level. I couldn’t understand why. I started to understand that these kids’ teachers were burnt out from trying to meet their kids’ overwhelming social, emotional, and academic needs. Every day was a struggle—they didn’t know what to do for the students. I didn’t want to just watch the problem.
Why teach ESL?
Growing up, my parents both spoke French, but I was fluent in English. When I was tutoring, I saw kids who didn’t speak English and didn’t get the support they needed to learn the language. I remember how hard it was when my parents used to drop me off with relatives in France so that I could learn French. No one spoke English to me—it was a completely immersive experience. I had to learn the language for survival. I wanted to help make that process less scary for students.
How did you hear about Freire?
From my experience in Pittsburgh, I knew I wanted to be in a city environment. I was looking for teaching jobs in Philly, and I interviewed at Freire and another well regarded charter network. Freire had a family environment, and the school’s vision really lined up with mine. Freire’s ideal of empowering people through education really resonated with me. My dad always said that education is the great equalizer. I started teaching fifth grade at Freire in 2012 and have been here ever since.
What was your first year of teaching like?
It was overwhelming. Teachers wear so many hats—parent, friend, educator, counselor. I started to understand how needy my kids really were. My graduate program helped me learn how to establish a classroom environment, but no program really prepares you—I learned from experience. I’m still learning every day, and students teach you new things all the time. It’s a never-ending process of perfecting your craft.
I participated in the teacher coaching program we have here, and that helped me identify specific goals, like teacher talk time—that my kids needed to be talking more. My coach would do observations and time me, then present the data to me, and we would talk about ways to have the kids be more vocal. Also, in PD we were all working on Accountable Talk—having kids be the ones leading instruction. So that helped too.
What are your favorite things about teaching?
I’m inspired by my students’ potential, their commitment to improve, and their desire to become something great in life. They are the reason I am here.
I love teaching 5th and 6th grade because I really like this developmental stage—kids’ minds are still so open to new information. I did my student teaching in younger grades, and there’s so much time spent on classroom management. These kids are more independent but still impressionable.
I love teaching poetry, because there are so many connections between the literary techniques used in poetry and in music. I can make connections to my students’ interest in hip hop and show them the overlapping techniques used. That way we get to look at writing in new ways, and they see that it’s all around them.
What strikes you as unique about your experience at Freire?
The value that leadership puts in teachers’ insight is something that I don’t hear going on in other schools. There’s trust from the leadership that teachers have strong sense of what kids need. They trust that we will make the right decisions for our kids. We’re given a scope and sequence, but it’s up to teachers to design lessons. There’s no set reading curriculum. We’re given the resources we need and trusted to create meaningful lessons.
And not only are we heard, our ideas are put into implementation. For example, because of suggestions from teachers, we started looping. I was the first teacher to try it, and I love it—I saw so many gains in student performance, and saved so much time at the beginning of the year. Based on that experience, the whole school is doing it now.
What after-school activities are you involved in?
On Wednesdays I work in the Writing Center, which is a place for kids to get one-on-one support with any writing-related assignments. Many of my own students come for the extra help. One of my students was failing first quarter, so part of the action plan we made with her and her mom was that she would come to the Writing Center every Wednesday. This quarter she is just flying. She is really shy in the classroom, so that one-on-one support really helps her feel comfortable to ask questions.
How would you describe the staff culture here?
We’re a family. We work together, support each other, and believe in each other. We know that everyone is there for the students. We share the same vision, and we know that if we work together our kids will succeed.
Do you have any advice for teachers considering a career at Freire?
If you’re looking for a school environment where your ideas are heard and valued, this is the place to be. Working in any urban school is a challenge, but when you have the right group of people to encourage and support you, it can be an extremely rewarding experience. Freire is one of those places where they won’t let you fail and we won’t let the kids fail. We’re all in it together to achieve.