GREENSBORO, N.C. — Almost all 20 students in class have finished shuffling into place. Discussion is getting serious in Tuesday's afternoon session.
"Alright," Tiana Pitts hollers above the din, "Which do you prefer?" The room quiets long enough for Pitts' added pause.
"Cats or dogs?" Pitts asks, smiling.
The room collectively chuckles and, again, shuffling ensues. Dog lovers align to the right of the room. A few cat fanatics stand to the left.
"We've seen some great participation, great enthusiasm this year," Pitts said.
This is the easy part of the day for these "students." Refreshed from lunch after three and a half hours of orientation, group sessions and collaborative projects, nearly 150 teachers are engaging in the same game of 'Pick 'Em' inside classrooms at the Guilford County Schools Professional Development Center.
A little more than a decade ago, the state-mandated 'Right Start' orientation in the Guilford County Schools district (GCS) for teachers with less than six months of teaching experience, organizers said. The program relies on a trained teacher support staff called 'induction coaches' to indoctrinate the new arrivals on GCS' values, instructional framework, and business, said Sarah Campbell, one of Right Start's induction coaches.
GCS induction coaches are also tasked with keeping teachers engaged just as teachers are tasked with keeping their students' attention. The games and group projects get everyone participating in a lighthearted manner. A few more shuffles and the questions begin to take a more applicable turn.
"Okay, now pick 'em," said Pitts, "What's more important to you when you're teaching? Content knowledge or classroom management?"
This time, more deliberate, thoughtful shuffles. Open discussion on the teachers' choices begins, and soon, Ms. Pitts' lesson is revealed.
"They're both vital." Pitts nods to the room, "If you have one without the other, you're lost."
As the third-largest school district in North Carolina, aligning teachers to a consistent method, instructors said, helps educational quality across the district. New teachers, Pitts explained, can utilize the lessons from orientation in their classrooms and get feedback throughout the year.
"It's a really good review," said Leo Tulchin, "and we're learning a lot."
Tulchin graduated from college earlier this year in May. His first day at Allen Middle School should be less stressful than most, he believes, because of his involvement with Teach For America. Tulchin said Teach For America trains similar skills as the Right Start orientation, but throughout the day, he learned new approaches he intends to follow this year.
"Learning fun and actually productive ways to give students those kinds of [formative] assessments, for me, was super-duper helpful," Tulchin said.
That improvement, Pitts believes, keeps the orientation shuffling in the right direction.
"If teachers are growing in what they do, then that will affect student achievement," Pitts said.
"Because, ultimately, this is all about students and getting them what they need," she added.