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Getting to Know One of Our District’s Yale National Fellows

16 May 2024

Mr. Barr believes an educator's craft is a form of artistry. 

Mr. Barr

Mr. Brandon Barr has taught in CPS for nearly two decades, including the past nine years teaching reading, writing, and social studies at Twain Elementary School on Chicago’s Southwest Side. He was initially drawn to the Yale National Fellows program about 10 years ago because it was offering a poetry seminar, and he wanted to incorporate more poetry into his instruction. 

He describes his first experience as an incredible opportunity that helped him develop a strong professional learning community before the concept of job-embedded professional learning was more normalized in the District. By being connected with other teachers who were extremely passionate about their craft, he has been able to turn to this ever-growing network to share advice and receive feedback on his practice. 

This time around, he is working on a unit about how writing has been used as a tool for resistance particularly as it relates to Black history. This new unit is sure to build his students’ skill sets in reading, writing, and social studies. Get to know him more below. 

How do you think your students would describe you? 

I think they would describe me as being very engaging. I really make an effort to develop topics of study that resonate with their lives in one way or another. We do a lot of collective work unpacking topics together. I try to be very intentional in my lesson planning, very organized, responsive to their needs, and always willing to listen.

How do help students develop their confidence in the classroom? 

One way we start the school year is by building up what we want a good classroom conversation to look like. This is a nice entry point because my students are generally a little nervous about having multiple classes and switching teachers. It sets the stage for a collaborative and engaged classroom culture. 

What are some of your favorite memories of being a teacher? 

We participate in history fair every year, and, on our way to the state competition this year, it was great to see students who may have felt isolated at the start of the year being so connected with their classmates and even singing karaoke on the back of the bus. 

One of our special education classroom assistants is one of my former students, and I have quite a few former students who are now CPS teachers. Seeing their growth trajectory and them becoming part of the educational community in our city is so rewarding. 

What advice would you give to a new teacher? 

An educator’s craft is a form of artistry. It’s a very noble craft, but it requires a lot of care. It takes practice, planning, and reflection. There is a reason why educators benefit from coaching, mentorship, and collaboration. These opportunities can only help you grow. 

What is your message to your students? 

Even though everything feels super pressing and important right now, sixth grade is just one year of your life. There is so much after this. Right now, you are on a pathway toward your beautiful future. Your effort and work puts you one step closer. 

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