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Summer takes city teachers into the stacks and onto the stage

GothamSchools spoke to several city public school teachers who sought out summer seminars, workshops, and classes to help them learn more about their fields.

On Thursday, we looked at what a handful of math and science teachers were doing. Today, we’re checking in with a few teachers who used the summer to bolster their history and humanities knowledge.

Did you learn something new this summer? Leave a comment to share your experience.

Ann McCormack, Brooklyn International High School

An educator and art performer for more than three decades, Ann McCormack still looks for creative ways to help her students, who are mostly recent immigrants without strong English-language skills. The theater teacher paid out of her pocket to attend a $1,200 workshop in Williamstown, Mass., where she learned how to build and use puppets.

“I’ve done puppetry with students in the past but it was all self-taught. I’ve never taken a workshop,” said McCormack, who works with a team of teachers to help Brooklyn International’s English language learners. “By using puppetry, acting, and filmmaking, students can explore the language in an interesting and creative way.”

“Some of my students are very shy about speaking English, so the idea of speaking to a puppet — so the focus is on the puppet and not on them — seems to free them,” she added. “They suddenly speak English. The puppetry provides them with an opportunity to loosen up.”

“I do believe teachers use whatever tools they can get their hands on to help students really understand and enjoy the literature,” McCormack said. She said she plans to use puppets to teach classic literature, including Shakespeare’s “MacBeth” and “Frankenstein,” next year.

Emmalene Gilchrist, P.S. 139, Queens and  Zakiya Edwards, P.S. 36, Bronx

Relieved from the scorching temperatures outside, Emmalene Gilchrist and Zakiya Edwards were among the educators who browsed leather-bound books in the library at the New-York Historical Society last month.

Almost 30 teachers attended the museum’s workshop, which was geared toward elementary-school educators who want to teach their students American history through picture books. The 36-hour class was one of three the museum offered this summer to city teachers who wanted to bolster their credentials — and potentially their pay grade — by earning Department of Education-approved “professional credits.”

But participants said taking the course provided far more than extra credit.

Emmalene Gilchrist, a Queens kindergarten teacher, said she signed up for the course in search of new strategies for reaching her students, particularly the 50 percent who have special needs.

“It’s opened up a new world for me where even at the kindergarten level, you can definitely introduce these paintings even though some of them may seem high level, we’re learning the types of questions to ask these kids in order for them to really participate and learn about New York history,” Gilchrist said.

This year, the museum paid special attention to the Common Core, new learning standards that promote literacy and critical thinking. It was the Common Core tie-in that drew in Zakiya Edwards, a Bronx elementary school teacher, when she was looking for professional development courses to take over the summer.

“What my school is pushing for is that we teach all the skills through social studies and science, so when I saw this class on the website, I thought this class would be great,” Edwards said.