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With the Right Tools, Challenges Lead to Growth

Elizabeth Brinkman

Phoenix, AZ—There’s no question that the first few years in the classroom are difficult for new teachers. But with the right tools and guidance, one Roosevelt District teacher says the most challenging moments have also been the most rewarding.

“The old adage says if you find something you love, it’s not work. That’s what it feels like to me,” said Elizabeth Sousa, a third grade teacher at Cesar Chavez Community School in Phoenix.

After graduating from the Arizona State University elementary education program, Sousa launched her career during the first year of the Rewarding Excellence in Instruction and Leadership, The Next Generation (REIL-TNG) initiative. 

REIL-TNG is a five-year initiative being implemented by the Maricopa County Education Service Agency (MCESA) with the aim of improving the quality of education for Arizona’s students.

The initiative, which implemented a rigorous, fair, and transparent evaluation process for teachers, also provides a vast amount of resources, tools, and professional development to help teachers develop their abilities.

“I think all of the professional development offered by MCESA, whether it’s in-person in my district or the online tools and videos are very helpful,” Sousa said.

During Sousa’s second year the initiative moved towards linking the evaluation process to performance-based compensation.

“When it was announced that we were working towards performance pay I wasn’t too nervous. I felt like I knew the observation tool well enough,” Sousa said.

Teachers and administrators have the full support of trained field specialists, peer evaluators, and coaches through MCESA and Sousa felt that the support she had received had amply prepared her for the next step.

“They’ve offered professional development about the pre-conference to make sure you’re prepared and have everything you need in order to get the score that you want.”

Even though she had only been in the classroom for two years, Sousa felt her education and the professional development she’s received have given her the confidence she needs to be successful.

“I thought ‘Well, my students are going to do what they’re going to do and I’m going to do what I normally do,” Sousa said. “I didn’t feel like I needed to change anything.”

In fact, Sousa, who is currently working towards her Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction at ASU, feels that the LOI is helping her further develop her abilities as a teacher. 

“I definitely think the observation tool has helped me improve my lesson planning. I’ve also noticed that when I plan my instruction that way, the students perform better,” Sousa said.

Every teacher loves those moments in the classroom when a lesson plays out perfectly and new information clicks with students. Sousa said she’s also found great satisfaction in those difficult lessons when students have trouble grasping new concepts.

“Now I have to problem solve and figure out what went wrong. Or maybe nothing went wrong and it went exactly the way you planned it but they still don’t get it. Then you can problem solve with your team or your coaches,” Sousa said.

In addition to the support she’s received from peer evaluators and coaches, Sousa said she’s also found the online resources provided by MCESA helpful in developing her skills. From online professional learning modules to a comprehensive video bank of successful classroom instruction, Sousa has found the resources she needs to help her students succeed.

“It just depends on what format you like better or how much time you have. If you only have five minutes you can always watch a video,” Sousa said.

Sousa is among the many inspired teachers who are up to the challenge of providing a great education for Arizona students and finds joy in the career she’s chosen.

“It just feels like such a privilege. It’s a blast every single day that I get to hang out with these independent little thinkers who are so funny, so smart, and so responsible. I feel really lucky.”

For more information about MCESA and the REIL-TNG initiative, visit the website.