Teacher Voices: Jess Rhoades Bonilla

Jess Rhodes Bonilla, High School of Telecommunications Arts and Technology, New York City, Age: 30, Years of teaching: 8
If I ruled the world, I’d make more time for English and history teachers to collaborate together.

Jess Rhoades Bonilla recalls that professional development in her first year or two of teaching seemed useful. But that changed as another half dozen passed.

"In the last two or three years, I can't say I enjoyed the PD that was given," said Ms. Bonilla, who teaches at the High School of Telecommunications Arts and Technology in New York City. "It started to seem repetitive."

She hadn't lost her taste for learning. In those years, the 30-year-old Princeton University graduate earned a master's degree in American studies and started work on an administrator's license. She taught different grades and levels.

It wasn't, as teachers often complain, that the central office was dictating content or making her trek across town for a silly workshop. Most of the professional development was homegrown.

Sometimes, she said, she learned a lot from her colleagues, importing techniques or materials to her own classroom almost right away. On other occasions, the sessions just weren't what she needed—in the language of pedagogy, the instruction was "undifferentiated."

Plus, bringing teachers together from across the school was easy to overdo. "If I ruled the world, I'd make more time for English and history teachers to collaborate together," Ms. Bonilla wrote in an e-mail.

This past summer, she got her wish for intensive and subject-specialized professional development.

One of a select group of teachers from across the city, she spent five, eight-hour days in a creative-writing workshop led by a novelist-in-residence at the New York Public Library. "It was definitely the best professional development I've ever had," she said. "So much of what I learned this summer I hope to re-create for my students."

Meanwhile, Ms. Bonilla has hopes for the "inquiry groups" that will fill the two, 35-minute periods that her school devotes to professional development each week. Her group of three teachers shares students; its members teach English, history, and art, respectively. The trio is going to zero in on some aspect of better helping the students who are struggling readers.

Teachers were able to chose their own teams and topics. That, Ms. Bonilla said, was a good place to start.

— Bess Keller

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A version of this article appeared in the November 10, 2010 edition of Education Week