A teacher says students learn better when they see themselves in what we teach

Alex Corbitt is teaching 7th-grade English in the very same classroom at M.S. 331, the Bronx School of Young Leaders, where he student taught as a Fordham graduate student. In nearly five years at the school, Corbitt has developed culturally relevant curricula, taught his students to make podcasts, and helped bring 2,000 books into the building. And on his break? He and his colleagues play pickup basketball with the kids.

Last year he was named to the International Literacy Association’s “30 Under 30” list, an honor bestowed on teachers and other rising young leaders. Corbitt said it was gratifying to win for his work in a renewal school—the city’s designation for an underperforming school trying to turn itself around.

“It gives me hope that we’re not just shouting-out schools and teachers who get high test scores, but also teachers who are trying to authentically recognize their students and empower them,” he said. “We are working every day to close the achievement gap. Over the past three years [at M.S. 331], we’ve really come together and supported each other as a community.”

With students who are mostly Dominican, Puerto Rican, and West African, Corbitt seeks out literature that they can relate to—including stories about students of color in New York City.

“I think when students read and write they need to be able to see themselves in the content,” he said.

A big proponent of technology in the classroom, Corbitt participated in a digital literacies collaborative, a network of educators run by Kristen Turner, Ph.D., who taught at the Graduate School of Education. The group’s demonstration on iPhone podcasts inspired a lesson for Corbitt’s teen activism class, in which students watched a documentary about racism and interviewed each other to make podcasts of their own.

Corbitt credits Fordham for placing him in the struggling school back then. “I think Fordham really understands that the best schools to learn how to teach in,” he said, “are the schools that need the best teachers the most. You hone your craft and you become better.”

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Nicole LaRosa is the senior director of University communications. She can be reached at [email protected] or 212-903-8810.