Overcrowding in classes blooms opportunity for new teacher

After roughly 100 new students registered at West High over the summer and at the beginning of the school year, several classes had populations in the high 30s. Andrew Bloom was hired to take on American studies classes and success centers.

Andrew+Bloom%2C+a+new+member+of+the+West+High+staff%2C+sits+at+his+desk+in+room++239%2C+which+he+shares+with+his+colleague+Travis+Henderson.

Alyssa Skala

Andrew Bloom, a new member of the West High staff, sits at his desk in room 239, which he shares with his colleague Travis Henderson.

While August is usually the time for students to meet new teachers, get acquainted with classmates and fall into a rhythm with their subjects, a group of American studies and success center kids got a change of pace when they were switched to a new teacher part-way through the second trimester. Andrew Bloom joined West in January. He was hired to ease overcrowding in classes. 

West staffs classes based on the registration form students fill out around January. This year, however, there was an unprecedented amount of new student registrations that occured in the summer. This resulted in unexpectedly large class sizes. 

“We knew that it might be hard to find a teacher in the middle of the year to come in and fill the position we’re looking for. So we were real up front with the teacher that [they were] going to take on some American Studies, it’s going to be a shift in the middle of the trimester for some kids. It’s taking on the success center class, which is going to be a challenge,” said Luke DeVries, assistant principal. 

We knew that it might be hard to find a teacher in the middle of the year to come in and fill the position we’re looking for.”

— Luke DeVries, assistant principal

Bloom shadowed classes for about a week so he would know what to expect. 

“It was a really quick turnaround, it means that week to week I take a good chunk of my weekends and just try to plan stuff,” Bloom said. 

DeVries has been impressed with Bloom’s willingness to take the challenge on. 

“It’s nice to have somebody find somebody that’s adaptable and excited to come in and work with kids and be flexible and jump right in as a first year teacher in the middle of trimester,” DeVries said. “I remember my first year teaching was difficult and I had all summer to plan.”

Bloom also recognizes that the switch was a challenge for some students. 

“Students really hate being switched in classes. You’re used to the people that you know and like,” he said. 

To ease students into the change the first week there were lots of activities aimed at getting to know the students and adjusting the students to their new group of classmates. Bloom said for some of these students the change was positive in that they got a second chance and a break in the middle of the year. For others, they had to say goodbye to a structure that was working for them. 

“For those students who have stuck it out I have …  more praise than I can say for those students because that’s been hard for them,” Bloom said. 

Since he joined mid-trimester and construction is already taking over classrooms, Bloom shares a space with social studies teachers Amira Nash and Travis Henderson. In the morning he teaches American studies in Nash’s room 238 and then he goes across the hall to room 239 for success center in the afternoon. The alternative would have been placing Bloom in a temp. 

“As a first year teacher it’s nice to be around colleagues that can really help you and for everything [from] figuring out where is the copy room and stuff like that up to, ‘Can you help me troubleshoot problems that I’m having in my classes?’” said Henderson. 

As a first year teacher it’s nice to be around colleagues that can really help you and for everything [from] figuring out where is the copy room and stuff like that up to, ‘Can you help me troubleshoot problems that I’m having in my classes?’”

— Travis Henderson, teacher

The network of both social studies and success center teachers has been very important to Bloom. One of those influential colleagues is math and success center teacher, Karen Meyers

Meyers is also a first year success center teacher, but she has been teaching at West since 1995. Factoring in some time she has taken off to raise her kids, she has been teaching for about 20 years. She had worked with students who struggle in school through some of her introductory math classes and she wanted to make school more accessible and connections with those students. That led her to teach success center this year, which she is very passionate about doing. 

“I’ll never forget the first time I met [Bloom]. I thought they were going to bring him up like five minutes before class because I had an open hour but they didn’t, they brought him right when the bell rang,” Meyer said. “I said, ‘Okay just dial in because here we go. All these kids are going to come in, it’s really important to learn their name. Learn their names and say them correctly. Go around ask them what’s going on. It’s all about relationship building … Make sure that when you sit down with them that you when you are done that you know something about them that you didn’t know before.’ And then they started coming in, and he just did it.” 

Meyer says he isn’t afraid to have open conversations with students and that he knows how to set a structure for them. 

Building relationships with young people is very different from his past job. Before Bloom became a teacher, he was working at a financial company.

I really enjoy getting to be in a classroom and have good conversation. That’s kind of why I’m in this business I guess, is to get to talk to students, get to know students and then hopefully help them grow.”

— Andrew Bloom, teacher

“It was my first desk job, and I sat there all day on the computer and I just stared at the computer all day, and I think once I’d gotten through about a year of that, I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can keep just like doing this,’” Bloom said.

Bored by spreadsheets, phone calls and managing financials, Bloom wanted to work with people. 

“It was my job to make user manuals and actually train people on how to do them… That was the part of my job I liked. I didn’t like the part of my job where I just sat at a computer and did money things,” Bloom said. 

He decided that teaching would be more gratifying, so he quit in May 2017 and went to the University of Iowa that fall to get his teaching credentials. 

“I’ll be honest, it’s a great change. I really love being here and getting to work with students all day,” said Bloom. “It’s different, there are some days where I say to myself like, ‘You know, that computer, it wasn’t so bad.’ But for the most part I really enjoy getting to be in a classroom and have good conversation. That’s kind of why I’m in this business I guess, is to get to talk to students, get to know students and then hopefully help them grow.”