A commitment to excellence
Every year, Christine Rowland beams with pride during graduation. The teacher of English language learners at Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx, N.Y., walks amid the crowd of caps and gowns with her video camera in hand. She records her students talking excitedly about their plans for the immediate future and their hopes and dreams for the years to come. “That is the happiest day all year,” Rowland says. “They’ve jumped through all the flaming hoops.” As they cross the stage to receive their diplomas, they can thank Rowland for helping them get there.
A 19-year veteran teacher, Rowland has worked at Columbus since 2002. She most enjoys spending time with students, she says. Rowland teaches ELLs who are seniors and must pass the New York State Regents exam in English to graduate. She relishes the opportunity to see her students learn and grow and to help them reach their potential. “It can be very difficult to be an English language learner,” Rowland says. To graduate, “they have to meet all the same requirements as a student who was born here—without knowing the language.” In addition, they’re often dealing with huge issues of poverty.” Many of her students work 40 to 50 hours a week in part-time jobs to help support their families.
Rowland’s students often keep in touch with their former teacher. It’s not uncommon for alumni to invite her to neighborhood parties and barbecues. A student of Rowland’s who graduated 15 years ago contacted her at the beginning of last school year to tell her about summer business and accounting internships with his employer.
Besides teaching, Rowland works with new and veteran teachers in her role as a professional developer for the United Federation of Teachers’ Teacher Center. She helps teachers improve their lesson plans, differentiate instruction and analyze student work. “She’s extremely helpful,” says Vjosa Mujaj, a first-year global history teacher, who meets with Rowland two to three times each week. Mujaj says Rowland also helps with all the things teachers must do outside the classroom, like filling out paperwork for benefits and professional development. “Christine, what do I do? Where do I go? Who do I call?” are questions Mujaj routinely asks her mentor.
Mujaj says Rowland is “very committed,” arriving at school early, staying late and often spending her free time working on essays with ELL students piece by piece. “She puts her heart into everything she does.” This includes helping to keep Columbus open despite the state epartment of education’s repeated threats to close it. To that end, Rowland analyzed data, which showed that Columbus’s four-year graduation rate was higher than the citywide average and had been improving steadily for the last five years and therefore didn’t deserve to close. Last year, the union won a lawsuit against the city for trying to close Columbus. Rowland’s work contributed to the union’s fight to keep the school open.