Teacher Advocate

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Inspiring Teacher Interviews!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Christa Weber’s Interview with a Sixth Grade Teacher

Surrounded by cookie cutter houses with palm tree landscape, the Elementary school’s campus does not give the impression of a low-income community. The school itself is a newer school, built eleven years ago in this semi-urban agriculture community. There are 900 students in this pre-k through sixth grade school, with averages above 30 students per classroom. Thirty-five percent of the students are proficient in English and 92% are Hispanic/Latino.Entering the campus one must walk towards the playground to locate Mr. R’s sixth grade classroom in the portables. Often you will enter a dead silent room as the students are independently at work either reading or moving ahead with their math. When Mr. R is taking the lead or facilitating students’ interactions, there is a vibrant energy resonating throughout the room. Mr. R’s energetic and often-funny approach motivates his students’ learning and it is hard to find them out of line or off task. Creating this safe and positive environment was encouraged during the first week of school. He started the school year with a democratic drafting of class rules and procedures. This coupled with students who sit in groups and work together, helped to foster a cohesive classroom community. Every week begins with an overview of the WHAT, WHY, and HOW the class will adhere to the highlighted standards. Further simplifying these standards, the class creates objectives for the week. Mr. R’s ability to adhere to the compulsory standards, yet provide class independence, is a skill he has learned through years of diverse practice, as an educator, an artist, and I am sure, as a parent himself.

At UC Davis, Mr. R followed his first passion and received a B.A. in Fine Studio Arts. After a brief career in custom home construction as well as on his family farm, he received a job teaching art for the military’s MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) program. For five years, he taught art to the military personnel and their families, at what was then the Fort Ord military base. When the base closed, he received the chance to further his education. He took this opportunity to obtain his teaching credential at Chapman University. It was a constructivist program, where he was able to study under Jane Mead Roberts, the mind behind a small progressive charter school serving a heterogeneous population.

During the first six years of his public school teaching career, Mr. R was lucky to receive a unique experience. He worked in a multi-age, multi-grade program at a local public school. This exceptional program allowed his students to remain with him for two to three years. In addition, the program encouraged themed-based instruction with plenty of diverse projects. In this parent choice program, the students were actively involved in selecting the curriculum.

Overall Mr. R has taught in public schools for 16 years. His resume is lengthy with an assortment of experiences both in and out of the classroom. He has taught everything from kindergarten to sixth grade including intervention and technology, an out of the classroom experience he thoroughly enjoyed. Given this plethora of practice, he surmises his ideal classroom instruction promotes autonomy to empower students. He continuously looks for opportunities to incorporate his constructivist approach into an already stagnant teaching environment. He says you need to identify the standards, but get the students involved, evident in the class goals and objectives posted weekly. In addition, he believes in reviewing daily and using technology in his lessons. He says it is necessary to incorporate digital technology because the students are comfortable with it. He efficiently acknowledges the needs of a diverse cluster of students by grouping them together in order to provide peer support, along with the encouragement of student mentors and small group discussions. He always leads instruction with an “I do…, We do…, You do…” model and will pull additional small groups as needed.

Mr. R has remained motivated and passionate about his profession because he believes in what Thomas Jefferson said all those years ago*. Public Education creates fluent people and informs them of their choices. Proud moments are when old students visit or when he tracks the path they have taken in their lives. In conclusion, this veteran teacher provides this advice for new comers: Jump in! You are going to make mistakes, but the only way to figure it out is to do it. He also recommends moving around grade levels.

I feel very lucky to have the experience of working with Mr. R because he provides such a positive and unique perspective to teaching. Many teachers I have met in my short education career have been frustrated and cynical. I learn every day from talking to Mr. R that he does not check out at the door or ever on his students. He is committed and works very hard not only for his own class but to collaborate with the other sixth grade teachers so that they can pull resources and work together in targeting the needs of students for English Language Development.

Another equally colossal reward of witnessing his class is the simple way he makes clear, in sixth grade language, what needs to be addressed in the standards. It helps me as a learner, to know what we are aiming for and to see you do not have to give up entirely your beliefs and pedagogy. His rich background also creates a harmonious atmosphere and he is able to provide a great connection with the students. He is equitable and transparent in his teaching practice, providing a great role model not only for his students but also for other teachers to follow. He uses humor which the children enjoy, but also enforces a consistent management style.

* “I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness…Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish and improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.” August 13, 1786 (Thomas Jefferson to George Wythe)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Michael Mutshnick’s Interview with a First Grade Teacher

The elementary school site where Ms. L teaches serves a predominantly Latino population and English is the second language for most of these students. The instructional staff consists of twenty fully credentialed teachers. This elementary school has been on program improvement status since 2001 due to low standardized test scores.When questioning the staff at my school site as to what teacher would be considered exemplary in terms of their contributions to student learning, one instructor (Ms. L) was suggested by nearly all of the instructors that I approached. Ms. L has been working in education for thirty-one years and has held a variety of positions including working as an Academic Coach for English Language Arts, a Special Education and Resource Instructor for 18 years, as well as a first and second grade classroom teacher. Most of Ms. L’s experience has been within the this one district, but she began her career as an educator within the Central Valley of California after completing a credential program at a local State University campus. Ms. L identifies herself as White (Not Hispanic) and does not speak Spanish, yet she has primarily worked with a population of students that are English language learners (ELLs) throughout her career. When asked if her lack of Spanish speaking ability hindered her effectiveness as a teacher, she responded that at times, abstract concepts were much more difficult to teach to ELL students, however most of the subject matter in the first and second grades was more concrete and as long as she utilized sheltered instructional strategies, most students were able to understand the subject matter.

When considering her professional philosophy, Ms. L stated that she believes all students have the ability to learn whatever their ability level is, whether this is physically imposed as a result of a learning disability, or where this is defined by scores on standardized tests that have been completed. Ms. L strongly believes that it is the responsibility of each teacher to motivate and engage every student in their class in an effort to create meaningful opportunities for learning. It is the purpose of public education, according to Ms. L, to create a desire within students to pursue life-long learning.

The set-up of Ms. L’s classroom reflects this belief. With an emphasis on safety and ‘educational flow’ as she calls it, she has endeavored to create a learning environment that is accessible and functional. Students are grouped in sets of four and share a desk with one other ‘elbow partner.’ This set-up allows for multiple opportunities for peer interaction throughout the day’s lessons. Additionally, there are two separate ‘story areas’ where the class can gather together and work as a larger group.

As Ms. L currently teaches a first grade glass, literacy is a major focus of her room. Many children’s books are set-up around the room and accessible to all students to use throughout the day. In addition to the children’s books throughout the room, each table grouping has a set of leveled-reading books that all students can use during instruction, or ‘check-out’ and take home to read with their families. The alphabet and a number line are displayed prominently along two walls of the room and an entire corner next to the story area is devoted to phonics and phonemic awareness instruction with large books, pocket charts with letter cards and word sort cards. All classroom materials are kept within locked cabinets and storage bins stacked along the walls.

In considering the standardized instruction required by her elementary school’s program improvement status, Ms. L stated that it is increasingly difficult to connect with students individually and tailor instruction to their needs. While she feels that the quality of the scripted curriculum has improved over the years that she has been a teacher, the pacing of such curriculum is prohibits appropriate student intervention. This typically creates a situation where lower performing students are referred to special intervention programs outside of the normal classroom with a district coach in order to address special needs. This contributes to a lack of personal connection within the classroom between the student and the teacher.

Despite the challenges faced by standardized tests and curriculum, Ms. L has managed to stay enthusiastic about primary education and her role as a teacher. This positive attitude is reflected in Ms. L’s demeanor and kind manner with which she communicates with all of the students, within her class and out on the playground. Ms. L maintains this enthusiasm by continually taking advantage of district professional development opportunities to not only learn new teaching strategies, but to also share her experience with other teachers. Having co-teachers and student teachers within her classroom, as well as her involvement as a support provider for the California Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) Induction Program, helps to keep her energy level up, as well as pass on her love of teaching to a younger generation.

In reflecting on my conversation with Ms. L, I find that despite the many challenges teachers are facing currently within the California public school system, the focus must remain entirely on the students within your classroom. Enthusiasm has to be drawn from within yourself, as well as from those that share a love of learning and want to pass this on to a younger generation of students. There will continue to be changes in the way that the state or certain districts mandate what and how our students should be taught, but it is up to each teacher to strive to ensure that the material taught within their classroom is accessible, relevant and meaningful.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Kim Klier’s Interview with a KindergartenTeacher

Berkeley Elementary is in a poor area in this California coastal town. About 95% of the students that attend the school are on free lunch. The school is comprised of about 98% Hispanics with a little bit of African American, Asian, and White mixed in. Ms. Cal pointed out that the demographics have changed dramatically over the years. The school used to be mostly African American in the 1970s thru the early 1990s, but there was a great mix of races and it was a “pretty cohesive” demographic. However, as years have passed, many African American, Asian, and White military families have retired and moved away and many Hispanics have migrated up from the south to replace them.Ms. Cal received her education at the University of California, Berkeley where she received her credential in teaching. She first worked at a special education preschool in here. Many of the children at the preschool had severe behavior problems due to chemical dependency when they were born on drugs. After twelve years, she decided that she needed to do something different and was exhausted from working with high-risk students. Therefore, she decided to go into regular education where she has been teaching for thirteen years. She has taught, and is currently teaching, kindergarten for ten years and she taught first grade for two years, and did a first grade/second grade combination class for a year. Therefore, all together she has been teaching for twenty-five years.

When it comes to pedagogy, she believes that it is important to teach “to the whole child.” A teacher should not just teach them about English and Math, but they need to learn how to be a “good citizen.” In addition, it is crucial to have parental involvement and for parents to be advocates for their children. Most importantly, though she wants her students to become lifelong learners.

Ms. Cal believes that public education is a wonderful institution only when it “runs the way it should be run.” She believes that schools need to be viewed as a business; therefore; they should be funded. She feels strongly that teachers should not have to pay for the lack of vision the administration and government have. Ms. Cal thinks that the importance of public education is not common sense for many people and that they need to understand that it is worth funding and supporting. Many people in Monterey Peninsula are retired and they are not going to be running to the polls to vote legislation through, so it is important to gain their support for public education on Monterey Peninsula.

According to the curriculum at Berkeley Elementary, every classroom needs a reading and math area. Therefore, she has a specific reading area, place to put things away, and to work. She loves to have desks in kindergarten, because it teaches them “responsibility.” She sets the desks up according to behavior, academic readiness, and socialization skills. She states that one of the children is not behaving very well right now and that she has isolated him. When paring two students together at a table, she has one student that is high academically or socially next to a student that is low academically or socially. In addition, when making the seating chart she tries to form her students into a boy/girl pattern. She puts the desk in groups around the room and she mentioned that she does not usually put the children in groups so early; however, since this year’s students are a bit more mature and ready, she was able too. Last year, she said that she had to put the children in stereotypical rows, because grouping them together would have been a nightmare.

Right now, the school is designated as a “School Improvement” school and she thinks what is great about the curriculum now is that the teacher has to engage every student. She also has to set up her schedule according the pacing guide and according to the leadership group at her school.

Since it is such a regimented schedule, she strives to put her own personality into every lesson. Ms. Cal has to create a background where the students feels safe and where they get into a routine where they know what is “going to come up next.” She likes to emphasize a schedule and makes sure that students understand why they are learning what they are learning. She finds it difficult to meet the needs of everyone most of the time. Therefore, she makes sure to practice one-on-one learning with struggling students and she talks with parents to let them know what their child is struggling with and what they can practice at home.

The most rewarding aspect of teaching for Ms. Cal is the relationships she has with her students, parents, and the community. From her own experience, she feels that keeping up with the children as they progress through school is important and she has attended many of her past kindergarteners’ high school and college graduations. It helps validate the fact that she has helped contribute to them becoming active learners.

In addition, whenever they learn something and they have that “I got it moment” it inspires her and gives her satisfaction. She is enthusiastic about teaching, because she loves what she does, she loves working with children, and she thinks and knows she is good at it.

From doing this interview, I learned that there needs to be a valiant effort to reform schools so that people in the community support them and are really to help fund them. In addition, I learned that the relationships you have with parents, children, and the community are vital in creating a positive learning environment. Most of all, having a pure love of teaching and of working with children is at the core of being a teacher that is unforgettable and remarkable.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Kelly Mottershead’s Interview with a First Grade Teacher

Mrs. M works at a kindergarten through fifth grade elementary school in this coastal California town. It is her second year teaching at this particular school and she told me she is having a lot of fun so far. Mrs. M started her career as a teacher at an all-boys elementary school in the middle of San Francisco. She had an amazing time at this school teaching for seven years in kindergarten all the way through fifth grade. In 1988, she decided to take three years off after her first son was born. During this time, she and her husband moved. In her new city, she became a long-term substitute for half a year. After that she started working at the school where her two sons were attending elementary school. She taught first grade there for seven years and then taught fifth grade for three years after that. Mrs. M then decided to take another break from teaching and worked as an accountant for a small accounting firm. She said she worked in a cubicle and it was a nine to five job that was not very creative. She worked there for three years and decided she missed teaching so she started working in a second grade classroom at her current school. Mrs. M shared her second grade with another teacher Mrs. H.  Mrs. M would work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday while Mrs. H would work Thursday and Friday. She said this was really fun but she looked forward to this year when she would have her own classroom again. She now has her own first grade classroom and loves it.The school Mrs. M works at now is an elementary school with mostly Hispanic students who live below the poverty level. Almost all of her students receive free hot lunches at school. She said that trend is similar for the entire school. Most of her students are English language learners as well.

She believes it is very important to have a good rapport with your students and to make them feel safe in their environment. “As a teacher you need to encourage the students and support them and make sure that they know that you care about them as students and as human beings.” She also said it is important that they learn new things and have fun too. She went on to say that every child is unique and different and that she always tries to find something in each child that she can highlight. She felt it was very important to let your students know that they are heard and valued, and that they are important and special.

Mrs. M said the purpose of a public education was so that “every child has the opportunity to be educated. It’s a right. It’s just a given.” She thought that unfortunately, every child was not given the same opportunities. “We as a country need to value public schools and educators.” Mrs. M started telling me about the school she worked at in the past and how that school made sure that every child had P.E, Spanish class, computer lab time, music, art, and had a librarian who taught the children how to appreciate books. She said the librarian there had her own curriculum that she had to follow in order to teach the children how the books were organized and how to finds the books they wanted. “These children had all these ‘extra’ classes and they still learned how to read just fine. I just don’t understand why public schools can’t do this as well.”

Mrs. M told me that in her class she has traditional students’ desks that face forward towards the front of the room. She mentioned that the desks were too big for her students and that she really wished she had big tables and chairs in her classroom instead. She also has two nice big spaces in her class for letting her students sit and watch the class bunny hop around.

Mrs. M said she likes to split up her instruction into whole group instruction and small groups. She likes to keep her children actively engaged and talking to their neighbors as much as possible. She also has the students respond chorally sometimes and often uses the “I do, you do, we do” model. Mrs. M tries to continually monitor and assess her students and their progress and understanding. She said she tries to find out what they need to learn and then she develops her lesson around this information.

Mrs. M tries to meet the needs of her diverse students by implementing lots of different activities that are infused with art and music. She tries to keep in mind her English language learners when planning her activities as well. She tries to apply many modalities in her lessons: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.  “I am a visual learner so I tend to draw lots of pictures anyway. If the child’s language isn’t quite there yet, they can always focus on the pictures.”

As far as instructional strategies, Mrs. M said most of the time she presents information as a whole and then breaks it down into smaller parts for her students. “You want to take away any anxiety of what’s next so the students can feel comfortable, and relax, and focus.” At the same though, she explained to me that she will also present her ideas sometimes starting with the parts and work up to the whole because she wants to make sure she accounts for all types of learning styles that some children might be more comfortable with.

Mrs. M stressed to me that teaching is not just about academics. It is important to learn about life. “Children need social modeling. Like how not to interrupt someone in the middle of a sentence, or how to ask questions, or how to respond to questions or to each other.” Mrs. M told me about a story when she had her students working in pairs and they had to share something. She told the children, “Remember, you always give your partner the bigger piece.” Weeks later, one of the students’ parents came into class thanking Mrs. M for teaching her child such nice manners; her child had repeated these words of sharing at home the day before.

When asked about keeping her enthusiasm of teaching, Mrs. M said she loves teaching because “it is a challenge and there is always something I can do better.” She likes the idea that it is different every day. “The kids change every year and every class is different. It just makes my job interesting.” She admits of sometimes having bad days, but Mrs. M said that it is during these days that it is great to have camaraderie with the other teachers at the school. She told me that it is very important to have a support group. “It’s what keeps you in the profession.” Mrs. M also really enjoys her “collaboration time” when she shares what she is doing in her classroom—especially if it works. “Teaching has to be collaborative. Everyone has different experiences with different kids. Everyone needs to work together. This includes parents, teachers, resource teachers, even principals.”

“The most rewarding part of teaching is to see kids growing, understanding, and learning.” Mrs. M enjoys seeing the sparkle in a child’s eye when they say “I can do it!” She loves the whole experience of teaching. “It’s important to care about what you do and to value your job.”

From interviewing Mrs. M, I have learned that it is crucial to think about all the different children in your classroom and to value each and every one of them as a wonderful, special, little person. I also learned that it is important to be dedicated and to believe in your work. Mrs. M also helped me appreciate the fact that it is all right to step back and take a break too.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Jessica Baker’s Interview with a Second Grade Teacher

Ms. D is a second grade teacher at an elementary school in this California coastal town. There are approximately 768 students at the school. The ethnic breakdown is 5% Asians, 12% Black, 29% Latino and 46% White. Forty-two percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch.This is Ms. D’s 16th year teaching at the school elementary. When she started jobs were hard to find so for two of those years, she was independent study teacher. She has been a second-grade teacher for 14 years and still enjoys it.

Ms. D wants to make a difference in children’s lives. She believes you have to approach each child as an individual with their own unique experience and you need to take each child as far as they can go. She believes “all can learn and that learning should be fun and challenging.” She wants every child to be successful. She is proud when she helps a child a make academic or behavioral progress. She believes that the purpose of public education is that each and every child will learn what they need to know as a citizen. She believes in equal access with extra support for children who need it. Children need the best education we can give them.

She uses teacher directed approach.  Her classroom is very structured. She needs this structure to keep her second-graders focused and on task. She models all activities and behavior. You need a calm classroom in order to teach. She sees her self as a role model for her students. She treats everyone with respect and kindness as an example for the children.

She loves bringing children together and building a sense of community. The children are organized in to learning groups of 4 to 6 students depending on class size. She works on team building with the students. She also seats students with behavior or academic concerns with “mentor buddies.” The mentor buddies model good behavior and assist in academics. For example she told me that she had one student who had trouble behaving in class so he is seated with three mentor buddies who model good behavior. In her classroom, choosing a partner to read with is a privilege that she saves for the second part of the year.

She will meet with parents when she has behavior or academic concerns about a child. She will come up with individual plans and goals for these students to work on. She will tell parents how to support their child and give them exercises to practice at home.

On back to school night, she goes over rules, consequences and rewards. She talks about how she runs her classroom in detail. She hands out an example of her reading log and comprehension questions to ask their children when they are finished with a story. She sends home copies of her philosophy, expectations for her students, rules, expectations and consequences.

She assigns seating on the rug to eliminate pushing and shoving. When there is not assigned seating on the rug there are conflicts and it takes longer for the students to sit down. She also assigns the children spots in line so that there is no pushing shoving or conflicts when they line up.

She assigns the students jobs in the classroom such as supply manager, and lunch bucket carriers. She also displays student work for the same reason. When students are a part of decorating the classroom and making it run it is they take ownership of their classroom.

Ms. D told me that something that really inspires her and makes her feel like she truly make the right choice in choosing to be a teacher is when she receives compliments from parents, students or former students. She is touched when a student says that they had the best day ever. She told me “Children will always remember how you made them feel.” She enjoys being visited by former students. She had a former student who is now in high school visit her and tell her how much he enjoyed their 2nd grade field trip. Last week, a parent wrote a wonderful letter thanking her for being kind to her son. This was the first time that her son had been in public school; before second grade he had been home schooled and the mother was nervous about sending him to school. When Ms. D was telling me about the complements she had received she smiled and almost seemed to have tears of happiness and pride. She said that these compliments reaffirm that “what you are doing and who you are makes a difference.”

I really enjoyed talking to Ms. D. I can tell that she is a great teacher. Hearing her stories was inspiring to me. I was glad to see that even after 16 years of teaching she has maintained her idealism that every student can succeed. She truly cares about every student.  I will remember her inspirational words and tips for good classroom management when I have my own classroom.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Rod Garcia’s Interview with a First Grade Teacher

Mrs. A is over 70 years old. Although she is recently retired, Mrs. A has been teaching for more than 50 years and continues to do so today by volunteering one to two days a week to work within a first grade classroom. The school is in a coastal town of California. At least ninety percent of the student population is considered low income. Of her more than half century worth of teaching experience, she has done all of it within the compulsory educational system. She is a one time teacher of the institution she now volunteers within. In fact, she was once the “master teacher/supervisor” to the first grade teacher she now volunteers for.In terms of professional philosophy, she is a true advocate for learning and education. Although she is retired, she continues to volunteer as much as she can because “I feel like teaching and preparing students to succeed is a way to fulfill my life mission.” Mrs. A is a self proclaimed Christian and has dedicated her life to social work. As for Mrs. A’s current interaction within the classroom, every Friday, she arrives punctually to the beginning bell. For the entirety of this school year, Mrs. A has been working on Math concept development. When she arrives, she begins setting up her daily activity on a side table adjacent to the main group area. The activity always includes a set of manipulative based math instruction and is conducted with an alternating small group of 3 or 4 students.

According to Mrs. A, children are often not properly conceptualizing the math. Much in agreement with the main teacher, their current math text does not sufficiently teach math. The homeroom teacher selects the small groups based on his weekly assessments. From what I have observed, the groups are usually ability mixed with students testing in the high, mid, and low ranges. The strategy she uses is usually questioning. She asks questions and observes what they do. From time to time, she even uses an iPad to record her observations. The students love the manipulative math. They all voluntarily work with Mrs. A. The manipulative activities are all sort of designed in ways so the students can succeed. When the students do something satisfactory in response to Mrs. A’s questioning, they receive a “spot.” A spot is a foam square used to attain a certain prize. Mrs. A always finds a way for the student to earn a spot. In fact, at the end of each individual group session, all of the students win and earn the same prize.

In terms of describing what keeps Mrs. A enthusiastic, she joked, “It gives me something to do.” In all seriousness, she has devoted her time to social work and she enjoys being in the classroom. As for my own personal learning, I feel inspired in many ways by people like Mrs. A. She is a 70 plus year old woman with hearing aids and glasses, but still so mentally sharp and well spoken she feels much younger. As for an something explicit she has advised to me about school setting survival, Mrs. A once told me, “If I can tell you one thing about working within any school young man, it is that you’ve got to learn how to play politics with the people you work with. If you don’t, you invite a hell you never knew was coming.”  I admire her love for teaching and hope I’ll still have that kind of passion if I reach her age.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lisa Olesen’s Interview with a Second Grade Teacher

Susie is a well-known educator at an elementary school in this California valley town. She is currently in her 32nd year as a teacher and has continued to be fully dedicated and passionate about her career. For the past 19 years she has been working a school in this small town, which is a Title One and Basic Aid school with about 50% Hispanic/Latino, 30% White, 13% Native American, and about 7% other ethnicities.Going into college, Susie had her mind set on becoming a physical therapist; however, that changed once she realized how much she enjoyed working with children in an educational setting. Her first teaching position was in a one-room private school house with ten students, consisting of grades two through eight. In this rural community she was able to gain an appreciation for time spent one-on-one with the students, while understanding the importance of grade level separation. After that she changed to another school and work for two years with seventh and eighth graders in pre-algebra and algebra, then moved to the 5th grade for one year.

Over these first few years as a new teacher, Susie experienced a variety of different grade levels and diverse settings. After about six years of teaching in this rural community, Susie and her husband decided to move and start a family together. For the next seven years, Susie was a stay-at-home mother with two children. She re-entered the teaching career as a GATE teacher and has continued to work at that same school for the past 19 years. After 17 years as the GATE teacher she recently decided to change to second grade. Even though she admitted it “was a very difficult decision to leave my loved position,” she realized that due to the budget cuts there was a chance she might be let go later on and at that moment there was a small window of opportunity to change into a full-time, single grade level position.

Even though Susie has moved around grade levels and subject areas many times, the main component she always includes while teaching is some form of “hands-on learning.” Throughout the interview she continued to stress the point that she believes students learn better if they are engaged with the lesson and given the opportunity to experience learning through hands-on activities. This plays well into the style of instruction Susie uses in her classroom. She strongly believes in pairing and group work activities that get the students talking to one another and working together. She tries to limit the amount of “teacher talk” in each day so that it provides more time for the students to collaborate together, work individually, and work with the teacher in smaller group or individually settings. Susie provides clear, concise instructions and tends to follow the “I do, we do, you do” pattern. In order to gain the students interest in these activities, Susie is “constantly trying to pick high interest topics for that grade level.” For example, she is currently working on a thematic unit focused around spiders. She creates reading lessons, writing projects, and science experiments that incorporate this topic while also staying on task with the standards that need to be met in each subject area.

In order to realize this form of hands-on learning, she sets up her classroom in a way that enables to students to be more independent and learn from personal experience and practice. Around the classroom she has many different areas for the students to learn how to do things without help from the teacher. The reading library, for example, is set up in a numerical way so the students can go over and choose which book to read depending on what Accelerated Reader level they are at. Along with that, there are two computers near the reading area for the students to take their AR test when they have finished their book. She also has all the art supplies (crayons, paints, scissors, etc) set up in the back cupboards and placed on shelves at their level of reach. Susie’s attention to these details might seem like minor elements to the setup of her room, but by taking a step back and asking the students to do more things on their own it provides them with the ability to become more independent and learn through doing.

Susie repeatedly stressed the importance of surrounding yourself with positive people and truly appreciating the successes of teaching. She has always loved working with children and has an innate connection with them and their families. Her relationship with the children is caring, warm, happy, and lively. She makes learning fun for them and you can tell they all adore her. The passion she brings to the classroom clearly spreads to her students and you can see their excitement for learning.

Susie further emphasized the point that teachers need to focus on the successes no matter how big or small they might be. She does not dwell on the things that go wrong; instead she highlights the elements that the students did correctly and alters her lessons accordingly.

The excitement of teaching has definitely not died down in Susie. She is continually finding new lesson ideas, bringing in fun facts to share with her students, incorporating animals she gets from the museum or her backyard, taking the students on a variety of field trips, and so much more. Just by talking with her I can see how strong her passion is for being an educator.

Through this interview I came to realize how similar we are. Her enthusiasms for teaching are aligned with some of my strongest passions for this career. She is also a very creative teacher who takes a standard lesson plan and creates her own twist on it to engage the students more. Many of her teaching qualities are ones that I can start seeing in myself and hope to incorporate into my own style of teaching. It was a very inspiration conversation with Susie and I hope to not only increase my passion and motivation for teaching, but also use my positive and enthusiastic attitude to improve the educational careers of my future students.

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