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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