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.

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