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.

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