Tag: Award

Students Aim High Through Self-Reflection

Students Aim High Through Self-Reflection

Every morning my Chaparral, NM, students stand and wait for their school bus on unpaved dusty road sides that border the narrow fractured streets; careful to avoid street cars, getting pinched by looming cactus, or running into unleashed aggressive dogs. The earliest school bus arrives at Desert Trail Elementary by 7:30 am.  “Will we have schedule X?” students immediately ask as they step off the bus and see that the winds begin to pick up and a gray curtain of dust is seen on the horizon.  My 5th graders walk through the main building to the side doors, once again stepping outside to walk towards their classroom portable.

As soon as students step into the portable, they drop off their backpacks on their desks. Each group of tables is aligned using the 2 inch wide worn out tears that run across the brown Berber carpet.  Students quickly set up the 3 classroom computers. Until recently, we had four before one of them became a permanent freeze frame.  “It’s too windy, we probably will not be able to use the internet today,” the students remind me as I keep clicking on the district website and receive the notice to check my network connection.

Another group of students take the plastic colored baskets to begin handing out their composition notebooks that are essential in our Balanced Literacy classroom. These notebooks help us with crucial organization because as a true, self contained Dual Language setting, students do all their work in both English and Spanish.  The mismatched donated metal shelves, refurbished wood stand, and black plastic containers hold our partial classroom materials.  We might not have new furniture or complete resources; however we have a positive learning environment and strong initiative to improve.

From day one, I inform my students that they will grow both academically and as individuals, despite the dismal setting. They’re smiles turned into squinting eyes of concern when I mentioned they would need to work to the best of their abilities and that they would be required to present in front of small and large crowds. “I have volunteered you to present at the first district board meeting taking place in a couple of weeks,” I enthusiastically mentioned to my students on the first day of their 5th grade school year. They immediately knew that I was going to set high-expectations for them, every day, all year long.

As soon as I receive students’ data, even before I meet them, I see the possibilities within. My students’ academic levels are diverse; on top of learning a second language they face many hurdles. For this reason, it is my goal to show my students that their education represents much more that just academics; it represents self worth and advocacy.  By being active participants in our education, collecting, documenting, and analyzing our own data we learn to self reflect and create goals that can support overall growth.

My students, colleagues, and I work hard to see positive outcomes, and we know that collaboration is an important part of success. As a partner teacher of the Game Plan for Success Aim High Fellowship Educators for High Standards, I received additional support to help my students aim high, coach them to listen and practice, and teach them the value of testing themselves.

“You are not a number, but we need to use these numbers to monitor our growth. We need to use data to study what we are doing and what we can do to improve as learners,” I make sure to reinforce to my students.  During our first Student/Parent/Teacher Conference, as parents and students walked into our classroom to have a conversation about academic gains and needs, the importance to set educational goals and for students to know and reflect on their own learning is reinforced. Only a small percentage of students’ parents may be able to understand and analyze their child’s data. “Usted sabe maestra, yo nunca fui buena estudiante, así que yo quiero que ella sea mejor,” the majority of the parents comment on how they were never good students and want their child to be better. Parents place this desire of their children improving in the hands of the teachers. Parents need to be students’ best educational advocates, but with limited understanding this advocacy can be diminished. My plan as part of the Aim High Teacher Fellowship is to instill the importance of setting high standard goals and prepare ourselves to accomplish them.

Teaching students to be self advocates takes time and perseverance, to help your students reach their highest potential. For me, as well as for many teachers, time is an obstacle, for this reason I create a schedule that helps smooth transitions and allows for effective student learning, collaboration, and time for self reflection. When my students are given the initiative to provide feedback on classroom management and instruction, it promotes self awareness and ownership. “My behavior during class time is getting  better, because I don’t talk loud like if I have a microphone,” Leslie explains in her data folder after acknowledging that when she speaks loudly it can affect the learning of others.  Providing students with tools to be responsible for their own data and learn how analyze it, will create self advocates.

Watching my students explain their own learning process and goals to their parents, I could see how impressed and proud their parents felt knowing their children could read their own information.   My own mother only had a second grade education in Mexico.    I relate to how parents may not understand the data being presented to them concerning their child because this was my own experience.

“Mrs. Rios did you already check on my reading test. Did I complete the next level?” asked Keera during our conference. Mom quickly looked at her with a slight tilt of her head and low tone reprimanded, “Keera…”  “It’s okay. I teach my students to ask questions and check with me on grades, assignments, assessments…after all they are the ones who do the work,” I quickly replied.  I need for my students to know that I will do the best I can to support them, but they too need to apply themselves and work to make our efforts worthwhile.

To make sure my students’ academic efforts demonstrate results, I consider all aspects of their learning. I have to keep in mind their proficiency level as English Language Learners and consider that assessments are becoming more rigorous.  My students and I use data and relevant information to redirect instruction if needed, allowing for an opportunity to modify problem-solving strategies.  As teachers, the availability of data prompts us to reflect on our instruction and should do the same for our students.  Reflection can promote and help develop higher level thinking.

Throughout the school year, proficiency levels need to be reviewed, recorded, analyzed, and reflected upon. In order for students to properly reflect on their own data, I guide them through the process of purposeful reflection. It is crucial to promote a supportive, safe, and encouraging classroom environment.  “I went up another level on my Reading test.  This time I made sure to not get distracted,” Mari proudly commented as her classmates gave her a round of applause.   This year I intentionally provide time for students to reflect and form inquiries regarding their learning style, instruction and/or learning needs, instruction and/or learning strengths, and reasons or evidence of results.

Student reflection can be challenging due to time, availability of data (limited or overload), different academic levels, different learning styles, and limited parent availability and/or understanding of educational standards. In order to accomplish the challenge of generating a reflective student environment I had to:

  • Identify data sets for students to analyze.
  • Become flexible with time or schedule time for student data self analysis. (Use district Scope and Sequence dates.)
  • Differentiate for students to understand how data can support their academic gains.
  • Promote an environment of inquiry and peer support.
  • Create reflective journal, data collection sheets, and provide guiding questions to ensure students’ self-reflections stay focused on achieving educational gains.
  • Students set goals that encourage high standards.
  • Provide opportunities and options for parents to participate in data analysis and learn how to support their child.

 AIMING HIGH TOGETHER

The Aim High Fellowship challenged me to use data intentionally and teach my students how to use it to set goals and also made it possible to partner with a professional athlete who knows how important it is to set and achieve goals. My students could not believe their mentor for their 5th grade school year would be former NFL record breaking wide receiver Rocket Ismail who played for the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys.  Being a part of the Aim High Fellowship helped me as I created a game plan for success that gave us that extra push that many of my students needed.

The partnership with an NFL player was a motivating factor for my students, but the personal connection I developed with my students through the goal setting and practice was even more of a catalyst for academic momentum. “I feel better knowing you are her teacher,” were the words Maria’s mother gave me on the first day of school.  Maria came into my 5th grade Dual Language classroom reading at a beginning 3rd grade level in English and beginning 4th grade level in Spanish.  Figuring out what was the piece missing in order to make academic gains was a challenging task. I quickly learned that Maria does best when working at her own pace and is open to new strategies, and resources. .  Her motivation and sense of responsibility helps her keep track of her work and pace how far she can go.  I also make sure I am ready to go to the next level when she feels she is ready. Being in a Dual Language classroom means that there is double assessments and this can be overwhelming for a child.  Knowing how to monitor this is essential to have the best outcomes.  Maria’s willingness to work has become her signature move.  I am proud to say Maria’s online assessment states she is “Performing as an average 6th grade student who took this test in July.”  She is also demonstrating 5th grade level competency in math.  In our classroom book, Maria included a dedication to our Aim High partner athlete Rocket Ismail: “I want to dedicate this story to Rocket Ismail who inspired me to not give up on the hardest moments or to not get nervous when something happens.”

Maria’s note to Mr. Ismail: “Mr. Rocket, remember the first time some of our classmates asked you questions? I was one of the students that asked you a question.  I asked how I could not be nervous and shy because I was shy.  Our class was planning to compete in a Literacy Festival and I was so shy that I said ‘NO’ on the permission paper, but Mrs. Rios told me to take the paper back home and think about it.  I thought about it and finally said ‘YES’.  The days passed, and finally it was time to compete.  Three of my classmates and I presented Spanish Choral Reading.  We all came out with first place medals.  I want to thank you Mrs. Rocket and Mrs. Rios for inspiring me and helping me.  I want to thank you both for that.”

“I am the light, I am the answer, I am the solution, and I am the remedy!” Students chanted in unison as Rocket Ismail delivered his motivational speech to a cafeteria full of wide-eyed elementary students during his visit to our school. This statement empowers students to reflect on their potential.  It embodies our classroom challenge to develop self reflection skills that enhance our listening, planning and implementation of strategies that can help us see that academic struggles can aid us in measuring and supporting our growth as learners. “I felt myself trembling and holding back tears. I wanted to cry because I felt so happy”, students nodded in agreement as Javier shared his experience from listening to the speech.

As I looked out during this assembly, I saw my future, past, and current students mesmerized by the strong reassuring voice that delivered a message of optimism and strength. My mind went back to my childhood years where just like many of my students I was an English Language Learner that came from a struggling, single-parent family and had overwhelming responsibilities for a child. I know firsthand that education is a way out of economic and/or home life insufficiencies. So, as we begin to experience accomplishments, we don’t remember the decrepit computers and the brown carpet, but we rejoice in the students’ success.

In a teacher’s life there are many stories of success as well as scenarios where weakness can become part of our thoughts. The feeling of weakness can come when the curriculum we need to follow is not well understood, or it does not provide the sufficient resources we need to search, create, and/or purchase. Weakness creeps in when our students’ home life is a struggle, and we feel we have not done enough when our students do not perform to the standards they are required. This feeling takes hold when students’ parents are not well-informed or involved in their child’s life. The feeling of weakness can come when our colleagues lose motivation in our profession, and we do not find the words and/or actions to improve these feelings.  Many things throughout our lives can be a challenge, but striving to improve is the driving force to create life-changing goals and outcomes.  We have to AIM HIGH!

 

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Steven Lamb

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Steven Lamb

Innovation. Watching how students take risks, learn from failure, collaborate, and transform into empathetic learners is why I teach.

Steven Lamb began his career as a local business owner in Albuquerque, NM.  Feeling that he could make a greater difference in his community, Mr. Lamb felt compelled to educate the future leaders and professionals around him.  As a result, Mr. Lamb immediately pursued his Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education and went further to obtain his Master of Arts Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Reading.

Since his participation in the elementary world, Mr. Lamb has been invited to speak at the APS Administrators Conference on Education, APS Digital Learning Conference, and two TEDxABQ Education Events.  More notably, Mr. Lamb was named the 2017 NM PBS Digital Innovator, an Apple Distinguished Educator, and bestowed the title of the Henry Ford Innovator.  He has pioneered the use of instructional technology in the classroom by co-creating a curriculum to digitally team-teach with another educator located eighteen miles away at a different school.

In his classroom, 21st century preparation occurs through meaningful collaboration.  Through the employment of Virtual Team Teaching, students are engaging in preparation far beyond their elementary years.  Unlike distance education, one time projects, and traditional classroom teaching, continuous use of Virtual Team Teaching uses digital and web-based tools to enhance the collaborative nature of effective learning.  He believes that technology should not be a separate and apart entity, but a tool to redefine classroom instruction.  By walking into his room you will often hear conversation, not meaningless chatter, but rather two classrooms engaging in discourse across eighteen miles.  You may also hear introductions as students begin teaching and learning with microbiology college students in Malaysia, or discussion of marine and desert habitats with high school students from Jamaica. You will see children building connections, refining professional skills, and making a virtual world personal. 

2018 National Title I Conference: Liberty to Learn

2018 National Title I Conference: Liberty to Learn


I had the distinct privilege to attend the recent National Title I conference in Philadelphia last month. Along with two colleagues and our school’s Director, I took three days away from my school and students to travel across the country to accept a 2018 Title I Distinguished School Award. This award was for closing the achievement gap between student groups, and was the result of the hard work of our entire staff. What an honor to be one of two schools in New Mexico to receive this award (shout out to the other honoree: Union Elementary School in Las Vegas, NM)! While the award was a surprise and something to celebrate, I quickly learned that the four days spent with educators from across the country was a meaningful opportunity for my own learning.

Let me back up to say that I hardly ever leave New Mexico for professional reasons. When I lived on the east coast, it was very easy to travel to conferences and events where I could collaborate and learn from other teachers. Given our geographic isolation, however, many of us in New Mexico rely on conversations with fellow teachers and on reading professional articles to further our own development and growth. This trip demonstrated to me that you cannot underestimate the importance of meaningful conversation and professional development with those from other communities and perspectives.

Although we had travelled a very long day to get to Philly and our first session was early the next morning, I was immediately engaged by National Teacher of the Year Sydney Chaffee’s keynote address. Some of you may have heard Sydney speak at our New Mexico Teacher Summit last June. I enjoyed meeting her in Albuquerque, so I anticipated her address. She spoke at length about how education can be a tool for social justice, challenging us all to take risks on behalf of our students and give voice to issues affecting them (and us). She reminded us how important we are, and we agreed. I felt like I was a young teacher again, full of passion and purpose.

We ended the day with an armchair interview with former US Secretary of Education John King. I felt hopeful to know that such thoughtful and intelligent people are considering how to make education viable and equitable. This work is happening in so many ways, on so many levels. The thousands of educators in the room (teachers, principals, superintendents, and district level leaders) were clearly enthusiastic about the messages from the stage: all students deserve the opportunity to learn. And the Distinguished Schools celebration showed that, in fact, schools from all over the country are ensuring that they are.

While I attended break-out sessions on areas of interest to me (spelling instruction, brain-based instruction for phonics, student engagement, and the power of speech), my Director learned about social emotional awareness and how to use restorative practices to improve school culture. Over dinner each evening, the four of us from Taos Charter discussed how to bring back our new learning to New Mexico. We talked about how to look at grading, how to connect to students, and other over-arching ideas to improve our school. We felt energized by Salome Thomas-EL (Principal El) from Philadelphia and his keynote talk on how one person can make a difference. My teaching partner and I embraced his mantra: No excuses! So often those of us in Title I schools sink into that attitude that we cannot make a difference, that we cannot teach certain kids. This conference blasted us out of that mentality.

So why am I writing this blog post for New Mexico teachers? I feel impelled to share with you that you can, and must, fight to attend any regional or national conference you can. Consider writing a grant, requesting Title II funds from your school or district, or looking for scholarships. Talk to others, join a professional online community, take a class. Subscribe to articles or blog posts by those working on a national level to keep learning focused on students. Be inspired by the successes of other schools and teachers. Remember that it only takes one passionate teacher in the life of a child. Be that person for one child. No excuses.

From Schoolhouse To Roundhouse: How Authentic Teacher Voice Shaped (Most) Of The State’s Education Budget For Next Year

From Schoolhouse To Roundhouse: How Authentic Teacher Voice Shaped (Most) Of The State’s Education Budget For Next Year

Colleagues —

With an opportunity-rich (some seized, some not) 2018 Legislative Session now behind us, I wanted to take this opportunity to review some of the substantial commitments the state budget makes to public education.

Here in Santa Fe, and inside the Roundhouse, the funding bill is referred to as HB2 (House Bill 2).  As we all know, deciding how you are going to spend your money is one of the best ways to determine priorities so HB2 is both a reflection of educational policy priorities and an overall financial appropriation for the State’s upcoming fiscal year (FY19, which is the 2018-2019 school year).

Your voice mattered this year—it was one of the first times in my career across multiple states that teacher-leaders, classroom teachers from across a state, and parents/families had a real voice inside a State Legislature. Historically, education policy and funding decisions are dominated by associations and interest groups—not necessarily by listening to all voices from all parts of a state.  Your voice was huge part of this process—and it was heard by our team at the PED, by the Executive branch, and by the Legislature.

It is also safe to say that in some areas, the Legislature made decisions in HB2 (now agreed to by both the House and the Senate and headed to the Governor’s desk) that could have real downsides for teachers, schools, and students.  It’s also safe to say that this funding bill also missed some opportunities to build upon and reinforce the areas of student academic progress and stakeholder engagement we’ve developed together over the last several years.

As the funding bill makes it way from the Legislative branch to the Executive branch, let’s review some highlights/lowlights in HB2 as of today:

As I see it, highlights from the 2018-2019 Public School Support package (HB2) include:

  • A teacher compensation increase, including significant raises in salaries for teachers (2.5%) and non-instructional school staff (2%), on top of an increase to the minimums for each licensure level, which would now be $36K/44K/54K for levels I, II, and III;
  • A small appropriation for Exemplary Teaching Awards, a groundbreaking effort to retain and reward some of the highest-performing teachers statewide – especially those that serve our most struggling schools and/or teach in the highest-need subject areas.  As I’ve shared with you, this strategy compliments the across-the-board increases above;
  • A sizable increase in funding for state Pre-K, which will allow the program to grow responsibly while maintaining the high standards of quality that have led to substantial outcomes for early learners.  This allocation will also result in several new Pre-K sites around the state that have demonstrated capacity and readiness to offer it for the first time;
  • An increase in K-3 Plus summer program funding that will allow for responsible expansion, while also including budgetary language incentivizing best practices that are leading to the most student growth in our schools;
  • An increase for both transportation and instructional materials funding (short of what the Executive branch proposed, but still meaningful);
  • More funding for professional development and teacher leadership opportunities for STEM teachers, and additional funding for the transition to NM STEM-Ready Standards;
  • Continuation of the key programs that have shown an outsized return on investment and student achievement.  We’ve seen several initiatives, which are reflected in the budget again this year, make a difference for kids in schools across the state–  Truancy and Dropout Prevention, Principals Pursuing Excellence, Teachers Pursuing Excellence, Reads to Lead, AP fee waivers, and many others;
  • Funding for a new Regional Educational Cooperative (REC) in San Juan County to assist districts in sharing resources and making support staff available to the entire region.

Alongside this progress, I believe there were several missed opportunities and areas of concern in HB2 as well, including:

  • The bill currently includes language that Exemplary Teaching Awards – while intended to be available to all – could be blocked at your district by your local teachers union;
  • The bill eliminates funding for Hard to Staff recruitment stipends for teachers.  Teacher Recruitment is major priority for the PED in 2018, even in a reduced funding environment;
  • The bill includes language that could substantially reduce funding for charter schools, early college high schools, vocational schools, alternative schools, and credit recovery programs.  We don’t believe these schools (and the students, teachers, and families who believe in them) should be targeted in this manner for a reduction in funding;
  • Though the PED requested $4.5 million in emergency supplemental funds – fund that can be used by districts who experience emergency situations such as natural disasters or man-made tragedies, or for districts experiencing declining enrollment or financial strain– the Legislature only appropriated $3 million in funding;
  • There is no increase to Dual Credit Instructional Materials, despite the PED’s request to double the funding;
  • The bill reflects a major cut in funding for professional development and training for Principals to provide meaningful evaluations and observations to teachers—the PED has consistently heard that this is a critical need area and will ensure that this vital training continues;
  • There is again no funding for Blended Learning (formerly IDEAL-NM) in HB2, which provides many students from rural/smaller schools a way to access courses that might not otherwise be available to them. The PED is committed to finding a way to provide course access to all students;
  • Lastly, this year’s budget bill include a major cut to Interventions and Support for Students, Struggling Schools, Parents, and Teachers – from $15 million last year to $4 million this year.  This comes on the heels of the PED announcing a $50 million support package for struggling schools as part of the state’s top-rated plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  To be fair, the Legislative Finance Committee probably views this as a $4 million cut and not an $11 Million cut, but this is a line item that should have been increased (or at least fully supported) given the focus on innovation, parent and family engagement, and teacher leadership within it.  Instead, it’s been reduced.

My team will be reviewing HB2 in full next week once it’s delivered, and we would love to hear your thoughts on any/all of the above over the weekend.  Your voice matters—and we’ve seen repeatedly that democracy belongs to those who show up.  As classroom teachers and hard-working families, we know that you can’t camp out at the Roundhouse for 30 days or more, but we hope to represent your beliefs, your aspirations for your students, and our profession.

We stand with you—and offer our sincere thanks to all who contributed time and energy to support what is right for kids.  I am more optimistic than ever about the future for New Mexico’s students, with a renewed resolve to roll up my sleeves and continue to do the hard work to make New Mexico’s schools and students the fastest growing in the country.

Please be in-touch!

Christopher N. Ruszkowski
Secretary of Education
New Mexico Public Education Department

NM MESA HIGH SCHOOL TEAM ARE REPEAT NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!

NM MESA HIGH SCHOOL TEAM ARE REPEAT NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!

New Mexico MESA students from Deming High School are celebrating another huge accomplishment. At the 2017 MESA USA National Engineering Design Competition in Philadelphia, the Deming High School team again won first place honors.

The team captain, David Velez, Junior, Deming High, said “We entered the competition with one goal in mind, to defend our National Championship, and we did just that! Back to Back National Champions – it’s a dream come true.” His teammate, Adrian Luna had a sense of relief after the competition. He said “I didn’t realize the level of skill and talent we were going to compete against. I was totally nervous but we did it. Repeat national champions!” The other two teammates, Adriana Darrow and Antoni Varela and advisor, David Jaramillo could hardly contain their excitement.

The New Mexico middle school team was successful also. They came in 2nd place after California. It was so close in the scoring (8 point difference) between the 1st place and 2nd place. But these young men of Chaparral Middle School from Chaparral, NM took the whole experience in with wide lenses. The team of Kevin Ramos, Alfredo Sepulveda, and Luis Jimenez shared they will be back to take the 1st place trophy back to Chaparral. Their advisor, Rina Viramontes said “The competition gave my students the opportunity to work on a real world problem and accomplish something that they felt good about.  They worked with tools and computer applications that college students are working with. The students worked hard and I am extremely proud of them.”

The engineering challenge is to build a prosthetic arm within a certain budget and under a certain weight. The arm has to perform tasks such as relocating objects, throwing objects at a target, and screwing a nut onto a bolt through a wood board, totally under the command of a microprocessor using computer programming. The competition does not stop there. Each team is required to write a 5 – 15 page technical paper, create a poster display, and develop a 10 minute oral presentation.

The New Mexico teams competed against other MESA teams from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington and Illinois.

NM MESA’s mission is to “Empower and motivate New Mexico’s culturally diverse students with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) enrichment.”

NM MESA is a year-round, multi-year, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) initiative that works with school districts and higher education institutions to improve NM student STEM performance; increase NM college STEM enrollment; and provide hands-on STEM competitions.

For more on NM MESA, click HERE.

For more on what NM PED offers regarding STEM, click HERE.

ICYMI: An interview with NM’s Milken Educator 2016: Melissa Kovac

ICYMI: An interview with NM’s Milken Educator 2016: Melissa Kovac

This is a duplication of an interview from a Spotlight interview featuring NM’s own 2016 Milken Educator Award Winner, Melissa Kovac, from Amy Biehl Community School in Santa Fe:

Second-grade teacher Melissa Kovac knows she’s succeeding as an educator when students come back years later to thank her for helping them reach their goals: “Their second-grade teacher will always be there to cheer them on.” She received New Mexico’s Milken Educator Award at Amy Biehl Community School in Santa Fe on November 2, 2016.

Milken Educator Awards: How did you end up in education?

Melissa Kovac: At a young age I thought about being a teacher. I’m not exactly sure when my “aha” moment was but being a teacher was something I knew I wanted to do since I can remember. I think in high school I realized that it was a definite possibility.

MEA: Why elementary school?

Melissa: The littles were my favorite age. Kindergarten students held my heart for a long time, but now that I’m in second grade…well, they are the best! I started in middle school, but after a year I knew that was not the age of kids I wanted to teach.

My favorite thing is that they still need lots of support but are ready for some real independence. They still like having fun and aren’t too embarrassed to do so. The most frustrating thing: tattle tales.

MEA: What was your first job?

Melissa: I was a poolside waitress for a country club. I think in any job the best thing we learn is to have patience. That’s something I definitely use daily in my classroom.

MEA: Who was your most memorable elementary school teacher?

Melissa: My kindergarten teacher. Maybe it’s because of all the fun I had when I was there, but even more because when we became colleagues she helped me to be a better teacher. I got to learn from her twice!

MEA: What was your favorite subject?

Melissa: Math. I love knowing that I will need to find an exact answer. I love figuring it out and validating my solution. My least favorite subject would have to be….well, I used to say history, but as I get older I’m finding that I am interested in learning more about it. So I guess I am still working on tackling that one.

MEA: Tell us about your first class.

Melissa: I consider myself pretty lucky—I never had the “nightmare” first year of teaching. I was an educational assistant for a few years prior to getting my degree so I was confident in what I was about to take on. I was extremely excited to finally have my own class where I could use my creativity. The parents I worked with were awesome and the kids were so much fun. One of the hardest things, even today, is knowing that some kids just don’t learn or grow as much as I want them to. No matter how I try to reach them, sometimes they leave my class less prepared than I wish they were.

MEA: What impact do you think your Milken Educator Award presentation had on students at your school?

Melissa: I think they are extremely proud to know that they got to have me as a teacher and that a teacher at their school got this prestigious award. My students cried with me because they were so happy for me, for us, and for our school.

MEA: What do you hope your students remember about your class?

Melissa: I hope they remember that their second-grade teacher will always be there for them and cheer them on in all their successes.

MEA: How do you involve parents and families in your class?

Melissa: I try to bring parents in the classroom in all ways possible. I send weekly newsletters sharing what’s happening in the class and asking for volunteers to come in and help with daily tasks. My homework logs encourage parent involvement. I use a communication app that allows me to post daily activities with pictures and writing.  I feel that I have a great relationship with my students’ parents.

MEA: What’s your favorite time of the school day?

Melissa: First thing in the morning when the students enter class with big smiles and hugs. Any mishaps from the day before have vanished and it’s a time for us to start new. Greeting each of them by name and with a good-morning hug allows them to know they’re safe and that I am here for them.

MEA: What’s the biggest challenge you face in your classroom?

Melissa: My biggest challenge is time. There is never enough time in the day to finish, teach, help, and get everything done.

MEA: If someone gave you a million dollars to use in your school, what would you do with it?

Melissa: I would split the money up so that all teachers get some extra money for themselves and for their students’ learning needs.

MEA: If you hadn’t chosen a career in education, what would you be doing right now?

Melissa: I haven’t thought about this much, but since I like decorating and being creative, maybe something like a party planner.

MEA: What can our nation do better to encourage young, capable people to consider teaching as a career? How can we motivate new teachers to stay in the profession?

Melissa: Make the income worth all the hard work, right? This is one of the most rewarding careers a person can choose but, unfortunately, I feel that it’s one of the least valued professions. New teachers need to see that they are making a difference. Some of the new initiatives feel like a constant bash on teachers so maybe more recognition of the positive things happening in education.

MEA: Finish this sentence: “I know I’m succeeding as an educator when…”

Melissa: …when the relationships I’ve built with students remain years later. When I see them graduating high school and they come back to thank me for how I helped them get there. When students are excited to see me years after being in my class. When I see my students succeeding and making their dreams a reality.

MEA: What’s the biggest challenge you face in your classroom?

Melissa: My biggest challenge is time. There is never enough time in the day to finish, teach, help, and get everything done.

MEA: If someone gave you a million dollars to use in your school, what would you do with it?

Melissa: I would split the money up so that all teachers get some extra money for themselves and for their students’ learning needs.

MEA: If you hadn’t chosen a career in education, what would you be doing right now?

Melissa: I haven’t thought about this much, but since I like decorating and being creative, maybe something like a party planner.

MEA: What can our nation do better to encourage young, capable people to consider teaching as a career? How can we motivate new teachers to stay in the profession?

Melissa: Make the income worth all the hard work, right? This is one of the most rewarding careers a person can choose but, unfortunately, I feel that it’s one of the least valued professions. New teachers need to see that they are making a difference. Some of the new initiatives feel like a constant bash on teachers so maybe more recognition of the positive things happening in education.

MEA: Finish this sentence: “I know I’m succeeding as an educator when…”

Melissa: …when the relationships I’ve built with students remain years later. When I see them graduating high school and they come back to thank me for how I helped them get there. When students are excited to see me years after being in my class. When I see my students succeeding and making their dreams a reality.