Tag: Elementary

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Tennise Lucas

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Tennise Lucas

It is a big world out there, but I tell my students that they can do anything. In the words of Walt Disney, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” My job is not just to teach academics; but to help students navigate their lives while striving for their best.

I am a native Roswellite via Canada. I grew up between living in town and on my grandparents ranch in Lincoln County. This was my first classroom of sorts as I learned how to ride horses, brand cattle, and fix fences. Most of my education was in Roswell. After graduating from high school, several career changes, a bachelor’s degree, and the birth of my world; Echo, I decided to finally commit to teaching. This was not a decision I took lightly. I believe that the cornerstone of our country is our children, and the education they receive is vital.

My intentions were never to become a principal. One of my former superintendents once told me that if I didn’t like how things were going, I needed to be a principal. So, I was given an opportunity and received my leadership training through the National Institute for Student Leadership in conjunction with ENMU. This training was invaluable as it opened my eyes to the necessity for change in our educational system. I received a Master of Education from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. and my New Mexico Teacher’s Certificate from Eastern New Mexico University. Currently, I am a state representative for my district on the Secretary Teacher Advisory Council and one of the ambassadors for my school. My leadership roles include Superintendent Advisory Council, PD training, a mentor for other teachers, and school based leadership team. I am a fierce advocate for my students and passionate about their learning.

When not in the classroom, I am in a dance room. In 2003, I was an originating instructor of The Studio+. In 2005, I was certified in the discipline of Tap under board certification with the Texas Association Teachers of Dancing, Inc. I continue to work with children through tap and Irish dancing at the studio.

After fifteen years of teaching in both private and public school settings, I am not ready to leave the classroom. I will continue to work for teachers and my students in an attempt to help develop innovative, safe, and effective 21st century learning environments that will foster both academic and emotional well-being.

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight-John McElhinney

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight-John McElhinney

The most meaningful part of teaching is setting high expectations for my students while encouraging and inspiring them to set goals for themselves as they grow from being a unique participant  in a community of learners into an active contributor in our society.

John McElhinney was born and raised in New Jersey. After graduating from high school in 1987, he joined the United State Marine Corps. He spent the majority of his service in Irving, California,(Marine Aviation Logistic Squadron). 

After the Marines, John moved back to the East Coast and matriculated at the University of Delaware. At Delaware, John majored in history, and also took anthropology and archeology courses. It was during one of these courses, that he became interested in the culture and people of New Mexico. He spent two weeks in New Mexico camping and hiking in the summer of 94. But it would be another thirteen years before he returned to visit his sister in Albuquerque, and six more until it became his permanent home.

After graduating from Delaware in 1995, John worked for two corporations, but did not feel fulfilled from his work. In the summer of 1997, John started his master’s degree in education at Monmouth University, and quickly realized this was his passion. It was at this time John combined another passion of his with teaching. Traveling! John completed his student teaching in Nacka, Sweden, and thus began years teaching abroad in such places as Italy, Korea, Mexico, and Nicaragua.

 Since returning to the United States in 2013, he spent one year teaching in Albuquerque, and is currently completing his third year teaching in Raton, New Mexico, as a third grade teacher.

 Utilizing his many experiences abroad and lessons learned from his parents, John also brings compassion, energy, enthusiasm, and the desire to be  a lifelong learner to the classroom.

 

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: John Turrietta

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: John Turrietta

It all comes down to the teacher’s relationship with the students, the knowledge and presentation of the material and keeping them engaged.  Along my evolution as a teacher, I have tried departmentalization, ability grouping, gender grouping, Whole Brain Teaching, and now a flipped classroom.  Yet it still concludes with me and my students.

From the time that I was in the 3rd grade, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher.  Standing in front of a classroom, presenting and interacting with my students is the fruition of that dream.  I entered first grade not knowing English, and exited 3rd grade with the goal of being a teacher.  My grandfather made it clear from the time that I was a young boy, that education would always be the right road to travel.  He added to my determination that I would, one day, be an educator.

As that 3rd grade student that stayed after class to help with bulletin boards, pound dust out of chalk, sort dittos, and just generally help around the classroom, I always knew it was about the learning.  In playing school with my cousin and brother, I gave tests and handed out report cards.  Who knew testing would be such an issue in years to come?  While testing is not everything it is a gauge of financial success in later life.  Its about the teaching for me.  The learning.  As a product of APS and UNM, I want to make a difference for the children of New Mexico.

As a teacher, I have never wanted to be out of the classroom.  That’s where the action is….where the magic happens.  That’s where I need to be; on the frontlines of education.  Every year is a fresh start to try new things with an entirely new group of students.  What other career gives you a fresh start each year?  There are so many ways to teach.  No one has a monopoly!

Next year, Rio Rancho will assign each 5th grade class a Chrome Book Cart.  An entirely new delivery of teaching! It is never boring and always rewarding and exciting.  Kids will never remember the workbook page, but they will always remember your classroom environment and how you delivered material.

GUEST POST: My Experience on the 2017 New Mexico Dream Team

GUEST POST: My Experience on the 2017 New Mexico Dream Team

On most days I leave my school to make an hour drive home and reflect on my day in my classroom.  I ask myself if I could have done something better and I usually beat myself up the entire drive home.  Sometimes, I feel I’m not teaching like I should even though I’m doing the best job I can and pouring my heart into my students.  Although I am labeled as an exemplary teacher, I doubt my ability and at times, think I should walk away from teaching.

This school year (2016-2017) I was chosen to be a part of the 2017 New Mexico Dream Team.  I can honestly say that it changed my thinking and rejuvenated my love for teaching. The experience reminded me why I’m a teacher.  Serving on the Dream Team allowed me to discover valuable tools to improve literacy and design rigorous lessons to improve the learning levels of my students in the classroom. Most importantly, being on the Dream Team introduced me to a group of elite teachers that have the same thoughts and feelings I was having.  Coming together with other teachers and sharing ideas and formulating strategies to improve literacy for our students has been an amazing experience. The doubts that I had in my ability as a teacher were removed and I feel that I am making a difference in the classroom.   I feel better equipped to teach close reading and design lessons with rigor to help students gain a deeper understanding of the text. I became a more confident teacher through the Dream Team training and the feedback from my colleagues.

At the beginning of this school year I had decided this would be my last year of teaching.  I no longer feel that way.  Talking to other teachers I realized that we all have self-doubt about out teaching ability and that we only have these doubts because we care so much about being great teachers.  I have since changed my mind about leaving the teaching profession and rediscovered why I’m a teaching… Not because I have to, but because I want to!

This guest post was written by Deanna Walker, a teacher in Maxwell Municipal Schools and a member of the 2017 New Mexico Literacy Dream Team.

GUEST POST: Kids (and Teachers) Just Wanna Have Fun

GUEST POST: Kids (and Teachers) Just Wanna Have Fun

“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.”

                                           Mary Poppins

Do you ever wish you could be more like that fun and effective nanny, Mary Poppins? She knew that the secret to helping her young charges succeed was injecting a little fun into their chores and lives.

When we think about the increasing demands on us as teachers, we may ask “where is the fun?” After all, we are tasked with the seemingly impossible. We must cover all the standards, increase depth of knowledge through questioning, incorporate formative assessment into each lesson, prepare all students to pass standardized tests, provide and track interventions in the classroom, differentiate instruction for all learners, meet weekly with colleagues to analyze data, communicate with parents though online platforms……Whew! The list is endless. New expectations for accountability, rigor, and communication make teaching an even more challenging profession. Rookie and veteran teachers alike can feel overwhelmed.

Of all the questions we ask of our teaching, the most important one is, “how can we incorporate joy into the classroom – for ourselves and for our students?” Why is this an essential question? Because if we aren’t having fun, our students certainly aren’t having fun. As adult learners, we know that being relaxed opens us up to new ideas and improved learning. Anyone who has observed a group of children at play knows that this is even more important for our young learners.

When I left the business world to become a teacher, I tapped into my creative side for perhaps the first time in my life. I witnessed the innate creativity of my fifth-grade students and worked to develop lessons that brought that out. Over the years, I have built on this and found a few strategies to infuse fun into the “work” of school. Whenever I feel like I am not having fun, I remember my early years in the classroom and how happy and privileged I felt to work with young people. Now, in our new landscape of high-stakes testing, I find it extremely important to add some fun every day. Here are seven of my tips for having fun:

  1. Start the day with a smile.
    I like to greet each student at the door with a smile and a handshake to start the day. This can create a joyful tone for the day and help me check in with each child. Students can also check in with their buddy before class starts. High fives, turn-and-talk pep talks, and secret handshakes can bring out a smile and put everyone in a happy state.
  2. Use games to teach.
    Learning games are an easy way to lighten the mood in the classroom. Students are engaged, communicative, and they don’t always know they are “working.”
  3. Be a little dramatic.
    Someone once told me that every teacher should take a drama class, and I agree. Even if you are on the quiet side, find ways to surprise your class with unexpected entrances or actions. I have stood on a desk to teach math, cracked eggs over my head when demonstrating how to give directions, and worn a picture frame around my neck to silently remind students to “frame” their sentences.
  4. Use music to direct the day.
    I can’t teach without music – big, loud music. I attribute this to my training from Eric Jensen in the importance of changing our students’ states in order to keep them alert and able to learn. This strategy for brain-based learning comes with a built-in element: FUN! Pick a theme for the day (Disco Day is my favorite) and turn on the music while students walk around the room and touch five gold things before returning to their seats. Everyone is smiling and dancing and ready for the next activity.
  5. Play with your students.
    Tap into your inner child and join your students in their games. Get in line for 4-square, jump in to the jump rope game, pick up a basketball in the pick-up game. Show off your hula hoop skills (if you still have them). Your students will appreciate that you know how to have fun, and it will carry back into the classroom.
  6. Designate a fun, role-playing day.
    Give everyone a chance to have some fun by transforming the classroom into a historical period. For example, I used to have a Colonial Day every year in second grade where we would all come in costume and re-enact colonial school practices. Then we would participate in craft stations and deepen our understanding of the time period.
  7. Give students choice – and breaks.
    Find ways to let students choose their activities. During Writing Workshop, allow them to illustrate and embellish their stories at a publishing center. Build in short breaks in the classroom so they can extend their learning by using the materials available.

Remember that our goal is to develop thinking skills, not to cram information into our students. The more fun we are having, the more we are open to new learning. This is true for our students and for us. To channel Mary Poppins, we want to learn “in the most delightful way!”

This guest post was submitted by New Mexico Teacher Leader Ambassador, Leslie Baker. Leslie is a literacy teacher at Taos Charter School in Taos, NM. 
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.