Tag: Elementary

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.