Tag: Teacher

Preparing “Day-One Ready” Teachers

Preparing “Day-One Ready” Teachers

Preparing “Day-One Ready” Teachers

By Elizabeth Long, English Language Arts Teacher, Gallup Middle School

Teacher quality is fundamental to improving public education.  If not one of the most important factors to school success, then what is?  There is a lot of talk about how to improve schools—and improving instruction should be at the top of the list.

And the effect of quality teachers is greatest among students with the most educational disadvantages (Goldhaber, 2016, p. 58). It is no secret that quality teachers matter and can change the course of our students’ lives. Still, for far too many teachers, those that can change lives, leave the profession after just a first few years of teaching.

I wanted to be a teacher since I was in first grade, and while that may sound cliché’, it often takes an entire lifetime to prepare a person to be an effective teacher. Even the best teacher prep programs cannot adequately prepare a teacher for everything that they will experience in the classroom. Still, teachers need to come to the classroom “Day One Ready”, and that goes beyond just knowing how to lesson plan or memorize learning theories.

Teacher preparation programs have a solemn responsibility to produce quality teachers.

After my first year of teaching, I was ready to give up on the dream I had since I was a little girl. It was devastating. I was not adequately prepared for my first year of teaching, and while I am sure many factors can be taken into account when it comes to my lack of preparedness that first year in the classroom, I was not prepared well through my college teacher prep program.

Luckily, I chose to stay in the classroom and use resources within my school to push myself to my full potential (I earned an Exemplary rating this year as a teacher in Gallup, New Mexico). Unfortunately, not every teacher has access to the resources I had or the resolve to keep pushing internally.  And that is how we lose potentially life-changing teachers.

However, if teacher preparation programs dramatically improve in New Mexico, then the quality of teaching, and thus education, across the state will improve.

The purpose of my writing this is not to demonize or condemn any specific college or university. As a teacher, I believe a large part of learning is in our own hands.  We must accept personal responsibility for our craft, and for our students’ learning.  In fact, the summer after my first (rough) year of teaching, I went back to the basics. I ordered Harry Wong’s classic books about classroom management, and I read his words as if they were scripture.

One may ask, didn’t I do the same in my teacher prep program? The answer is sort of, yes – I read many of the famous teaching texts and theories, but what was often missing was the application of those theories. Without a classroom of my own, or a classroom to visualize myself in it was hard to imagine how to put these theories into action. For example, I took a special education course about foundational theories, but I never actually learned what special education would look like in a real school or a real classroom. What I was learning in my classes were the idealistic theories for teaching, and when it was time for my student teaching experience it seemed as though what I had learned had no basis in reality.

The best classes I had were with teachers who were passionate about the teaching practice and not completely disconnected from the classroom experience itself. It is not that I did not have some great courses or professors along the way, but the problem is often cohesion and consistency, and my classes were, to be honest, hit or miss.

I was also shocked by how inadequately I was prepared for the student diversity I would experience. Many universities give a “cookie-cutter” view on teaching English Language Learners (ELLs) and culturally relevant teaching. There was no connection to New Mexico and our students. According to Gist, “If teachers have limited knowledge of students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds, this can severely reduce the teacher’s ability to draw upon a student’s cultural and linguistic strengths and foster resilient student identities of achievement”. New Mexico and our students have unique needs, and these must be addressed in teacher prep programs, and we need to address diversity while never lowering he bar for any student, regardless of background.

Another frustrating experience is that I often felt like I was given misleading information about licensure, advisement, and what steps I needed to take to ensure I received my licensure after graduation with the proper credentials. Any preparation program requires quality advisement, and teachers need advisors who know their state’s expectations on testing and certification.

I have mentored many teachers over the years, and I have seen many come and go. I would say that, in my experience, teacher preparation program experiences directly correlate with whether teachers stay in the profession or quit after their first year.  As we all know, there are some tough issues in education today, and teaching is not a laid-back job in any way.

Still, if teachers come into the classroom “Day One Ready”, their entire outlook on teaching may change…but what does “Day One Ready” even mean?

“Day One Ready” means that a teacher is not surprised, but prepared for what they walk into that first day in the classroom. It is not about creating perfect teachers, but rather, teachers that will be prepared for the highlights and challenges of teaching our students, with proper support along the way. “Day One Ready” teachers are confident that the experiences in their teacher preparation program will realistically align with their true classroom experience. While nothing may prepare teachers for everything they will experience, quality programs prepare them to be more ready than I was.

Let us help prepare teachers realistically in high quality teacher preparation programs, which means that these programs should be held accountable, should increase their student teaching experiences, and should align their programs much more closely with state and district expectations. Then, we can help teachers reach their full potential and truly change the lives of students across the State. We know that, more than anything, teacher quality correlates with student success. So certainly teacher preparation is the foundation of that idea.

I am thankful I decided to keep teaching. Even with the most professionally challenging experiences, it is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world.  And I have my students’ academic growth and their changed life trajectories to show for it!

However, if I could have been better trained and prepared to be more successful on Day One, then it should have happened. No excuses.

Building Social Studies Materials and New Forms of Teacher Collaboration

Building Social Studies Materials and New Forms of Teacher Collaboration

The most valuable part of the Social Studies Dream Team “TeachFest” experience is the opportunity to step out of one’s own bubble and to interact with colleagues from around the state. The sheer breadth and depth of experience, both personal and professional, was both humbling and inspiring.  There were people from all over the country, whose experience ranged from business owner to Peace Corps volunteer, from law enforcement officer to U.S. AID worker—all of whom have chosen to work as teachers in New Mexico.  The ice breakers and conversation starters at the beginning helped foster a sense of community and shared purpose, which laid the foundation for productive collaborations.

I did my teaching certificate work at the University of Houston and have been teaching for 21 years—first in southwest Houston for three years, and now in Albuquerque since 2000. I teach all areas of social studies, but primarily government and AP Government.  I was the AP Lead teacher at Cibola High for the past 3-4 years.  My teaching partner and I were the first in the state to pilot the AP Capstone program.  I also teach a little beginning French when needed, and I currently co-author or co-edit 2 AP review books for McGraw Hill Publishing, Co. (5 Steps to a 5…AP World and AP European History).  As such, I set the bar high for all my students.

I think it is important for us as teachers to step outside our comfort zones, and to recognize that our profession extends beyond our classroom walls, our department and our school. At the Dream Team TeachFest, teachers from the largest high schools in Albuquerque swapped stories with teachers from tiny rural K-8 schools.  It was quite the exchange of ideas!  To gain a broader perspective regarding the challenges facing teachers across the state is to become more understanding and tolerant, much like the character education we do as social studies teachers.  And we had guest speakers with a range of perspectives as well: the Teacher Liaisons from the PED and remarks from Debra Marquez and Anthony Burns from the PED’s Instructional Materials Bureau served to reinforce the idea that we are part of education policy in a larger context, and that our influence can extend beyond our classroom.

Teaching can be a solitary profession, and for years the only way to extend our influence beyond the classroom was to leave the classroom. It is gratifying to see that there are now ways for teachers to expand their impact while still remaining teachers.  The fact that the PED Secretary-Designate Ruszkowski took the time to come to the event and listen to teachers’ concerns underscores the idea that we can and should look beyond our classrooms.  Though we may not always agree with his answers in-full, that he would take the time to have the discussion as a fellow social studies teacher is, in itself, a step in the right direction.  We need more dialogue, not less.

As new members of the Dream Team, the scope of the required lessons seemed overwhelming at first, but as the presenters and facilitators walked us through the process our ideas began to take shape. Our project facilitator was an effective sounding board for ideas and concerns, but also kept the conversations fun at the same time.  Though it took some time for us to develop a project appropriate in scope, we left with a clear picture of what tasks remained.  Despite our differences and our diversity of interests, the fact that everyone there had given up his or her time for the common purpose of creating something beneficial for New Mexican students is reassuring.

We will create materials that every social studies teacher around the state can use, but the idea of teacher-leadership in social studies and beyond, fostered by Cohort 2 of the New Mexico Dream Team, has possibilities far beyond that.

We’re Listening & Your Voice Matters: A Legislative Update From The Secretary

We’re Listening & Your Voice Matters: A Legislative Update From The Secretary

Colleagues—

Here’s the reality: HB310 is by far the most comprehensive, the most far-reaching, and the largest teacher compensation bill under consideration this legislative session.

That’s why I decided to testify on behalf of the diverse group of sponsors–Representatives Baldonado (Valencia), Clahchischilliage (San Juan), and Smith (Bernalillo, Sandoval, Santa Fe)—on Saturday morning:  because this kind of legislation has the potential to be transformative for educators, for students, and for this profession that we love.

It’s also important to note that the tabling of HB310 is part of a broader trend of unabashed partisanship that we have witnessed this session.  As a former middle school social studies teacher I am idealistic about the democratic process, and I believed that HB210 (Early Literacy Interventions & Family Engagement), HB 297 (Addressing Chronic Absenteeism), HB180 (More Funding For Schools, Less For District Offices), and HB177 (Teacher Advancement w/o Master’s Degree) would all garner enthusiastic bipartisan support.  After all, I’ve worked for leaders from both sides of the aisle who have supported similar ideas.  Two of these bills had bipartisan sponsors, and all four were revised based on feedback from legislators and the field.

Unfortunately, all of these bills were stopped in their tracks by hyper-partisanship at the Roundhouse this year.

HB310 did several things that I thought were noteworthy, and several things that stakeholders and legislators on both sides of the aisle had requested:

  1. Increased the starting salary of Level 1 teachers by $4,000 to $38,000, permanently
  2. Guaranteed a 2.5% salary increase to all educators, permanently
  3. Guaranteed a 2% salary increase to all non-licensed school staff, permanently
  4. Included a $5 million appropriation for teacher recruitment activities (and an amendment from the committee integrated teacher mentoring as well!)
  5. Increased the starting salaries of Level 2 and Level 3 teachers by $2,000, permanently

 

The House Education Committee had the responsibility to consider this bill on its educational merits.  A multi-pronged approach to improving teacher compensation is both necessary and overdue.  I believed it would generate bipartisan support and sufficient funding—but it was tabled in hyper-partisan fashion, same as the rest.

If you’re fuming, I get it.  You are working hard, advocating for your kids, trying to get involved while still working a full day.  Meanwhile, you’re up against powerful special interests groups that camp out in the Roundhouse for the full session.  It’s a situation that’s rigged against our students and, in many ways, our profession.

I still believe HB310 to be the strongest piece of teacher compensation legislation around, and given that many of you have reached out to me, it seems you may think so, too.  People have asked me—what can we do to keep this possibility alive, both in the short-term and the long-term?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • The House Education Committee members who tabled the bill could bring HB310 “off the table”
  • AFT/ATF was the only group that stood-up in opposition to HB310, yet they had substantial influence: http://sg001-harmony.sliq.net/00293/Harmony/en/PowerBrowser/PowerBrowserV2/20180213/-1/46376
  • The Executive Budget recommendation included a multi-pronged approach to teacher compensation, and we will continue to fight for it
  • Over the long-term, more teacher and parent voice is needed in these processes—both during session and during the interim

 

All this being said, your advocacy and belief in elevating teacher and parent voices have not been for nothing.  We’re still working with the Legislature on a 2018-19 (FY19) budget that would include a large teacher compensation increase, a substantial increase in Pre-K funding, higher levels of funding for transportation and instructional materials, and the preservation of the successful programs that have driven outcomes in your schools (from AP fee waivers to Reads to Lead).  More than ever in our state’s history, there is a diversity of teacher and parent voices being heard on issues that impact our students.  Student achievement results are on the rise, we have the #1 State Plan under ESSA in the nation, and you’re building a community of educators and families that are demanding more for our kids.

It’s an honor and a privilege to work on your behalf every day.  Let your voices be heard—and remember that our civic and moral outrage must be sustained over time.  Our students need us to keep up the fight.

In partnership—

CR

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

Family Engagement with Gloria Ruiz

Family Engagement with Gloria Ruiz

We are excited to share the third in our series of podcasts related to educational issues.  Please listen in as we interview the movers and shakers in New Mexico education.  Our third podcast features Gloria Ruiz, Family Engagement Coordinator, where she provides an overview how parental involvement has evolved to family engagement and explains how teachers can make tweaks to their current practices to elevate their work with parents and families.

family_engagement_podcast_1.11.18

 

Every Student Deserves a High-Performing School

Every Student Deserves a High-Performing School

The Release of School Grades

School Grades were recently released to the public.

Our school accountability system has earned a lot of praise for being clear and understandable for families—and this year our reports are even more family friendly following our yearlong ESSA tour. Check out the great coverage all over the state in the ABQ Journal, the Associated Press, KOAT, KOB, KRQE, the Deming Headlight, the Carlsbad Current Argus, the Farmington Daily News, and the Alamogordo Daily News.  The story on Gil Sanchez Elementary might be my favorite yet as we seek to identify and scale best practices across the state.

Background on School Grading

School Grading is part of state and federal statute that mandates accountability for all public schools.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), originally enacted in 1965, requires schools to show annual improvement in mathematics and reading. In 2011, New Mexico lawmakers enacted additional requirements that schools demonstrate progress through a grading system similar to that applied to students, A-B-C-D-F.

School Grades provide a consistent measure (now over six years) for all public schools across the state so that we can see which schools are doing well and which schools are struggling and need support.

Working for Success

Schools that embrace change, get results. School improvement is a CHOICE. Our districts and schools that continue to embrace change and new opportunities for kids are continuing to see success.

Our 15 largest districts are serving more than 60% of students in the state. The following large districts are examples of those that have embraced change over the years and are now showing strong improvements – not only increasing the number of “A” schools within their districts – but also by drastically reducing the amount of “F” schools within their districts:

  • Farmington has eliminated “F” schools and increased the amount of “A” schools

o   In 2012, 6% of its schools were “F” schools, today the district has 0 “F” schools

o   In 2012, Farmington had no “A” schools, today 37% of its schools are “A” schools

  • Gadsden has eliminated “F” schools and increased the amount of “A” schools

o   In 2012, 9% of its schools were “F” schools, today the district has 0 “F” schools

o   The district has grown the number of “A” schools by 4%

  • Alamogordo has eliminated “F” schools.

o   In 2012, 13% of its schools were “F” schools, today the district has 0 “F” schools

o   The district has grown the number of “A” schools by 14%

Our Students Deserve Better

Our most struggling students deserve better. Many of NM’s schools are not doing a good job serving their lowest performing students that are well below grade level in math and reading.

Here’s what we can do, together, about the growing divide of schools on the rise and those that are not making progress or are sliding backwards:

  1. When schools are struggling, they can choose to improve.  Over the past five years, New Mexico has invested significant resources and developed proven programs and that are getting results for kids.  Principals Pursuing Excellence (PPE) and Teacher Pursuing Excellence (TPE) are two examples of those—school turnaround programs available for struggling schools that are ready to change and grow.
  2. Under NM’s top-rated State ESSA Plan, districts are required to take action when a school persistently earns “F’s” 4, 5 or 6 years in a row.  Several of New Mexico’s schools will be under the umbrella of the “More Rigorous Interventions” category—which requires district’s to choose a different path forward.
  3. When our kids are trapped in persistently failing schools, they have options under state law.  Students enrolled in schools that have earned two “F” grades in the last four years have the right to attend a different school.
  4. When charter schools are persistently “D” and “F”, the NM PED has a moral and educational responsibility to recommend to the Public Education Commission (PEC) that their charter be considered for revocation.

What You Can Do

The release of school grades can be an exciting time for some, but we also recognize it can be a sobering time for others.

If your school received a lower grade, put yourself in the shoes of a student who received a similar grade. What would you say to them? How would you encourage them? What immediate actions would you ask them to take? Give yourself (and any colleagues that need it) the same advice.

Once you’ve processed, here are easy and quick ways to start leaning in as a teacher, to lead toward improvement:

  1. Next time you see your principal, let them know you are ready and willing to help. Ask them what you can do to help improve!
  2. Dive into the full School Grade Report, not just the first page. Identify ONE thing to celebrate and ONE area for improvement.
  3. BE A GREAT TEACHER. Dive into your student level data, identify what your kiddos need and deliver. Your students can have a positive impact on the whole school’s grade.
  4. Last, but not least. Remember, we at the NM PED are here to help! We can provide a pick me up, encouragement or expert help! Just ask!

Hear It From Teachers

Check out what teachers around NM have to say about their school’s grade.

My school went from a D to a C….. we know we are moving up to a B next year!  We are positive! We are working harder than ever….. although our amazing principal did say in today’s meeting…. “It’s not about our grade, it’s about making sure we are preparing these students!”  So, in reality, our prayer and hope to move to a B, is just our journey and knowing we are doing everything we can to get these kiddos moving in the right direction!  Work hard…. 3 year old program- to our 6th grade programs. Just work hard!  Hurley Elementary School, Cobre Consolidated Schools

Deming Intermediate went from an F to being less than 2 points away from a C.  So proud of my school!!! Deming Intermediate School, Deming Public Schools

We went up, in both our elementary and middle school, from a D to a B!!!!!  Pretty dang proud of our students and staff! Eagle Nest Elementary and Middle School, Cimarron Public Schools

My school went from a D to a C. We as a school are prepared to work even harder to move up to a B or even an A. Colinas del Norte Elementary School, Rio Rancho Public Schools

Our little school went back up to an A as well. The staff is excited and so are the kids! Reserve High School, Reserve Public Schools

Our school moved up from a D to a C, missing a B by 5 points. We are determined to get that B or A next year. We are the largest school in SFPS with the highest ELL and Special Learning population in the district! We are so proud of our students and teachers! Capital High School, Santa Fe Public Schools

CTE and STEM Conferences Available to You

CTE and STEM Conferences Available to You

National Conference Comes to Albuquerque!

The Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE) Best Practices and Innovations Conference will be in New Mexico this year. It will be held at the Hotel Albuquerque September 27-29, 2017. If CTE leaders are unable to attend the entire event, there will also be a half-day New Mexico CTE Summit Friday afternoon.

ACTE Best Practices & Innovations Conference https://www.acteonline.org/bestpractices/#.WZHDAU32aUk

Learn about ACTE Professional Membership https://www.acteonline.org/

Engineering, Computer Science, & Biomedical Sciences…Oh My!

The 2017 Project Lead The Way (PLTW) State Conference will be held September 15, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa for current or interested PLTW educators and leaders. Learn more and register for this STEM/CTE learning event.

Register for the NM Conference https://engr.nmsu.edu/nmpltw/2017-nm-pltw-state-conference/

Learn about National PLTW Curriculum https://www.pltw.org/


For questions, contact Bobbi Eichhorst at Barbara.Eichhorst@state.nm.us.

 

Istation Professional Development for the 2017-2018 School Year

Istation Professional Development for the 2017-2018 School Year

To continue supporting districts and charters K-3 in the implementation and use of IStation data in supporting improving reading outcomes for students, PED will be hosting regional half-day trainings.  Training this year will be provided in two-strands, one supporting principals and district leaders, and one strand for educators focusing on how Istation assists in closing the achievement gap.

Teacher Professional Development –Round 1- August/Sept. 2017

Using Istation Tools for Effective Small Group and Differentiated Instruction

This session will incorporate a short refresher of ISIP assessments and then focus on progress monitoring and intervention. Participants will use data to form effective small groups and use Istation Teacher Tools to support differentiated instruction.  Please bring fully charged technology devices and your Istation username and password.

Each day will provide two sessions: 8:30-11:30am and 1:00-4:00pm.  To register, please click the link below for the training you wish to attend:

Date Location Registration Link
8.28, 29, 30, 2017 Albuquerque IStation for Teachers 8.28, 8.29, 8.30 Albuquerque
8.31.2017 Las Vegas IStation for Teachers 8.31.17 – Las Vegas
9.6.2017 Las Cruces IStation for Teachers 9.6.17 Las Cruces
9.7.2017 Artesia Istation for Teachers 9.7.17 Artesia
9.11.2017 Gallup IStation for Teachers 9.11.17 Gallup

 

Principals/Administrators Professional Development –Round 1- Sept. 2017

Using Istation Reports for Accountability and Instructional Decision Making

This session provides administrators an overview of Istation’s fundamental components as well as a basic working knowledge of key management reports, to get the most out of your ISIP implementation.  At the conclusion of this session, administrators will have had a chance to review reports for accountability and campus/district progress, as well as decision making.  Please bring fully charged technology devices and your Istation username and password.

Each day will provide two sessions: 8:30-11:30am and 1:00-4:00pm.  To register, please click the link below for the training you wish to attend:

Date Location Registration Link
9.6.2017 Albuquerque IStation for Administrators 9.6.17 – Albuquerque
9.7.2017 Las Vegas Istation for Administrator 9.7.17 Las Vegas
9.11.2017 Artesia Istation for Administrators 9.11.17 Artesia
9.12.2017 Gallup IStation for Administrators 9.12.17 Gallup
9.13.2017 Las Cruces IStation for Administrators 9.13.17 Las Cruces

 

Please share the information with your schools.  If you have questions, contact Michael Miller, Literacy Director, at michael.miller2@state.nm.us or at 505-827-6567.

ICYMI: Ruszkowski Is A Game-Changer

ICYMI: Ruszkowski Is A Game-Changer

Mr. R was my seventh-grade civics teacher, and then my eighth-grade U.S. history teacher.

We called (New Mexico’s acting Secretary of Education Christopher Ruszkowski) Mr. R because, you know, Ruszkowski was too difficult for most of us to pronounce. Most of us were first-generation kids born in north Miami to Caribbean immigrants, so needless to say his last name wasn’t too common. Neither was his teaching style: He was a well-versed, well-prepared teacher who taught us to think critically by both embracing and challenging the traditional middle-school social studies curriculum. Sure, he made sure that we mastered the basics – but he also introduced us to Bruce Springsteen, Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” and the Roots television mini-series of 1977, which was quite the revelation for many of us. He delivered his lesson plans for his seventh- and eighth-graders using literature, music, art, culture and media.

It was a learning experience unlike anything before. I learned about American political campaigns by running in a mock class election and losing to this popular kid, Victor, who was weak on policy but got the “mock media” to smear me. I dissected songs on the radio for political meaning. I learned that there were two sides, at minimum, to every social and economic issue – and was always frustrated that Mr. R would never tell us his opinion on any political issue! Later, in eighth grade, I ushered my family down the Oregon Trail – and learned what it was like for those who ventured west for a better life, and empathized with them.

Mr. R imparted in us a special appreciation for different kinds of culture and perspectives on the country and the world – cultural lessons that were outside of my “traditional” Jamaican and Lebanese home-grown roots.

With his guidance and letter of recommendation, I was one of a few kids from north Miami accepted to MAST Academy. At the time, MAST Academy was one of the top 50 high schools in the United States and situated in one of the most expensive ZIP codes, Key Biscayne, Fla. Now I was surrounded by some of the sharpest kids in the district, and I raised my game – just like Mr. R said I would. And right after high school, I interned with him at Miami Teaching Fellows, where I saw what it looked like to be an entrepreneur who fights inside the system for better outcomes for kids like me. Later on, with his mentorship and yet another letter of recommendation, I went on to study Economics and Government at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. I raised my game again – and graduated with honors in a little over three years.

Today, I’m a junior executive at a Fortune 200 company.

It is an honor and a blessing to have been one of Mr. R’s students. He is more than my former middle school teacher – he is now a lifelong mentor and someone I can call about big life decisions. And I now recognize more than ever that opportunities for upward mobility are not readily available to the students of minorities and low-income families without great teachers and access to great schools. He taught me to write persuasively, recommended great books to read by Caribbean authors, and gave me the confidence to go after something bigger than the standards society often imposed on me and other students like me.

These opportunities might not have existed without Mr. R. His expectations for me were higher than my expectations were for myself – I can’t wait to see what that means for the kids of New Mexico.

This opinion piece originally appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on Sunday, July 2nd. 

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.