Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I’m in the third year of my teaching career, and my third year of teaching third grade at Williams Sullivan Elementary in Durant, Miss. I graduated from the University of Maine with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a concentration in human development. I completed my student teaching internships in a fifth grade classroom in Maine and a kindergarten classroom in Australia.
Why did you choose a career in teaching?
I’ve always loved working with children. I solidified my desire to be a teacher in college, when I mentored a student and worked with a children’s group at a domestic violence shelter. I enjoy watching students grow and I love to see students make connections to things both in and out of the classroom. I have an immense appreciation for routine, organization and structure, and this profession has allowed me to model and teach these skills to my students.
Who are your students and what challenges do they face?
My students are so eager, funny, quirky, and enthusiastic.
Right now, I’m teaching four different groups of students. Two groups (five students in each group) are reading between 13 and 28 words correctly per minute when given the third grade reading curriculum placement test (Read Well 3). To place into the third grade curriculum, they should be reading close to 60 words correctly per minute.
I also teach a group of five students who are reading at a high second grade level and are moving along at a very fast and consistent pace. I also have one group of six students who are reading at a 3rd grade level.
The students in all of these groups face a unique set of challenges. They all struggle with oral language. They have limited vocabulary and syntax, which makes it hard to communicate verbally. When children can’t successfully communicate orally, you can image how hard it is for them read, write, and spell.
Some of my students have emotional challenges as well, and they’re working extremely hard to self-monitor and regulate a wide range of emotions within a small time frame. Additionally, some students face challenges in making connections and comprehending stories or experiences due to a lack of schema on a given topic.
What challenges do you face in your current teaching environment?
I face behavioral challenges that force me to get creative with my management, routines and procedures. It’s a challenge to teach a class that has such a wide range of abilities and it takes thoughtful, intentional planning. I’m also challenged with finding the most effective ways to communicate with parents and get them on board with the goals I am trying to reach in the classroom.
What are your thoughts on the Common Core standards?
Common Core is a huge step in the right direction towards educational equity in our country, but it is not the whole solution. I feel that Common Core standards are most effective when taught in classrooms that have 80 percent of their students at or above the 50th percentile. In my current teaching situation, this is not the case and, at times, the common core standards seem like unrealistic expectations for my students.
My ultimate dream is that all students in our country will be able to successfully master these standards. However, there are many schools that need to close the literacy and mathematical gaps before we move to fully teaching the Common Core.
What’s your relationship with BRI like? How has the Institute supported or helped you?
I have been at a BRI school for my entire teaching career. Last year, I worked closely with literacy coach Kelly Butler through our LETRS training and our daily interactions at school. This year, we have two BRI literacy coaches who do everything from training us and testing our students to making and providing resources.
To be completely candid, I don’t know what I would have done without BRI’s support. I’ve become a better reading instructor because of the BRI coaches’ depth of knowledge and extreme amount of support and follow-through. I don’t feel like I received all of the necessary tools to teach reading in my pre-service teacher program, but with the support and guidance of BRI’s staff, I feel much more knowledgeable and prepared to teach children to read.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the classroom?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to be consistent. I’ve learned to give tasks and assignments to children according to their reading level and use data to adjust when necessary. I have learned to be diligent and persistent when introducing anything new and teach it with enthusiasm for two to three weeks, and, if it doesn’t work, change it. Children are flexible if you teach them the importance of change.