I often call it a choice, but it was really more of a calling. Teaching is what I was meant to do. This approach to my profession provided a strong moral and ethical grounding to my practice which naturally led me to become a teacher leader. Approaching my profession as a calling has supported my decision to become involved in state and federal education policy. It is also why I have become involved in teacher preparation and crafting a positive vision for the future of teaching.
I believe every teacher is the best teacher they can be. And every parent and family is the best they can be. That includes me, both now and when I was a new teacher, but I know I’m far more accomplished and effective now than I was 18 years ago. That’s in part because, when I started, I didn’t have all the information, skills, knowledge and experience I have now.
The same holds true for parents. In order for me to be effective in my job, part of my job is to help families expand their capacity to raise a child that comes into the classroom ready to learn. A solid understanding of human development is one of the most influential factors in parenting and teaching.
Began Teaching: 1997
Current Role: National Board Certified Head Start early childhood educator, providing education services to at-risk 3 – 4 year old children and their families in the Richmond, Virginia public school district.
Q: What had the biggest influence on your decision to become a teacher?
A: I often call it a choice, but it was really more of a calling. It’s what I was meant to do. After six months of substitute teaching mostly high school classes, I lucked out and subbed for a Head Start teacher. A day later she ended up leaving early for her maternity leave. That opportunity turned into long-term substitute teaching opportunity. Teaching 3-4 year olds in a Head Start program exposed me to kids who had so many intense needs. I found I had a strong drive to help them progress.
There were kids who didn’t come to school with warm clothes in the winter and others who hadn’t seen their parents in a year or more due to incarceration. Most lacked a caring male role model. I realized I could help. These children let me know very quickly what they needed in terms of respect, guidance, humor, and love.
That experience made it clear that I could make a huge difference in 17 lives each year. Seventeen children and seventeen families.
So, I was driven to go back to school to learn how to be an effective teacher.
Q:What’s your biggest challenge in the classroom?
A: The lack of life skills the children’s environments equip them with.
All of my students are living in poverty and this effects their life experience, their ability to focus, their nutrition, and their emotional state. They experience a lot of stress and their personal relationships, home environment, and routines are not stable.
For example, outside of family, many only know hostile relationships with authority figures. They’ve already been exposed to court and the justice system. One of my three year-olds hasn’t seen her mom for over a year. Every year, of 17 kids, maybe four of them may have experienced severe tooth decay and lived with constant dental pain.
They have severe attachment issues which can influence development and their readiness to learn.
Q: And how do you manage to teach effectively with such challenges?
A: I believe every teacher is the best teacher they can be. And every parent and family is the best they can be. That includes me, both now and when I was a new teacher, but I know I’m far more accomplished and effective now than I was 16 years ago. That’s in part because, when I started, I didn’t have all the information, skills, knowledge and experience I have now.
The same holds true for parents. In order for me to be effective in my job, part of my job is to help families expand their capacity to raise a child that comes to the classroom ready to learn.
I do this through engaging my students parents in their child’s learning and through helping them to understand child development more clearly. A solid understanding of child development is one of the most influential factors in parenting and teaching young children.
One example of this is the Best in Class behavior intervention. It prevents challenging classroom behavior, supports learning and helps at risk children learn the social and behavioral skills necessary for school success.
Q: What method has had the biggest influence on your current teaching style?
A: The HighScope curriculum has been a corner stone to my approach to teaching. It’s based on extensive research going back 50 years which shows that children learn best when they engage in self directed learning in which they plan, actively engage, and reflect on their experiences. It works well with young kids and it is the same approach I take with my college students.
Q: What was the biggest change you made between your first and second year?
A: In my first year I mostly tried to imitate what I thought good teaching looked like. I experienced some challenging behavior and many of my learning activities did not reflect the developmental level of my students. I sought support from my preschool program’s social worker. She engaged a highly effective retired teacher, who had taught in the same community, to come observe and offer some advice. This teacher spent a few hours in my class one day and told me what I needed to hear to be effective. Much of what she told me had to do with culture and understanding my students’ backgrounds. After that, I changed my style of interaction, from my diction to my sentence structure, to more closely reflect the language interactions my students were used to. I still give the same advice to young teachers that retired teacher gave me. That is how many accomplished teachers get that way, through sharing their practice from one teacher to another, one teacher at a time. In my second year, I was much better at getting and holding my students’ attention. I was also better at planning activities that hit the development sweet spot.
Q: What do you want out of a Virtual Learning Community?
A: I want a community of teachers who are focused on solutions and willing to take on hard problems and questions. I love that it’s a safe, supportive place where teachers can find teachers like them and find support and validation for one another while also collaborating. I love that it’s a place that nourishes teachers and their practice. There are already over 110,000 National Board certified teachers and likely just as many methods to leading a student-centered classroom. It will be fun to explore and move beyond certification.
I’m eager to pursue teacher-led change.
I’d love to take part in live chats and live video chats to see and understand what other teachers’ solutions look like in their classrooms. Like I said, that is how we learn, teacher to teacher.
Teaching can be both a very isolated and challenging profession. And, with three million teachers in America, who spend their days communicating more with children than peers, it;s often hard to develop an identity around the profession.
The act of writing and telling a story of you and your classroom builds your identity. It feels good to listen to peers’ stories, too. It’s helpful to understand my position, opinions and experience relative to my peers. We all want affirmation and validation around the work we do every day.