It was a privilege to invite Kim M., the winner of the Teacher Peach All About Writing Gift Set in our recent holiday contest, to answer a few questions about what makes her tick and thrive as a teacher. One of our two contest winners, Kim’s name was chosen at random to receive this gift set. Congratulations, Kim! Here are some of Kim’s thoughts. We hope they spark you to comment and continue a dialog about what you love about teaching.
TP: Kim, tell us a bit about you, how long you’ve been teaching, what grades, etc.
KM: This is my 19th year of teaching. I have taught one year in second grade, six years in kindergarten, and twelve years in first grade. I have also been married for 19 years and we have two sons.
TP: What made you enter the contest?
KM: I follow Teacher Peach on Facebook and I was really interested in the gift sets that Teacher Peach was giving away in the contest. Both gift sets had lots of colorful things in them that I knew I’d use.
TP: Why did you want to win the prize and how do you plan to use it?
KM: I wanted to win the prize because I really liked the bag! 🙂 I also liked the notecards that can be sent home as a way of communication with classroom families; that’s really important to how I work as a teacher. That kind of connection is a big part of how students perform. We’re one team, families and teachers, all working to help the kids. I am also very excited to use the teacher journal and little black book. It’s important for all teachers, new and seasoned, to collect their thoughts, reflect on what is working and what can go better the next time. Even after nineteen years, or especially after nineteen years, I know that even just a few minutes of reflection can inspire a new idea to try the next day, help teachers see a pattern, or remind teachers that “we’ve been here before.” We tell even first graders to journal and express their thoughts. It’s a big part of being a good teacher, too. It’s good to look back because it is easy to forget that kids grow at different times and in different ways. Sometimes, an idea that didn’t work in November is perfect for that same student, come March. Journaling can help teachers see and recall that idea at the right time.
TP: What are the three biggest rewards for you as a teacher?
KM: Seeing the growth that my students make through the year, seeing their faces light up when they accomplish something they were not sure that they could do, and just the joy of being able to teach these students are the biggest rewards. Being a teacher is kind of like being a conductor of an orchestra. Every student plays a different instrument in his or her own way, and in many different keys, often all at once! As teachers, we do not play their instruments for them; we guide, we help them find the beat, and we hope they’ll hit their high notes when they are ready. When I see a face light up with pride, when my students discover they can do something new, that’s what’s music to my ears!
TP: What are the three biggest challenges you face as a teacher?
KM: While assessment is important for so many reasons, it can be tough to manage and prepare the little ones for so much assessment these days. The amount of assessing that is expected for elementary students is significant and it needs to be a part of lesson plans, strategy, and every teacher’s priorities. But if we use the results right and we are good teachers with the kids’ needs at the forefront, we can use this information as another data point in creating the right solutions for the students. It is also very challenging when families are not involved in their child’s education. Many families do the very best they can; others just seem not to be connected and as teachers, we do not always know why. But we always see the difference it makes in the education of that student when a family cannot or is not involved. Whatever the reason, the results are the same—tough for the child. Believe me, they know the difference—we all do. Lastly, as a teacher, you always want to reach every child. Every child is different and as teachers we need to focus on meeting all the needs of many diverse learners—all at once. That can be a challenge for any teacher.
TP: What advice would you have for other teachers?
KM: This advice is going to sound easy, and be much easier to read than to enact each day. That said, these three pieces of advice have helped me a great deal. The first is always be prepared. The second is always listen to your students. Finally, always have a positive attitude. The first, always be prepared, is actually the easiest because it rests squarely on the teacher’s shoulders. By preparing for the week ahead, teachers are ready to contend with the many surprises we encounter all week long. Without that plan, we’d be constantly reacting. With preparation, it’s much easier to respond on a dime to what the kids need. You can’t REgroup without a group of plans to begin with! Second, listening to your students sounds so simple, but it is actually quite difficult to do sometimes. The classroom is a place of great activity and it is easy to get distracted. Also, some kids just don’t want to be heard—or perhaps they aren’t ready. Kids can also speak in a code that teachers need to crack. A mumbled “I don’t know,” the quiet shrug of a shoulder, or a downward glance often means something more. As teachers, we need to listen to what is said—and what isn’t. Lastly, as for having a positive attitude? That comes from loving what you do, even on a day filled with challenges. As teachers of young elementary students, it’s important to remember that kids will definitely sense your moods, your reactions, and will generally take their cues from you. If you’re positive, then I’m positive that you’ll stand the best chance of getting positive responses from your students.
Kim’s thoughts on teaching and her suggestions come from the heart—and from nineteen years in the classroom. Kim’s All About Writing Gift Set is en route to her. When she opens her package, she’s promised to reconnect with Teacher Peach so stay tuned for Kim’s next installment. What would you add to Kim’s thoughts? When do you feel most rewarded as a teacher? What advice would you like to share? We’d all love to hear about a few of your favorite moments as a teacher.