Can you talk about your journey to your current position?
I started here at FPCS Chamberlain as a Pre-K paraprofessional. Prior to that, I had gone to school, pursuing a biology major to move into the medical field. Life sometimes takes us in new directions we don’t anticipate. After graduating 11 years ago, I met a principal who told me, “You’re a really great teacher. Have you ever thought about working with kids?” To which I replied, “No, I’m trying to decide what to do with my major.” She suggested, “Just try it. Go into the classroom and see if it’s something you like.” There was a charter school not far from where I lived, and so I started subbing. I started to prefer subbing over the other job I had at the time. Then things started to fall into place when I was working in a Pre-K classroom; I fell in love with teaching. Since then, I’ve been at FPCS Chamberlain for 11 years.
I have seen so many teachers grow here, just like I did. When you need help, there’s always someone to go to for coaching and support. Once I got to a place where I fully understood how to navigate the classroom, I knew I had the responsibility to give back and help other teachers. That’s why I became a master teacher. I am thrilled to finally do what so many did for me while I was growing as an educator with only a background in biology.
I love giving back. Teachers should not feel like they have to do it all alone. Oftentimes, I will proactively go to other teachers and ask, “Hey, do you need anything? How are things going?” Who doesn’t want someone to come in the door and ask that? I want them to know that my door is always open and to never be afraid to ask.
Are there any strategies offered to you that stand out as you transitioned from being a biology major to a Pre-K classroom teacher?
Build solid relationships with students and parents. When I first started, the first thing my coach said was, “Get to know your students.” Yes, you have teaching standards to follow, but the way you teach and all of your activities will be based on how your students learn best. Their families will reinforce what you’re teaching at home.
Recently, I pursued a certification with the Gurian Institute. They study the brain and learn how boys and girls develop differently. I learned different approaches to ensure I keep my boys engaged-more than I had in previous years.
What are some ways to get boys to engage in learning?
Movement is critical. I make it my mission to add movement to most of our activities. We’re getting up and doing some sort of moving activity every 10-15 minutes. Even when we’re reading books, I will sometimes ask them to mirror me when I stand up and sit back down as I’m reading. To the observer, it might look really weird. At the end of one story, my principal said, “They actually sat down, got up, sat down, got up, and sat down again. If you did some other type of movement, they copied that too. By the end of the story, everyone was focused, everyone understood, and everyone answered questions.”
I also make sure I have books that interest both girls and boys. I make sure we have plenty of boy-friendly books about motorcycles, rocks, and other things typically based on their interests.
I also lead many lessons about empathy and understanding feelings. Boys learn to recognize how they feel, as well as the people around them.
What’s an example of a lesson about feelings and empathy?
There are a lot of boys who are not comfortable with the range of their emotions. The only emotion they feel comfortable expressing is anger. There’s so much beneath the anger: You might be anxious because something that happened that day. You might be sad. So yes, anger might be what you display, but we learn that there is something else underneath it to better understand our feelings. We read books about students and explore emotions beyond “I am happy” or “I am mad.” We expand our vocabulary. We learn to appropriately express these emotions and recognize what they look like in oursleves, in the classroom, at home, and in the community. And guess what-even if you’re a boy, it’s okay to be sad, to cry, and to let it out.
Do you have any favorite resources or books that you would recommend?
Strategies for Teaching Boys and Girls, by Michael Gurian. This book explores brain research, how boys and girls develop, and the different strategies you can use for teaching – whether in preschool, elementary, or middle school.
There’s also another book that shares activities for getting students moving-no matter what subject they’re learning. Those have been my go-tos when I’m planning.
Is there a fun fact you’d like to share?
I guess a lot of people don’t know that I’m from California. I ended up going to college in North Carolina. When it was snowing people always asked me, “Where are you from?” Because it was snowing outside and I was wearing flip flops.