Saturday, November 14, 2015

Elementary, My Dear Reader

Thanks for returning to the Enky Inc. blog! Today we have a great addition to our American Education Week content: an interview with an Elementary School teacher from New York City. She has been a teacher for a couple of years now & teaches in a charter school in Brooklyn. In this interview, we’ll learn about some of the experiences, challenges, & learning experiences she has had during her time as an Elementary School teacher, as well as the advice she has for those considering teaching as a profession. Now before I ramble on any longer, I’ll let our teacher Paige Kane take over from here!

Do you teach in a public or private school setting & what grade do you teach?
I teach in a Charter School setting and I teach fifth grade. 

Do you specialize in a specific subject or do you teach multiple subjects?
Since I teach elementary school it is still general education. I teach all subjects throughout the day, including English/Language Arts (ELA), Math, Science, Social Studies, & Writing.

Do you feel as though you have a good degree of control or discretion over what you teach, how you operate your classroom, and how students are assessed? Or are these factors generally controlled by the school or district?
My school follows a common core curriculum. Our math and ELA lessons are scripted and from the Engage NY curriculum. In this sense I don’t feel I have much autonomy in the way the lessons are taught, however, I do find it helpful that in these lessons I know I am hitting all of the standards and learning targets for the grade I teach.  Overall, I do feel I have a great sense of autonomy in how my classroom is managed and assessed. 

Can you give an example of a lesson you taught to your class recently?
I work at a Science/ Environmentally based school and we are very lucky to have partnerships with other organizations. One such organization is Construction Kids. For a science lesson we taught the students about variables and how they can affect an experiment. We identified the independent, dependent, & control variable. Our class was then able to take a trip to Construction Kids where they built catapults and manipulated variables. They worked to hammer all of the pieces together and then tested them. The students had to make a hypothesis based on the variable they decided to change. Such variables included changing the tension of the rubber band, changing the length of the arm, changing the angle of the arm and using different size projectiles to launch from their catapults. This was a great lesson because we really got to teach this concept in the classroom, but then the students actually got to see the real life application of what they learned. 

What has been the impact of standardized testing, if it has had any, in your teaching experience?
I have been very lucky in this domain because I have a principal who does not want teaching to revolve around test prep but around conceptual learning. That being said I do feel the pressure for my students to perform well on state tests because overall it does affect the rating of your school and how you are viewed as a teacher. 

Have you worked with English as a Second Language (ESL) students in your classroom before? What was that experience like & what language(s) were the students speaking?
I have worked and currently work with ESL students. When I was student teaching I worked in a school on the Lower East Side which had predominantly Chinese immigrant children. Many children came in not speaking a word of English (and this was a third grade classroom). In these instances I worked one-on-one with the students on basic and necessary vocabulary and decoding skills. For example, this would be identifying a word and matching it to the picture with its meaning. It is definitely a tedious experience and can become very frustrating for the teacher. However, I can imagine going to a new country and not knowing the language and imagine the amount of frustration I would feel, and this is what these students feel. I have also worked with Spanish speakers and children from Africa who speak different languages and dialects based on where in Africa they came from.

Is teamwork a big part of your job? If so, can you explain how & give some examples?
Teamwork is a big part of my job at the school I currently work in. I work on what is called a “PLT” or “Professional Learning Team.” This is the group of people who teach the grade. For example there are three fifth grade classrooms with two teachers in each so I have six people on my team. In order to create consistency throughout each grade level and what each class is learning, we plan all of our lessons together as a team. We also have a period called intervention where we group students based on need between the three classrooms. We will “share” our students during this period and it helps to continue and foster a sense of community within our team.  We get a better understanding of all of the students in our grade level. On a basic sense of teamwork, we will run off copies for each other or just give suggestions or encouragement on lessons or how to handle difficult students. 

What is your average day like?
The misconception that people have about teachers is that we teach core subjects from 8-3 and that is our whole day. We are responsible for up to 28 children at a time and that means not only for their learning but also for their emotional wellbeing. My day consists of teaching the core subjects of ELA, writing, math, social studies and science but it also consists of making sure my students have had breakfast, understanding why a student may be walking into the room looking sad and how I am going to make sure that student is still able to learn today.  It is understanding that each student has a distinct personality and learning style and knowing how I am going to reach every student so that every student is learning. On some days it means calling parents after school, making copies and going to meetings. So while we do have a schedule and routine that we follow daily, I would say there is no “average” day for a teacher.

What made you choose the profession of teaching? Specifically, why did you choose the elementary level to teach?
I chose to teach elementary school because I really like this age group. They still have an excitement about learning and an excitement about coming to school every day. With older students you are dealing with a lot of physical and emotional transitions that come with the age. I wanted the focus of my day to be teaching and learning.

What is the hardest part about your job?
The hardest part about my job is closing the gap. I need students to be able to master certain standards in order to move on to the next grade. However, I have students that come in at the beginning of the year (fifth grade) and don’t know their multiplication tables or when to use a period. It’s a struggle of how far I can go back to fill these gaps and still make sure I get through everything in the grade level curriculum.

What is your proudest moment as a teacher?
I honestly don’t know if I could pinpoint my proudest moment as a teacher but overall seeing a struggling student finally grasp a concept that they have had difficulty with and knowing that you were the one that got them there always feels very rewarding.

How has becoming a teacher changed your outlook on life/the world?
Teaching has taught me patience and really opened my eyes to the discrepancies in the education system. 

What advice would you give someone who is considering entering the field of teaching, specifically elementary school?
I would tell them patience, patience, patience. Be patient with even your most difficult student. Every child wants to learn if they can. There will be days where you will cry and you will question your decisions because you will feel like you’re not making that difference that you set out to. Believe me, you are. Be patient with your students but also with yourself. Going to graduate school can teach you what a perfect classroom will be like but in all honesty, until you are in a classroom with 28 faces looking back at you, you won’t truly understand what teaching means. As a first year teacher, be patient with yourself because while you are the one leading this class, you too will be learning more than you ever could in graduate school and it is all worth it.

Thanks so much to our Elementary School teacher, Paige Kane, for sharing her experiences with us this week. Be sure to check back here & on our social media pages all week for more great American Education Week content. See you next time!


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