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Teachers Ready to Head Back to the Classroom

by and on August 03, 2014 11:00 AM

When one thinks of back to school time, usually it's the students that come to mind.

It's always been an exciting time for me — first as a student, then as an adult readying my own children for school. But the teachers must get ready also and it was to them that I directed my interviews.

If you ask any of the teachers you know, they will tell you that they are, in a sense, readying all summer.

Karen Foard, an Instructional Support Teacher for Kindergarten through fifth grade at Radio Park Elementary says, "Although most teachers do take an intentional vacation in the summer of a couple of weeks, most spend a lot of the remaining time doing school-related activities."

There are school district Initiatives and wchool building initiatives that they look at and many opportunities for professional development, according to Foard.

"A few of us have been looking at a writing curriculum entitled the Nellie Edge Writing Curriculum and discussing how to integrate it into the language arts programs in our rooms," she says. "This is not a formal pilot, but a way we hope to incorporate writing into our reading and other programs seamlessly. Having a set time for penmanship is time consuming and not as inviting as a learning experience."

Teachers meet in a variety of places for educational development. It could be a district office or just a local restaurant where a few persons discuss a book that has been recommended for continuing education. There are classes available through Penn State and seminars that can be taken online. Act 48 required that teachers gain many credits in the first five years of teaching for permanent certification. "Beyond that, the enrichment helps them stay current, learn new technology, and stay fresh and excited about teaching," Foard says.

Foard and other teachers I spoke with reported taking classes on Google Docs, iPad use and other technology-related topics to enable them to use those skills in their classrooms.

Teachers take what they learn and adapt it for their students' grade level, their style of teaching and for their unique classes. Especially in the early grades, once the instructor gets to know the students, he/she also adapts the lesson to the unique ways that kids learn. For example, some children are more visual and some more auditory in their learning styles.

Sometimes a new math or reading book is introduced and the teachers must review it, mark it with their own notes and plan how to teach from it. This is all before the students arrive on Aug. 26.

Jen Conklin, who teaches Kindergarten at Lemont, spoke about getting her room ready. She said she wouldn't know the date that she can get into her room for a while. This is because, depending on the number of students registered, there could be a third teacher hired and thus a third room of Kindergarten. Last year there were two classes. If a third teacher were hired, she would go along with them to orientation around Aug. 14. If no new teacher comes, then officially she will have three days of in-service starting Aug. 19.

"I can't get into my room yet. Repairs take place in the summer. Janitors will probably be waxing floors in the next week or so. Once the floors have a chance to be dry, we will be allowed to go in and set up our classrooms.

"You want the room to be beautiful, colorful and inviting. This is a chance for the parents to get comfortable with where their children will be. They can see the space that they are sending their children into for the first time and picture them there," Conklin says.

Conklin told me that she loves teaching and I could hear it in her voice, even in a phone interview. She also stressed that there is much more to teaching than the hours in the classroom. She herself had spent four hours recently collating papers for a math program activity. There was a math workshop in the summer and some new material to deal with.

Those cute little and educational projects that elementary students bring home just don't spring forth fully constructed either. Teachers share with each other new craft and learning ideas, but there is a flurry of cutting, pasting and preparing that happens after school hours.

Some teachers have just recently started their "summer break." A large number of them work with the Summer CHAMPS program that involves a half-day commitment Monday through Thursday and just ended for the summer. Children needing to increase their academic skills benefit from this endeavor.

Each teacher sets up her "plan" for the year, tweaking it as the year progresses. They all do this, to guide and direct our kids and grandkids toward a full educational experience. The teachers I spoke with all says that each class is different, both in its ratio of male/female and its number of "challenge" kids. A challenge might be a mischievous, disruptive child or one with special needs.

In asking about class size, ratios and number of students with special needs, I learned that:

  • Students for kindergarten are screened for readiness by the school district (Those that are registered). Those who come in late are screened within the first few days of school.
  • The teachers meet together with principals and decide together how to divide up the classes evenly as to boy/girl and special needs.

Things may get shuffled again with late additions to the school.

Teacher Cheryl Isola who has taught for 23 years reported taking a "Teacher Blogging Course" and reading books (usually on Philosophy) such as Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me by Kim Bearden. Bearden's stories chronicle her award-winning teaching career with passion and humor.

Isola teaches one of three kindergarten classes at Radio Park Elementary.

"The first day is orientation with the parents staying for the first hour. Then the parents leave and go to fill out paperwork etc. Then with the new students, I sing songs, read a story, and try to be the most animated, happy person I can be," Isola says.

"The first real day when the Kindergartners come alone, the teachers meet them at the bus ramp, teach them how to walk to class and what is expected once they get there," Isola explains. "More than a half of the children have been to pre-school, but that leaves the remainder who have never been in a classroom situation. I get tired and am in bed the first few days of school by 8:30 p.m. I want that first week of school to be like 'magic' for the kids."

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This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.


Connie Cousins covers Centre County for the Gazette.
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