Interview with Amber Polk, North Carolina Third Grade Teacher
Recently, Amber Polk, a third-grade teacher in North Carolina, kindly set aside time from her hectic schedule to talk about her five years working as a teacher. Amber attended North Greenville University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education. Though she’s now teaching third grade, she previously taught in a fifth-grade classroom. During the interview, we discussed how Amber integrates the content areas with math and reading. Amber also shared her preferred online classroom management tools, and finally, she talked about how she balances her home and classroom lives.
On your site, Adventures of a Third-Grade Teacher, you mention that you most enjoy teaching the content areas, and then integrating them with math and reading. Can you share any pointers for how to successfully accomplish this?
I have always enjoyed teaching science and social studies (even if they aren’t state tested)! In K-2, it’s so much easier to integrate the subjects, but it’s something about the upper elementary mindset that makes this hard. One easy way to integrate the content areas into your reading instruction is to use content-based books in your guided reading groups. With most states teaching from the Common Core Curriculum, there is a big push to teach more nonfiction, so using content-based books is a great way to accomplish this! I also really love using lapbooks and foldables in the content areas! The students think they are so much fun!
What online tools have you found to be the most helpful for managing your classroom?
I pretty much live on my computer! One of my favorite tools is Planbook.com. I have always used the computer to write my lesson plans. Last year I started using Planbook.com to write all my plans. It is a subscription site, but I swear by it! It’s easy to adjust your plans, plus it is very easy to insert your standards.
I am also a member of ReadingA-Z.com. It is a must for guided reading! Guided reading has been a weakness of mine in the past, but this site makes it so much easier to differentiate in the classroom.
Also, I recently started using ClassDojo.com as a management tool. You can use the site for individual students, but I have been using it to reward my table groups! Each group has a special monster Avatar and they receive points for positive actions and are deducted points for not-so-positive actions.
I use lots of group work in my classroom and I love using the free timers and selector tools at Online-stopwatch.com.
How do you use technology as a tool for learning in your classroom?
I love using technology in the classroom! I make a sincere effort to use technology as a tool to teach the curriculum, instead of using technology ‘for the sake of using technology’. The key is to choose two to three versatile sites or programs that you can teach your students to use really well.
I have a few favorite websites that are easy to implement in just about any classroom. Kidblog.org is a must for me! I use it at least once a week with my students. Not only do they love having a classroom blog, but it’s a great way for them to show what they know about any subject! Another one of my new discoveries is LittleBirdTales.com. It is a great multimedia site where students create multimedia videos. It’s super easy to use and adorable!
Do you have any advice for teachers who are thinking about starting a blog?
My teaching style has really changed since I started reading blogs and blogging myself! There are so many great teachers out there and I encourage anyone with fun, fresh and meaningful ideas to try blogging! It is a reflective practice and it really makes you an even better teacher.
If you want to start a successful blog, the key is to be sincere! Share your ups and downs. Be real! You also have to make sure that your posts are of substance. Share new ideas, pictures of your teaching in action, freebies you have created, or resources you find!
I think the number one mistake new bloggers make is worrying about gaining big numbers. Everybody wants to have a huge following, but if you are posting meaningful ideas, you’ll get those big numbers!
How do you find time to meet your teaching and personal responsibilities, and also regularly complete blog posts?
Blogging has truly changed my life! I have a great support system from other bloggers and readers and I genuinely enjoy helping other teachers. Blogging does take up a big amount of my time though!
I really try to make sure I blog about my teaching because it makes me more reflective about my teaching. What went well? What didn’t go so well? How can I make my next lesson or unit better?
I try to post two to three times a week, but my students and responsibilities at school and home come first! I know (or hope) my readers will still be there even if I don’t have as much time to post.
Can you share any words of wisdom for creating a harmonious work – life balance?
I am still at the point in my life where my career is one of the most important things. Several of the teachers at my school like to tell me that things will change once I have children! I spend a lot of my time working on teaching-related things, but I still make time to spend with my friends and family. I make sure that I designate one to two weeknights where I leave my teacher bag at school!
We wholeheartedly thank Amber for taking the time to share her thoughts about being a teacher. If you’re seeking more classroom inspiration, be sure to visit Amber’s blog, Adventures of a Third Grade Teacher.
Read about how to become a teacher in North Carolina.