Interview with Dana Lester, Tennessee First Grade Teacher
Dana Lester, a first grade teacher and eleven-year veteran of the classroom, graciously set aside time to talk with us about her experiences as a teacher. Dana earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and a Master’s Degree in Library Science from Middle Tennessee State University. Prior to teaching first graders, Dana taught preschool, kindergarten and second grade students. During our interview, we discussed what an average day is like in her first grade classroom, the aspects of her job that are the most stressful, and finally, things she knows now that she wishes she’d known during her first year on the job.
Please describe an average day in your classroom.
I have 15 students in my classroom this year. My school day starts at 7:15 a.m.
We start our day with 90 minutes of reading. This year I am using The Daily 5 for my reading instruction. (If you are not familiar with The Daily 5, I strongly encourage you to research it.) After reading, the children go to their special area of the day. We have P.E., music, art, library, guidance, and computer lab incorporated into our schedule. Two days a week, I have a one-hour planning period. One of these hours is used for Professional Learning Community (PLC) planning. After this break, we have handwriting, grammar, and then lunch. After lunch, I teach 90 minutes of math. I do whole and small group math instruction. The 30 minutes following math are set aside for CLUE. CLUE is a time for enrichment and remediation for the students in math or reading. I have an Educational Assistant during this time and we are able to teach small groups and really focus on the students’ needs. Then comes science or social studies (depending on which we are teaching that week), recess, and dismissal.
What inspired you to become a teacher?
I would have to say that my teachers inspired me to teach. Like most teachers, I loved to play school growing up. I had a passion for reading and adored my fifth-grade reading teacher! I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. In high school, I had the opportunity to take an Occupational Child Care class. Preschoolers would come to our high school several days a week and we were their teachers. The days the preschoolers did not come, we had class to attend. It was there that I became fascinated with Freud, Lucy Sprague Mitchell, John Dewey, and the likes. Going into college I knew that I wanted to teach young children.
What aspects of your job do you find to be the most challenging or stressful?
For me, the most challenging part of teaching is making sure I cover every standard in a manner that reaches every child. Sometimes, differentiating each lesson is difficult and you must be very creative. I have found that collaborating with other teachers is a great resource. My state’s recent switch to Common Core Standards has also helped, because there are so many resources out there aligned to the Common Core Standards.
What techniques do you use to create a successful work and life balance?
Some might say I have yet to achieve a balance, but I certainly try to find one. It is a struggle for me and I just need more hours in the day! This year, I am using parent volunteers in the classroom to make activities, cut out laminating film, and assemble projects that I would have previously taken home to work on.
What online tools have you found to be the most helpful for managing a classroom and finding creative ideas for the classroom?
My favorite online tool for classroom management is Whole Brain Teaching. I discovered WBT this past summer, which I love, and highly recommend! I have several blog posts on the topic here. WBT is a way of managing the classroom and teaching effectively all rolled into one.
I use an App on my iPhone called Remind 101. I can send a mass text message to my parents who have subscribed to my email list. This is very helpful!
Class Dojo is another online behavior management website that is really cool. I am not using it this year, but perhaps will do so in the future.
Another App that I love is called Stick Pick. It’s a way to draw names for questioning in the classroom. I previously had a real cup with popsicle sticks from which to draw, and now I have a virtual one!
Creative ideas come from many places. Pinterest is a great site for classroom and home ideas, and educational blogs are wonderful for finding activity ideas. I started reading other teachers’ blogs last year and started my own in April. Finally, Teachers Pay Teachers is another terrific site for activities and lessons. Many of the products are free, and the ones that are not are very reasonably priced.
What do you know today that you wish you had known during your very first year of teaching?
I wish I had known that it was okay to not know some things. I worried and stressed myself out thinking everything had to be perfect and run like clockwork. I didn’t know that it takes years to learn how to run a smooth classroom. I wish I had known to reach out to others and ask for advice and suggestions, instead of thinking I had to figure it out on my own. There are so many things that college does not prepare you to do. I didn’t have classes in behavior management, how to conference with parents, or how to schedule a seven-hour day with 18 students who were all learning at different rates. Those things are taught through experience. First-year teachers worry about those things, and although we give them all the advice we can, it’s different for each teacher and something you just have to figure out on your own.
We thank Dana for taking the time to talk with us and wish her a successful year in the classroom! Visit her blog, Fun in 1st Grade for more classroom ideas and teacher networking opportunities.
Read about how to become a teacher in Tennessee.