Interview with Mary Pitner, Tennessee Second and Third Grade Teacher
We recently had the great fortune to talk to Mary Pitner, a second and third grade looping teacher with 30 years of experience as an educator. Mary attended the University of Tennessee and Middle Tennessee State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education. She continued her studies at Middle Tennessee State University, earning a Master of Education degree in Curriculum and Instruction, and an Education Specialist degree in Administration and Supervision. During her extensive career, Mary has taught all grades between kindergarten and fifth. For nine years, she served as the Supervisor of Curriculum and Student Management in her district. With retirement nearing, Mary came to the conclusion that she would like to retire from a school, because of its community feel. As a result, she asked to return to the classroom, a move that she says she’s never regretted. During our interview, we discussed the advantages of a looping classroom, what Mary finds special about second and third graders, and finally, the lessons she knows today that she wishes she knew as a beginning teacher.
You are currently teaching in the second grade year of a second and third grade looping classroom. What characteristics of these age groups do you appreciate the most?
I love the enthusiasm and curiosity of second and third graders. Most of my students still believe they can do anything they want to do, so all I have to do is build on their certainty!
What do you enjoy most about being a looping teacher? What are the advantages of this approach to teaching?
The best advantage of being in a looping classroom is the relationship you develop with your students over the two years. I am able to see my students grow in ways I couldn’t if I only spent one year with them. The beginning of the second year of looping is a much easier transition for both teachers and students.
I think the biggest strength of looping is that I already know my students at the beginning of the second year. I’m able to hit the ground running with them instead of trying to determine what they already know. We are comfortable with each other. I know their learning styles and how to help them best.
Can you share any techniques that you use to create a harmonious work and life balance?
With all the changes in education we are going through, it is too easy to spend all your waking hours on schoolwork. Although our official time for teachers to leave is 2:45 p.m., I found I was staying most nights until 5:30 p.m. or later. Since both my children are in college, it was easy to do, but it was wearing me down! I’ve started setting a timer after school for fifteen-minute increments. I will work on one thing on my to-do list for fifteen minutes, then switch to another item for another fifteen minutes. Now I work by my timer until 4:00 or 4:30 p.m. I still bring work home with me, but I’ve found that working to a timer has reduced the amount I have to bring home. I usually spend part of the day on either Saturday or Sunday at school, but I’m trying to cut that back, too. I don’t know any other profession where people work so many extra hours!
How do you use technology as a tool for learning in your classroom?
Technology is one of my stations for both literacy and math each day. All students get thirty minutes of computer time for skills practice each day. I’ve learned to work it into the schedule or it gets overlooked. All of our classrooms have a Promethean Board, so that’s a vital part of lessons every day. My students use it to explain work, to play skills games, and to share information. My students also use our computers to look up information.
What do you know today that you wish you had known during your first year of teaching?
I wish I had known to let go of things that are out of my control. Because of my experience in the district office as a supervisor, I realize that some of the mandates handed down to schools and classrooms are beyond their control. If I am required to do something by the district or State Department that I might not agree with, I know now to make the best of it and see how I can make it work the best way I can for my students. I spent a lot of time worrying about things I couldn’t change.
We sincerely thank Mary for taking the time to share the wisdom she has gleaned during her extensive teaching and supervisory career. At the same time, we pass along our best wishes for a successful school year. Visit Mary’s blog, Pitner’s Potpourri, to learn tips and insights for teaching second and third grade.
Read about how to become a teacher in Tennessee.