Early Childhood Education Interviews

Texas Kindergarten Teacher, Matt Gomez
Alabama Kindergarten Teacher, Julie Hicks
California Kindergarten Teacher, Vanessa Escobar
Nevada First Grade Teacher, Alicia Lochridge
Calgary Kindergarten Teacher, Amy Murray
California Kindergarten Teacher, Michelle Griffo
Pennsylvania Preschool Teacher and Program Director, Trish Nodolski
Washington Kindergarten Teacher, Rebecca Ross
Ohio First Grade Teacher, Megan Wheeler
Texas Kindergarten Teacher, April Larremore
Florida Kindergarten Teacher, Jill Tillis
Tennessee First Grade Teacher, Dana Lester

Interview with Matt Gomez, Texas Kindergarten Teacher

Matt Gomez, a twelve-year veteran of the classroom, recently took the time to talk with us about what it is like to be a teacher. Matt earned a BS in Interdisciplinary Studies at Texas A&M University. During the interview, Matt shared wisdom that he has today that he wishes he had during his first year of teaching. He also discussed the characteristics that he most enjoys about early childhood learners as well as his recommendations for teachers aspiring to be lifelong learners.

Matt Gomez teacherWhat do you know now, that you wish you knew during your first year of teaching?

There are so many things I could share, but these are my top three:

First, I wish I knew that rewards were not necessary in the classroom. I know they seem to work well in the class but it took me many years to realize I didn’t need them. Secondly, I wish I had been told that I don’t need to control the children. I believe that when I build relationships, engage my class and have fun learning with my class that they control themselves. I consider myself the lead learner in the class not the ‘teacher.’ My focus now is on controlling the environment instead of the child. Lastly, I wish I had known the importance of relationships. Relationships with my kids and their families are the key to success in the class. I go out of my way to include parents in their children’s learning. This is an ongoing process and I still know there is more I can do.

What makes kindergarteners special?

They are unique because they are so excited about the world. They can have fun or make a game out of almost anything. They have a natural love of learning. I feel strongly that kindergarten is a social year and that also makes them unique! The most important things they will learn are social skills that will prepare them to achieve in academics. As a teacher, I think kindergarten is different because of the wide range of ability we see every year. It is very common for me to have at least one child that knows very few letters and another who reads at the third-grade level.

In what ways do you incorporate technology into your classroom? Are there any online tools that you have found to be the most helpful for managing a classroom?

A very simple way to incorporate technology, which I think is often overlooked, is with digital cameras. During the past few years, my class has had access to our camera at anytime during the day. I encourage them to use it often, and then I send home the best pictures from each day via an email to my students’ parents. I believe this gives my class a voice in their learning and it is a great way to connect school and home. One of my favorite online tools is Symbaloo. It is a visual bookmarking site that helps me manage the websites my class visits.

Can you recommend strategies or techniques for teachers who are striving to be ‘lifelong learners’?

Build a network of people in the field of education that you can learn from. I have found Twitter to be the best way to do this. It is free, available 24/7 and full of amazing educators. Twitter was a game changer for me; I am a better teacher because of all the connections I have made, especially my friends on the twitter chat called #Kinderchat. If Twitter is not for you there are many others ways to connect with educators around the world such as Facebook, blogs and Pinterest. Find something that works for you and contribute to that community of learners. Everyone has something to share so jump in!

What advice do you have for those who are considering a career in the field of early childhood education?

My main advice would be to spend as much time working with young children as possible. It is important to find out if working with young children is really something that you enjoy and have a passion for. This will also help you find what age groups you work best with. As I have mentioned, teaching is about relationships. It is important that you enjoy working with children and their parents. If you have that passion, then teaching young children is amazing. I can’t imagine a more fun and rewarding job. Every day is full of challenges, laughter, love and learning!

We thank Matt for participating in the interview and for sharing his words of wisdom. Connect with Matt on LinkedIn and Twitter @mattBgomez for additional educational inspiration.

Read about how to become a teacher in Texas

Interview with Julie Hicks, Alabama Kindergarten Teacher

We recently had the chance to interview Julie Hicks, a kindergarten teacher in Alabama at the time of this interview and now an elementary educator in New York. Julie attended North Georgia College and State University where she earned a B.S. in Early Childhood Education. She spent two years teaching first-grade in California and she has been a kindergarten teacher in Alabama for the past six years. During our interview, Julie shared the aspects of her job that she finds the most challenging, the ways she overcomes stress, and finally, her advice for first-year teachers.

julie hicks teacherWas there a particular person or experience that motivated you to become an education professional?

There were several teachers throughout my education that inspired me to learn. They demonstrated excitement, passion and caring natures, and as a result, I felt compelled to emulate those characteristics and qualities in my own career.

What traits of kindergarten students do you appreciate the most?

Initially, I was very afraid of teaching kindergarten! Now that I have been in the company of five-year-olds for many years, I have fallen in love with many of their characteristics. They are extremely open and honest, so you better be careful what you ask them because they will tell you the truth (especially if it involves your clothes or your hair)! Their loving nature at this age is very humbling and their ability to forgive amazes me. You can be the wicked witch fussing about procedures or the neatness of their work and look down and have one wrapped around your knees telling you that they love you. They touch my heart every day even when they are driving me crazy!

What aspects of your job do you find to be the most challenging?

Oh, wow. To say teaching is a stressful job is an understatement, isn’t it? It’s difficult to say what is the most challenging or stressful about the job mainly because it seems to change from one day to the next. Administrative changes, new guidelines from the district/state without the means to carry them out, lack of funding to supply your classroom, and never-ending new demands for testing results are all stressful factors, in addition to the 20+ little variables whose academic needs must be met daily even if you didn’t get a bathroom break.

Can you share any techniques that you use to create a successful work and life balance?

Ha, ha, haaaa! Wait, I’m wiping away tears of laughter!! That is actually a much-discussed topic among my colleagues. To be honest, sometimes you just have to stay until 8:00 at night to be organized, prepared and ready to do the job. Sometimes you just have to work all weekend to stay caught up on paperwork. And sometimes you just have to walk out the door at 3:00 and be done for the day and live your life!

What online tools have you found to be the most helpful for managing a classroom?

Oh my gosh!! What did we do before blogs, Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers? I find these resources to be invaluable. Now, not only can you can get inspiration from another teacher down the hall but you can download plans, forms, and activities from a teacher across the country, many times for free!! It keeps ideas flowing and your teaching fresh, I love it!

How do you use technology as a tool for teaching your kindergarteners?

Funny you should ask! Our district has just adopted a 1:1 initiative so that all children can have access to their own iPad or netbook daily! I mean, wow. We just hooked the kids up to headphones and sat them at the computer with Starfall and we were happy! Now we are training kindergarteners to use iPads in order to access our reading and math programs online. This is all new for us and we are learning every day how to make this work. Ask me in May how this all worked out. I’m optimistic, though, and I think it is honestly more painful training the teachers than the children.

What words of wisdom do you have for individuals considering a career as an early childhood education professional?

The best advice I can give someone new to the profession is to realize that the first year is going to be tough. Face it and embrace it. Let others help and listen to their advice and suggestions because they have been there and they feel your pain. Then, try whatever they suggest because it just might make your job a little easier. Secondly, Wong it! Read Harry Wong’s book, The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher. The book discusses classroom management. Eat, drink, and breathe its lessons, especially during the first month of school. Procedure, procedure, procedure. Your school year will be so much easier because the children will know exactly what you expect of them. Don’t we all function better that way? Lastly, breathe, smile, breathe, smile and remember, “that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” These little people are worth it all.

We sincerely thank Julie for sharing her thoughts about what it is like to be a teacher. Check out Julie’s LinkedIn and her blog, The Alphabet Garden, for more classroom ideas.

Read about how to become a teacher in Alabama.

Interview with Vanessa Escobar, Former California Kindergarten Teacher

We had the opportunity to interview California kindergarten teacher, Vanessa Escobar, who has since moved on to become the Director of Teacher Residency at the Los Angeles Charter School Teacher Residency Program. Vanessa, a fifteen-year teaching veteran, attended California State University, Northridge, where she earned a BA in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Language & Diversity and a multiple subject teaching credential. After graduation, she began teaching at a full inclusion charter school. During the interview, we discussed how Vanessa’s former teachers inspired her to enter the field of education, why she finds kindergarten students endearing, and finally, tips for striking a healthy work and personal life balance.

vanessa escobar teacherWas there a particular person or experience that motivated you to become an education professional?

I have known that I wanted to be a teacher all my life. I am the oldest of three daughters. My favorite memories were the ones of me ‘teaching’ my sisters. Aside from my cooperative sisters, there were two teachers that made a significant impact on my decision to become a teacher: Mrs. England and ‘Mr. Really Mean Math Teacher.’ Mrs. England was my teacher for third, fourth and fifth grade. She was bright and bubbly and always wore colorful shoes. She taught me to believe in myself and if I didn’t, she was going to do so for me. Mrs. England cared for each of us like no other. Today, I strive to care for my students while making them feel confident, successful and powerful, just as she did for me. While I cannot remember specific lessons that Mrs. England taught me, I remember her warmth and her favorite movie, Newsies (which I love, too). Since I cannot remember the other teacher’s name, I call him ‘Mr. Really Mean Math Teacher’, because he didn’t make me feel so nice. He absolutely did not encourage me to continue on my path to college while I was in high school. In fact, he told me that I would never amount to anything. He was mean and condescending and I always think of him when I feel frustrated with my students. I will never be so unkind to a student, nor unsupportive of their feelings or their dreams – no matter how outrageous they seem. Each day, I am sure to model respect and open-mindedness. I encourage all of my students to do so as well.

What characteristics of kindergarten students do you appreciate the most?

Oh, my kindergarteners – how they make me smile! I appreciate their honesty, curiosity and genuine nature. It is so wonderful to watch a class of students who are just as interested in me as I am in them. I often find myself giggling with the students as they say something funny or ask a question to which I really have no answer, such as: “Mrs. Escobar, why did you marry a boy?” Or, “Mrs. Escobar, I think I can grow a seed in my belly.” “Really, how?” I asked. “You need air, water and soil to grow a seed. You don’t have those in your belly.” “Well,” he replies, “I have poop!” I mean, really, how can you not giggle at their curious, lighthearted nature? On topic conversations that are purely from a five-year-old’s perspective – these are the lessons where I appreciate my students the most.

What aspects of your job do you find to be the most challenging or stressful?

The most challenging part of my job is meeting each and every one of my students’ needs. Since I teach at a school that is full inclusion, I have students that are typically developing, students with special needs and students that are gifted in a classroom with their age-appropriate peers. I find that I spend the most time thinking and creating for all of my students. I understand that not every lesson is going to benefit all students, so I strive to make sure that my lessons are universally designed to meet the needs of all students, no matter what they are. Making sure that each student is taking a part of my lesson that can help them grow as a learner and individual is how I design my lessons to be, well, universal. Finding the time within a day to teach each student, speak to each student and praise each student is what I intend to do every day. My challenge is maintaining balance while doing it.

Can you share any techniques that you use to create a successful work and life balance?

During my first two years of teaching, I spent many long days and nights working. My first step to creating some sort of balance was to keep my work at work. I stopped bringing home projects and I stopped working on the weekends. How, you ask? I create a reasonable to-do list each week and I am still learning to delegate! I have many parents who volunteer in my classroom and many others who are willing to sit in front of the TV and cut papers and projects for me. I had to let go of the control and be okay with some papers coming out crooked because that means spending the evening with my family. I am positive that there are parents at every school willing to do the same. And, if you’re lucky, some of them are creative and just as precise with the scissors as you. I created a thank-you-and-here-are-the-directions type slip to hand to parents who wish to help. Next, I limit my time at school. I refer to my reasonable to-do list and I work accordingly. I try to leave campus each day by 4 PM. Lastly, I try my very best to stay organized. I take a few minutes each day clearing my desk to keep my mind focused and clear the next morning. This eliminates time wasted looking for things and more time getting things done.

What online tools have you found to be the most helpful for managing a classroom?

Google, Google Docs and SignUpGenius.com. I have a Google site for my classroom, which gives parents a constant way to keep updated and informed. Google Docs helps me keep track of students, their progress and allows me to work from school and home. SignUpGenius.com is a great online resource that I use for parent-teacher conferences, parent volunteers, potlucks, celebrations, you name it, I’ll use it. The best part about Sign Up Genius is that it sends a reminder email to anyone who signs up, which ultimately means less work for me. Lastly, I have learned so much from blogging and following other blogs. I feel empowered while sharing my thoughts and ideas and I have learned so much about teaching and how others are teaching.

How do you use technology as a tool for teaching your kindergarteners?

I use technology all day. I have weekly computer centers, iPod centers and I often teach using PowerPoint slides with real life videos and images. Students are able to use the technology each day to reinforce lessons and concepts taught in the classroom. Students visit Starfall.com, jr.brainpop.com, IXL.com and utilize our school’s subscription to iStation.com, all of which reinforce classroom concepts while developing computer knowledge and skills. I also have iPods that I inherited through a grant a couple of years ago. I manage the iPods to best fit all students’ needs and goals. The best part about all of the use of technology is that it is inclusive for all students. Each and every one of my students can benefit from the technology. If there is a student who has poor vision, I can zoom into a real life image on my document camera or projector. A student who is learning English can benefit from the videos and games with repeated words, direction and images. Students can be working simultaneously on the iPods and be working on completely separate learning goals. On my blog Kindergarten Schmindergarten, I have many posts about the different types of technology and how to organize and manage it all. It is another layer to teaching but it teaches and empowers so many different kinds of learners.

What words of wisdom do you have for individuals considering a career as a kindergarten teacher or early childhood education professional?

My best advice is to ask for help. No one knows how to do everything when entering this field and the best of us are always learning. Ask questions, peek into classrooms, chat with new and veteran teachers and try following some blogs. Teachers are a great resource for teachers – take advantage!

We sincerely thank Vanessa for taking the time to share her thoughts about being a teacher. You can connected with Vanessa on LinkedIn and find more helpful education pointers on her Twitter, @VanEscobar17.

Read about how to become a teacher in California.

Interview with Alicia Lochridge, Nevada First Grade Teacher

We recently had the great fortune to interview Alicia Lochridge, a first grade teacher who was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada. Alicia received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She later attended Nova Southeastern University, where she earned a Master of Science in Elementary Education and an Educational Specialist degree in Educational Leadership. Prior to teaching in the Clark County School District, where she’s been employed for the past nine years, Alicia taught composition at the university level. During our interview, we discussed the characteristics of first graders that Alicia finds most special, her penchant for leadership, and finally, her words of wisdom for those considering entering the profession.

teacher alicia lochridgeWas there a particular person or experience that motivated you to become a first-grade teacher?

I fell in love with first grade by chance. Wanting to transfer during the 2005-06 school year, I found that the majority of available positions were in first grade. I decided to apply at another elementary school so I would have the opportunity to work closer to home. While this age group is adorable, it was a drastic change from my other experience working with second and third grade students. It was through the support of my administration that I grew into the role. I was given the room to learn and make mistakes. That freedom motivated me to become the best.

What makes first graders unique?

First graders are pleasers. They want to be happy and make others happy. At this age, they are rapidly grasping language and number concepts. They are motivated and intrigued. First graders have a natural curiosity and zeal for learning. Their excitement is contagious. I feel that first grade is the most rewarding grade to teach because you see the most academic and physical growth in a year’s time. During these formative years, you can give students a solid foundation for the rest of their lives.

Can you recommend strategies or techniques for teachers who are striving to be lifelong learners?

In order to be a lifelong learner, it is essential to collaborate with other educators. Collaboration allows for the sharing of ideas, strategies, and techniques. Since educational research and practice are continually changing, you owe it to your students to make sure that your classroom is informed, accurate, and well prepared.

You fill many leadership roles at your school. What encouraged you to be such a leader? Can you share any advice for teachers interested in taking on even more responsibility at their schools and within their districts?

I aspire to promote positive standards, exemplify excellence, and enhance the education of all students. But, to accomplish this, everyone has to be engaged in learning. We must ensure that all teachers are continually trained on implementing the most current research-based practices and strategies. This can be accomplished by frequently sharing professional development knowledge and trainings at the school level. It is hard for me to sit by and not offer every talent I have to further every student’s success.

How has your teaching life changed since you started your blog? Do you find that the benefits of maintaining the blog outweigh any drawbacks?

Since blogging, I have found that I only utilize teacher-created materials. Gone are the days of copying pages from a book that I purchased at a teacher store. I feel that I am more informed and current. I feel that I am a more creative and engaging teacher. Blogging has provided a means for true collaboration to occur.

What online tools have you found to be the most helpful for managing a classroom?

In managing my classroom, I have found technology to be an essential. I utilize many of our district’s web-based programs since they can be accessed from school or home. These programs offer easy access to teacher manuals and blackline masters. I can also assign extension or enrichment activities for students to complete online at home. I thoroughly enjoy our school district’s Curriculum Engine. This web-based lesson-planning tool allows teachers within our district to collaborate, pace instruction, and access Wiki-Teacher resources.

What words of wisdom do you have for individuals considering a career in the field of early childhood education?

There are going to be some rough days, but never doubt the impact you have on a child’s life. You might be the only positive thing they experience that day. You will forever leave an imprint on each little soul. That is a huge and wonderful responsibility.

We thank Alicia for taking the time to share her insights into the teaching profession. Be sure to visit Alicia’s blog, First Grade Factory, for more inspiration and classroom ideas.

Read about how to become a teacher in Nevada.

Interview with Amy Murray, Calgary Kindergarten Teacher

We recently had the opportunity to interview Amy Murray, who has experience working as a kindergarten teacher and early childhood curriculum leader at a private, French immersion school in Calgary, where she is now the Principal of Early Childhood Education. Amy attended the University of Alberta, where she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary French Immersion Education. For her graduate studies, Amy attended Oregon State University, earning a Master of Science in Human Development and Family Studies. Amy’s focus area for her graduate studies was early childhood education. During our interview, we discussed Amy’s motivations for becoming a teacher, her professional development recommendations and her involvement with the Kindergarten Around the World exchange initiative, which grew into Kinderchat.

kindergarten teacher Ann MurrayWas there a particular person or experience that motivated you to become an early childhood education professional?

I have always known I wanted to work with children and families; for me it is more about that than about being a teacher, per se. My mom was the executive director of a non-profit preschool program, and I think her passion for that program really had an influence on me. I also had an aunt who was an amazing, committed, and innovative educator. She passed away when my career was just beginning, but I see her influence on my work very often.

I spent twelve years on staff at an amazing sleep away camp in northeastern California. The time I spent there has been the single most powerful influence on how I teach and the kind of climate I strive to have in my classroom. The things that make camp special, including a child-centered atmosphere, a celebration of differences, a respect for the importance of friendships and a focus on relationships, are critical for classrooms too.

What makes kindergarteners unique?

When you’re five years old, everything is awesome! I love that about kindergarteners. Most kindergarten-aged children’s default expectation of any new experience is that it will be great and they will love it (and probably be good at it). There is something so courageous about this optimism.

You actively participate with the Kindergarten Around the World initiative on Twitter. Can you explain more about this innovative idea and how teachers can participate?

My school is in the process of becoming a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Associated School, and as part of that, we commit to touching on the five UNESCO themes in our programming. Two years ago, our kindergarten team needed a project to bring the theme of internationalism into our classrooms. I was already very active on Twitter and I knew of teachers in other places who were tweeting with their classrooms. The idea of a virtual exchange (a new take on pen pals, really) was very much a team effort and it came together very organically from there. In the first year, there were eight participating classes: four from my school, and our four partner classes in four different countries. Last year, I expanded the project and made matches between over 50 classes around the world. I am always looking to recruit new classes.

Can you recommend strategies or techniques for teachers who are striving to be ‘lifelong learners’?

Get on Twitter! Honestly, it is the best, ongoing, free, professional development you will ever find. Not only do I get great ideas from my ‘Twitter peeps,’ I also have great conversations that challenge my thinking and push me to constantly evolve.

Aside from that, my best advice is: set a goal every year to try one new thing in your classroom. It may be as simple as changing your classroom layout, or as big as implementing iPads. Bringing in new things often means reconsidering old things, and that is how we refine our practice: by constantly curating our routines and systems to keep only the best.

How has your teaching life changed since you started your blog? Do you find that the benefits of maintaining the blog outweigh any drawbacks?

I have been blogging almost as long as I have been teaching in K-12 schools, so it is hard to think about how it has changed my teaching life. I have always loved to write, and it has always been a good tool for me to hash things out and clarify my thoughts and feelings. The blog allows me to do that, and has the added possibility of conversation built into it. In the last few weeks, I’ve really started to have a sense of having ‘regulars’ who read and comment regularly, and I really like that sense of community.

I try not to feel pressured about blogging or posting new content. It is a tool for my reflections above all else, and I don’t want it to become a chore. That said, the more I post, the more interaction occurs, so I am trying to write more frequently.

What online tools have you found to be the most helpful for managing a classroom?

I use Evernote to document my teaching as well as create student portfolios. It’s an app as well as an online tool, and I have often joked that it is the app I would take to a desert island with me. It is a really powerful and versatile tool, and I strongly recommend all teachers explore it.

A new tool for me this year is Planbook.com – an online planning program. I’m looking forward to exploring it, especially since I am team teaching and it seems like a promising way to communicate and collaborate.

What words of wisdom do you have for individuals considering a career in the field of early childhood education?

This will sound obvious, but spend time with kids in any way you can, particularly with large groups of kids. Make sure you really like being with children. Be a day camp counselor, volunteer in a church nursery, teach swimming lessons or ballet classes. I think there are teachers out there who like the idea of being a teacher, but who never really explored if they enjoy children. Teaching is not really about decorating a cute room or planning fun lessons, it’s about building relationships with children. You’re going to spend all day in a room with a significant group of small people – you better like them!

We thank Amy Murray for being so generous with her time and sharing her thoughts with us. Visit Kinderchat and her LinkedIn to learn more about her work.

Learn about a Early Childhood Education Degree

Interview with Michelle Griffo, California Kindergarten Teacher

We recently had the opportunity to interview Michelle Griffo, a kindergarten teacher born and raised in southern California. Michelle attended Vanguard University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration, as well as a multiple subjects teaching credential and master’s degree in education. Michelle has been teaching for six years. During our interview, we discussed how a college trip abroad motivated Michelle to become a teacher, the ways in which she incorporates technology into her classroom, and how blogging has changed the way she teaches and plans her lessons.

Was there a particular person or experience that motivated you to become an education professional?

I was originally a business major in college, but during my junior year, I went on a service project to China for three weeks. There, we learned about the culture and taught English. While we were in China, I realized where all of my strengths lied…in teaching! That trip was monumental for me, and I knew the road ahead would include getting my teaching credential.

What characteristics of kindergarten students do you appreciate the most?

Kindergarten students are like sponges. They soak up everything they hear and see and are able to learn at such a quick pace. It amazes me that the students enter not knowing their letters, and leave knowing the basics of reading. I don’t know any other grade level that you see that much growth in one year. And of course, the questions they come up with are so entertaining!

What aspects of your job do you find to be the most challenging or stressful?

The most challenging part of my job is teaching the children how to behave in a classroom while also teaching them curriculum. For some of the students, this is their first experience in school. This is the first time they have had to take turns speaking, listening, and even following directions with multiple steps. I am not only laying the foundation of academics, but laying the foundation of how the culture of school works.

Can you share any techniques that you use to create a successful work and life balance?

I wish I had a better answer for this one! I have not learned how to balance all of the areas of my life successfully yet. Teaching is a difficult career because there is always more that you could be working on and things you could be preparing for, especially in kindergarten. I would suggest making a daily ‘to do list.’ Once you have completed those tasks for the day, then you can leave work knowing that you don’t have to think about your tasks until you return the next day. As in any profession, you need to be able to have time for yourself, without thinking about work.

What online tools have you found to be the most helpful for managing a classroom?

I entered the world of blogging within the last eight months, and doing so has completely changed me as a person and as an educator! If you can successfully manage your classroom (the students and procedures) then your life will be much easier and the classroom with run much more smoothly.

I have gotten so many ideas from other teachers’ blogs. Getting a master’s degree in education was a great accomplishment because I learned a lot about research and the theory of education. But, in order to find detailed, hands-on examples of what does and does not work in a classroom, I read other teachers’ blogs.

On my blog, Apples and ABC’s, I try to share ideas that do and don’t work, as far as classroom management is concerned. A great feature of blogs is that there is a comment section at the end of each post where readers can comment and interact with the blogger. This allows for questions, input, and shared ideas. My classroom management has greatly improved due to blogging and reading blogs.

How do you use technology as a tool for teaching kindergarteners?

I am constantly using technology while I am teaching my students. For example, if I am teaching a unit about spiders, I will read a book about spiders, feature spider photos that I found on the Internet, show spider videos on YouTube, possibly sing a spider-themed song that I found online, and then write about them.

My favorite piece of technology that I have in the classroom is an ELMO document camera. This is the newest version of an overhead projector where you can place anything under the document camera and it will project on the screen. The options are endless of how you can use this piece of technology.

What words of wisdom do you have for others considering a career as a kindergarten teacher or early childhood education professional?

Spend some time observing in a kindergarten classroom. Try to get exposure to what a classroom environment is like and see what age of students would be best suited for your personality type. If you feel overwhelmed, know that that is perfectly natural. While in college, it seems as though it will take forever to get your credential and your own classroom, but once you do, it will be worth all of your hard work!

We thank Michelle for taking the time to share her advice for becoming a kindergarten teacher and incorporating technology into the classroom. Check out Michelle’s blog, Apples and ABC’s and follow her on Twitter @ApplesAndABCs for more great teaching insights and ideas for the kindergarten classroom.

Learn about how to become a teacher in California.

Interview with Trish Nodolski, Pennsylvania Preschool Teacher and Program Director

We recently had the opportunity to interview Trish Nodolski, a preschool teacher and program director in Pennsylvania. Trish attended West Chester University, earning a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education. She has 26 years of experience teaching three year-olds. Today, Trish wears multiple hats. She teaches a class of three year-olds as well as one geared toward Pre-K students. She is also the program’s director. During our interview, we discussed techniques that teachers can use to incorporate more play into their professional lives, the strategies she uses to strike a healthy work and life balance, and her suggestions for teachers struggling to keep their creative energy levels high.

preschool classWas there a particular person or experience that motivated you to become a preschool teacher? What led you to wear two hats – one of director, the other of teacher?

To be honest I did not go into college to become a teacher. I am the oldest of six children and spent a lot of time with children all my life. I was looking for something different. I started college trying to get a degree in speech pathology and quickly found that it wasn’t holding my interest. Knowing I knew how to work with children (I was teaching a preschool Sunday school class at the time) I figured that I would try early childhood. I loved it and did very well…I guess you can’t fight your calling!

The school I am at now is just wonderful. It is a very small church-based nursery school and the teachers are here for quite a while. I became the director of our school when the director before me decided to head to the public school. I took on the job because I knew the school and job very well.

Can you provide suggestions for teachers wanting to incorporate more ‘play’ into their professional and personal lives?

It is extremely important to me that we have a large amount of playtime at preschool. I am a huge advocate of allowing young children to learn through different types of experiences. I also believe that we are getting these little ones and when they leave us they will have 13 years of formal, sit-down-type education. I do not wish to have that type of education for three and four-year-olds.

We make sure that we change our family center to include some thematic activities. We may set up a grocery store, pet shop, post office, or hot chocolate store where the children can write, do math, compare, use manners and organize. All of these skills are so important.

Now play in a teacher’s personal life can even be more difficult. I have gotten to a point where I know I will have to put work aside and be with my family. It is good for them and good for me, and guess what? Everything gets done. I am also very lucky to have a wonderful husband to help keep me balanced.

What techniques do you use to create a harmonious work and life balance?

The first year of a new class is a tough one. There is a lot of work involved: preparing, searching, and creating. As I have said before, I have a great family that is very helpful. For example, my husband will help me staple things together, fix things at the school and carry heavy things for me. He’s great!

Personally, I find it extremely important to be organized. If things around me get chaotic, I start spiraling into chaos—I must be organized! If you were to come to my home you would see a huge calendar on my refrigerator. On the calendar there are markings in different colors. With the lives of five children, my husband, and myself to manage, I needed to see everything in front of me in a clear and concise format.

I pretty much do the same thing with school. I have files for each month with files inside those for each class. There is a place for everything and everything needs to be in its place.

There are times when things will have to go on the back burner. For instance, when I started my blog I spent every night trying to create a post. I soon realized this was just too much for my life and had to scale that back a bit. There are times when I will have to say, “No, I cannot help with such and such….” It can be hard at first, but when you realize how calm your life can be, it gets better.

Your site is full of fun ideas for engaging preschoolers. Can you tell us how you keep your creative spark going?

A few years ago, I hit a slump, just before I started my blog. I had been teaching the class of three-year-olds for a long time and just had to go to the file, pull something out and have something to do. But, I didn’t have that fire. Then I started blogging and it opened up a whole new world to me. I started feeling the energy from all the teachers and parents who were blogging about their experiences. I was seeing all the creative things people were doing. This helped to light my spark again. It is amazing to see all the great ideas people have.

How has your professional life changed since you started your blog? Do you find that the benefits of maintaining the blog outweigh any drawbacks?

My major change since I started the blog is feeling more fulfilled with what I do. As I mentioned before, I had previously gotten to a stagnant place – a place where I had forgotten that what I do matters. Then I started my blog and I had others reaffirming that what I was doing was good, that I had good ideas, and that they enjoyed reading what I did. That feedback made me feel better about myself and what I was doing.

This feeling of fulfillment has inadvertently carried over into my directorship. Our school has been experiencing a huge growth spurt and has become a gem in our area.

Sometimes it is very difficult to find time, or desire, to post on my blog. I have recently scaled back on the amount of posts I write, but when I do write, I always seem to get a comment or email from someone who has found the information helpful. Knowing I am helping others brings me great joy.

What words of wisdom do you have for individuals considering a career as a preschool teacher or early childhood program director?

Be sure that you love it! I find individuals that enjoy being with young children and find teaching so joyful. It’s not a huge burden. It’s fun. It’s exciting. You want to be doing fun and exciting activities with the children. You want to show them how things happen, and you are excited when you see them grow.

I have seen individuals who were with young children by chance—not because they wanted to be there. There was no joy. If you don’t have joy, the children don’t have joy.

As for being a director, I find that being totally honest with parents and other teachers makes everything run smoothly. I am very up-front about what I expect and what they should expect from me. I also try to treat everyone with total equality. I always look for others’ input any time that change is upon us because I want everyone to be comfortable and happy at the school. Also, I am not one to be ‘more important’ than others. Finally, listen to everyone and try to grow as you help those around you grow.

We thank Trish for taking the time to talk with us, and wish her all the best with her teaching and program directorship! Visit Trish’s blog, The Preschool Playbook, for more great information about teaching preschool.

Learn about how to become a teacher in Pennsylvania

Interview with Rebecca Ross, Kindergarten Teacher in Washington State

We had the great fortune to interview Rebecca Ross, a kindergarten teacher in the state of Washington. For the first eleven years of her teaching career, Becca taught first and second grade. She later became a kindergarten teacher, a role she’s been in for the past six years. For her undergraduate degree, Becca majored in family and consumer science, with early childhood and elementary education endorsements. She also has a master’s degree in reading and literacy. During our interview, we discussed the unique challenges that kindergarten teachers face, the characteristics that make kindergarteners special, and how Becca uses her blogs as a tool to communicate with parents.

Becca Ross Kindergarten TeacherWhat makes kindergarteners unique?

What doesn’t make them unique? Kindergarteners are hilarious! When asked what his favorite animal is, our school librarian usually responds, “Kindergarteners.”

For many of my students, kindergarten is their first school experience. Everything is new to them. They need to learn how to act socially, emotionally, and academically. They are full of questions and excited to try anything and everything. One year, during the first week of school, I set up the watercolor paints. One of the girls in my class looked at the colors in delight, grabbed her paintbrush, and whispered, “I’ve never done this before.” Another time, I had a little boy in my class who was looking at books and yelled, “Teacher! What is that?” He looked at me completely shocked and said, “It looks like a horse, but it has stripes!” This little boy had never seen a zebra before. As a kindergarten teacher, I have the opportunity to share so many ‘firsts’ with my students. Those moments with my kids make me smile every day.

What are the most challenging aspects of teaching kindergarten?

The biggest challenge I face as a kindergarten teacher is children starting school with varying backgrounds. Fifty percent of kindergarten students at my school do not attend preschool. Some parents have a perception that kindergarten is the beginning. They think it’s a place where the kids will learn numbers and their ABC’s. Parents are shocked when we start assessing kids during the first two weeks of school. If a child doesn’t know the bulk of their letters and some of their sounds, they are pulled for remedial work! Kindergarten is a different place than it was 20 or 30 years ago.

How have you used your blogs to more effectively communicate with parents and families?

A few years ago during parent-teacher conference week, I realized that I was more than just a teacher to families. We discussed academics, how the family’s child was getting along in class, and things that were happening in the classroom. Most often, parents simply had questions about parenting. They would ask me about potty training, sleep issues, home organization, creating an environment for learning at home, how to deal with defiance at home, and many other issues. Some parents told me that they had talked to their pediatrician about several issues, but still had questions and didn’t know where else to go. Although I know I’m not an expert in any of these areas, I was happy to offer suggestions and share what had worked with my own children.

Rebecca Ross photoIt was during this time that I decided I wanted to start a blog to share my home life with other families. I didn’t share this blog with families of students in my classroom. I ventured into the blogging community, but didn’t want any of my real life friends or families from my class to read my blog. Blogging was so much fun for me! I absolutely loved the writing aspect of blogging and developed a new passion for photography. I started writing about early childhood education and realized that many of my readers didn’t have kids at home and were coming to my blog for ideas on sewing, cooking, baking, crafting, and gardening. I decided that a new blog was needed so I started my literacy blog to have a place to share the activities I do with my own children and how they relate to their literacy lives.

At about the same time I started my literacy blog, our school district was facing drastic budget cuts. Our copy budget was slashed and we would no longer be allowed to photocopy parent letters to send home to families. I tried e-mailing letters, but it didn’t seem personal enough. I decided a third blog was in order. Call me crazy, but I loved writing the other two, so why not? The response to my kindergarten blog has been amazing. Not only do families in my kindergarten class love seeing what we do all day, but the other kindergarten teachers in my building also direct their parents to my blog for valuable tips. I’ve also connected with many other teachers, who tell me they read my blog to get ideas for their own classrooms. Suddenly, I’m no longer an isolated teacher in the classroom with her students; my classroom is now filled with kids, parents and many teachers who check in on our kindergarten happenings.

Blogging offers many benefits, but it can also be time-consuming. What time management advice do you have for teachers thinking about starting their own blogs?

I’ve learned to embrace the writing and photography components that go along with blogging. Practice these skills and you will become confident. Also, don’t wait until your blog is perfect to push the ‘publish’ button. Share what you can and move on. Don’t dwell on imperfections.

Keep it short. Parents often tell me that they don’t have time to read long posts. They like the pictures and a few words to explain things we’re working on. Keeping posts short keeps parents happy, and helps me manage my time. Blogging has proven to be much less time-consuming than writing a weekly parent letter.

How has your teaching life changed since you started your blogs? Do you find that the benefits of blogging outweigh any drawbacks?

I feel that my blogs have become resources for parents and families. Managing three blogs eventually started to seem a little disjointed. My passions have always been home and family, literacy, and early childhood. These areas are the focus areas for all of my blogs, but they didn’t feel connected. So, I created a website to house all three blogs and serve as a holding place for teacher-created materials, videos, and other resources for families. Home Is Where My Story Begins is now my central website. It’s a great way to provide materials for families. For example, when a child is pulled out of school for a family trip, I ask the parents to go to the ‘Resources’ section on my website and print a copy of the ‘Kindergarten Vacation Journal’ that I created. When other teachers visit my classroom for demonstration lessons, and ask for my writing units, I can direct them to my website. Blogging and my website have changed the way I communicate, the way I organize my materials, and the way families can access materials.

What do you know now that you wish you knew during your first year of teaching?

Education will never end. There is always more to learn when you are a teacher. There is always a new theory, a new book, new resources, or new ways of thinking that need to be explored.

Also, teaching is as much about the families as it is about the kids. I never really knew how much I would rely on my background in family and consumer science.

Finally, it is a very demanding job and on most days it does not seem like even meeting the bare minimum is possible. Teachers are asked to move mountains and expected to do so without a lot of support or materials. If I need supplies, materials, or books for the classroom, I will need to provide it and probably pay for it myself. If I want to learn about a trend in education or become a better teacher in a certain area, I need to buy the book, sign up for the class, seek out experts, and pay for it all out of pocket. If a class happens to fall on a school day, I’ll need to pay for the substitute teacher as well. Have I mentioned that it’s a hard job? Although it’s challenging, seeing the progress that the kids make every year is priceless. When all else fails…sing.

We thank Rebecca for taking the time to share her heartfelt and candid advice with individuals thinking about becoming an early childhood educator. Check out her blog Love, Laughter, and Literacy and follow her on Twitter @beccaathome for more insights and ideas for teaching kindergarten.

Learn how to become a teacher in Washington.

Interview with Megan Wheeler, First Grade Teacher in Ohio

We recently had the opportunity to interview Megan Wheeler, a first-grade teacher in Ohio. Megan completed her studies at Wright State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, and a master’s degree in elementary reading. She has nine years of experience teaching first-graders, and even completed her student teaching requirement in a first-grade classroom. During our interview, we discussed techniques that Megan uses to create a work-life balance, how she maintains a creative spirit, and what encouraged her to become an early childhood education professional.

Mrs Wheeler picture

What characteristics of first-grade students do you appreciate the most and what drew you to teaching children in this age group?

I have always loved being around school-aged kids and I especially love six- and seven-year-olds! They keep me on my toes because I never know what will come out of their mouths. The unpredictability of the day keeps things interesting and I love the wonder that first-graders have. They are curious about everything and get so excited about learning. It’s also awesome that I can be silly every day and I have a great audience to laugh with me!

What aspects of your job do you find to be the most challenging or stressful?

I would say that the most challenging aspect of my job is finding the time to do everything that I want to do. I am a self-described over-achiever and want to do ‘everything.’ If I see or come up with a fun idea, I always want to find a way to implement it into my curriculum, which at times can stress me out; it’s hard to find the time to do everything I want to do! I strive to give my students the absolute best experience they can have. I also want learning to be fun, so that I can instill the concept of lifelong learning into their little brains.

Can you recommend strategies or techniques for teachers who are striving to be lifelong learners?

For me, lifelong learning is something that’s always been there. I’ve always been someone that seeks out professional development, even if it means paying for it with my own dollar. I don’t think there is a strategy or technique that I can suggest to someone because it’s either in you or it’s not. You must have the drive and the passion to want to better yourself constantly. Why settle for average when you can be great?

What online tools have you found to be the most helpful for managing a classroom?

Two years ago, I started my teaching blog, Mrs. Wheeler’s First Grade because I love sharing ideas with others. When I started my blog, I noticed there were other blogs that also shared ideas. The whole blogging world has exploded over the past few years! Blogs are my number one go-to for classroom ideas. People are so generous and creative. Blogs provide meaningful activities that have been tested by real classroom teachers, which I love!

What techniques do you use to create a successful work and life balance?

I am the person who can get lost on the computer for hours. I have found that during the school year, I have to set time limits for myself when working on ‘school projects.’ If not, I would spend all my free time doing so. I just love teaching so much; to me it doesn’t seem like I am doing ‘work’ because I enjoy what I am doing! I do have a few non-negotiable habits that help me balance my work and home lives. I go to the gym almost every night, so I must leave school at a reasonable time in order to do so. I also make time for my husband and try to have a ‘date night’ on Fridays. Again, it means getting out of school at a reasonable time, which isn’t always easy. I find that staying extremely organized helps me be more efficient. I like the philosophy ‘working smarter, not harder.’

Mrs. Wheeler’s First Grade offers many creative ideas for running a classroom. Can you tell us how you keep your creative energy levels going? Where do you find your inspiration?

When I first started Mrs. Wheeler’s First Grade, I didn’t view myself as a very creative person. Two years later, I would say that I am. I look at everyday objects differently now. Instead of looking at an object for its main use, I think, “How can I use this in my classroom? Can it be a game? A center? A classroom management tool?” I look through teaching resource books and think to myself, “How can I make this better? How can I make it more applicable to first grade?” I would have to credit this shift to blogging and experience.

Can you share any words of wisdom for individuals considering a career in the field of early childhood education?

Teaching is the best job in the world! I would recommend it to anyone and everyone. It isn’t always easy, but it’s exciting and keeps you on your toes.

We sincerely thank Megan for taking the time to share her insightful and straightforward advice, and wish her all the best. Check out Megan’s blog, Mrs. Wheeler’s First Grade, for more great teaching insights and ideas. You can also find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Learn about how to become a teacher in Ohio.

Interview with April Larremore, Kindergarten Teacher in Texas

We had the opportunity to talk to April Larremore, who taught kindergarten in Texas before earning her doctorate at the University of North Texas (UNT). She now works as a Professional Development Coordinator with the Dallas Independent School District and as an adjunct professor at UNT. April has been teaching for 17 years and has a master’s degree from Dallas Baptist in the area of curriculum and instruction. She did her undergraduate coursework at Midwestern State University, majoring in early childhood studies, while minoring in curriculum and instruction. We discussed why she became a kindergarten teacher, her reasons for pursuing her doctorate, and the benefits of maintaining a blog.

What drew you to early childhood teaching roles?

I worked at a daycare in college and absolutely loved it! I love the singing, playing, reading, and hands-on learning you get to do with the little ones.

You’re currently working on earning your PhD. Can you tell us why you decided to pursue a doctorate and what your dissertation is about?

My dissertation focus is on gender issues in the early childhood classroom. I decided to pursue my doctorate because I wanted to teach others what I do since I have such a passion for it. I plan to move to teaching at the university level once I graduate.

What aspects of teaching kindergarten do you enjoy the most and which ones are the most challenging?

I love seeing the light bulb come on for my students, seeing learning taking place, and then seizing those teachable moments!

The aspects that are most challenging are paperwork and the new fads that are always coming and going within school districts.

What components of your job do you find to be the most stressful? Can you recommend any stress management tips?

The amount of time the job takes!

My recommendations are to stay organized and be prepared, plan ahead, weigh out the amount of time it takes to plan and prepare a lesson with the pay-off you plan to get with student learning and success. Also, prioritize your workload and only try to complete small chunks or bits of a project each day.

How have you used your blogs, ‘Chalk Talk’ and ‘Kindergarten Chronicles’ to more effectively communicate with parents and families?

For the past two years, I blogged on Chalk Talk because I was a K-1 strategist working with teachers and I was constantly moving throughout my school district. Before I left the classroom to become a K-1 strategist, I managed another classroom blog called ‘Kindergarten Chronicles.’ At the end of every week I added posts and pictures about all of the week’s happenings. I received permission from all of my students’ parents to post their child’s pictures so I always included pictures of the students engaged in learning. I also included pictures of student work samples for parents to see.

With my blog, parents felt like they never missed anything and they were always a part of our classroom.

Blogging is a useful teaching tool, but it can also be time-consuming. What time management advice do you have for teachers thinking about starting their own blogs?

I could make posts every day but instead of posting about everything that happens, I look for ideas that are new to me that I think would be good to share. I look for special offers and incentives that teachers may not know about, and I focus on areas that I know teachers want or need to learn more about.

How has your teaching life changed since you started your blog? Do you find that the benefits of maintaining the blog outweigh any drawbacks?

I love blogging! It has connected me with so many phenomenal teachers all over the world. I have grown very much as a teacher through blogging. It can be time-consuming but I know I am touching the lives of many teachers out there by taking the time to do it. When I had my classroom blog, I had a student whose father worked overseas. Through my classroom blog, the father was able to keep up with his son’s school happenings. He told me how much this meant to him and how he checked the blog every day. That made all the time and work worth it.

What words of wisdom do you have for individuals considering a career in the field of early childhood education?

You should only choose education as your career if you are willing to put your whole self into it; don’t do it if you are just halfway in. You will have a classroom full of children depending on you to teach and care for them. For some, you will be all they have. You must be willing to go the extra mile for them and you must love what you do in order to make that happen.

We thank April for her candid and helpful advice! Follow her on Twitter @ALarremore.

Learn more about an early childhood education degree.

Interview with Jill Tillis, Kindergarten Teacher in Florida

We recently had the opportunity to talk to Jill Tillis, who teaches kindergarten in Florida and holds a master’s in early childhood education from the University of Florida. We discussed why she became a teacher and how a master’s degree has helped her in the classroom.

kindergarten teacherWhat inspired you to become a teacher in the first place?
Due to a variety of family circumstances throughout my childhood, I was constantly moving from one school to another. Always being “the new kid” I often felt lost in the crowd and had difficulty bonding with others. As a result I became somewhat introverted. Although school was a nice escape from my home environment, I seldom took advantage of opportunities to excel. A few special teachers recognized my abilities and found creative ways to draw me out of my shell, meeting some of my emotional needs in the process. Their commitment to me meant much more than they could have realized and resulted in my desire to teach.

What aspects of teaching elementary students do you enjoy the most?
Supporting the development of social skills is perhaps the most challenging but is by far the most enjoyable and beneficial teaching I do. I especially love guiding students toward becoming members of a community that work together, constructing our own knowledge and contributing to the knowledge of others. Beyond that, I enjoy teaching children to read and write, which is why we do it almost all day long.

What does a typical day look like for you?
Ha most days are not as typical as I’d sometimes like them to be.. .that is not to say that I don’t create schedules and lesson plans, but I do believe that a child-centered environment requires an integrated curriculum and a large amount of flexibility on my part. Having said that, there are some things that we try to do each day:

We tend to start each day with a morning meeting, where we greet each other in different languages, sing and participate in some sort of team-building activity. We could be practicing yoga postures one day and having a hug-a-thon on another. Morning meeting looks different all the time but those activities set the tone for the day, so it’s one thing I try not to leave out. I usually write a morning message to them, one that they can add to or correct. Their contributions to the morning message allow them to have ownership over what and how we will learn each day. There are times, however, that children arrive bursting with enthusiasm about love-bugs, a new monarch chrysalis or someone’s new baby sister. We may use that as an opportunity to record our thinking in science journals or just go straight to writing workshop without a mini-lesson. We ALWAYS share after the writing workshop because students often learn more from each other than they can from me. Most instruction takes place in small groups with engaging word study, literacy, math and science activities. It’s not unusual for us to lose track of time and arrive late to lunch or other scheduled events. Those are the most typical things I can describe. When each day is new and different, I really do enjoy my job and I believe the students are more joyful learners, too.

Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in early childhood education?
Young children in particular are so optimistic in their approach to learning. I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to specifically study early childhood development and concepts. Over time, I have realized that because they believe they can do anything, they have the potential to accomplish more than even adult learners! They easily see themselves as “real” readers and writers, so guiding children through that journey is exciting for me.

What course during your master’s program do you think helped you the most in your classroom?
The coursework on language acquisition really helped me to put together everything that I knew about reading and writing instruction and apply it to the way young children acquire knowledge. Being required to critique the theories of Piaget, Montessori, Vygotsky, Chomsky and especially Donaldson’s book: Children’s Minds, shaped my own understanding of the learning process.

What technology tools do you find most effective for helping your students learn in the classroom?
Cameras! Capturing our happenings and documenting our learning has contributed to more creativity and thought than anything else.

How do you use blogging as a tool for learning in your classroom?
We use blogging for differentiating nearly everything: writing, reading comprehension, science, spelling, grammar, vocabulary, and math. When blogging, students learn very quickly that they have ownership over how they learn. “Assignments” eventually take a life of their own and become a pathway to much more learning than I could have planned. They can choose how they respond to literature, demonstrate their thinking with a large variety of tools (avatars, wordles, voicethreads, movies, keynote presentations or even something as simple as posts or comments) and collaborate to gain even more skills and information. When learners recognize that they have a large audience, they care more about their work and take pride in their accomplishments. Every child’s contribution has value and recognition regardless of the type of learner they are or their experiences. Children are not intimidated by technology and will embrace it quickly when given the freedom to try.

What advice would you give to individuals who have the goal of becoming a teacher?
Stay true to yourself. Changes will come, education paradigms will shift, but you must have confidence in your abilities. It’s very easy to burn out when you are delivering instruction using techniques that contradict the needs of your students, the researched-based methods you learned in college, and even your own personality. Know that if you are not happy with how things are going in your classroom, then your students aren’t, either. Take risks, make adjustments as often as necessary, and never try to force your will on a group of students: each class will be different and will require something different from you. These are the opportunities for you to grow.

Interview with Dana Lester, Former Tennessee First Grade Teacher

Dana Lester, a first grade teacher and eleven-year veteran of the classroom at the time of this interview and now an English Language Arts instructional coach, 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.

Dana Lester teacherPlease 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! 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 LinkedIn to learn more about her experience.

Read about how to become a teacher in Tennessee.