Blue plastic-backed chairs wait on desks in the empty room. It won’t be like this for long. I know that the parents and students I trailed to the building are arriving at the playground from the surrounding streets and soon at the classroom.
I’m spending the day shadowing third year, second-career teacher, Mrs. Jennifer Nelson, in her second grade classroom at College View Elementary, a K-5 Denver Public School located in an economically impoverished neighborhood of diverse ethnic backgrounds, primarily Latino and Vietnamese.
And I am in love! The students following Mrs. Nelson into the classroom are so, so cute. They stare at me curiously as they unpack and prepare for announcements and the Pledge. I wink and smile. (I’ll regret this later as I can not stop winking for the whole rest of the day!)
The children wear three colors of t-shirts with a College View logo – pink, grey, and navy. I’m impressed with this unique way to make a uniform look affordable and fun.
Now it’s breakfast. The students begin eating pre-packaged mini-waffles with apple juice and milk. This is a new strategy for lower income schools are implementing to insure that students are ready to learn. Now schools know that no one is arriving at school hungry.
As they eat, children unload their nightly reading book bags and their reading logs.
Jennifer shows me her reading log — she’s met and exceeded the school goal to be at “200 steps.” She’s at 208! (Another child explains to me that 15 minutes is 1 step, 30 minutes is 2 steps and 1 hour is 4 steps.)
What strikes me is how well these kids KNOW what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s quiet. They all on task. They are respectful of each other and Mrs. Nelson. This continues throughout the day, too and I know from experience that it doesn’t happen by accident.
Mrs. Nelson is a masterful teacher who knows how to manage the classroom. She’s done lots of practice and discussion about what behaviors are expected and what routines to do when. I even see a “Looks like, Sounds like” chart on the wall of expectations for breakfast. I’ve been in a lot of classrooms as a literacy trainer. This is top-notch classroom management! Systems and expectations are well in place.
“I want to see people on the perimeter of the carpet,” Mrs. Nelson announces next. “With a partner, I want you to think of ways you can help everyone in the classroom be successful. When you are done, stand up.”
As the kids talk, Mrs. Nelson bends down to listen and ask questions. (Another sign of a great teacher — getting down on the kids’ level!)
When students are ready, they rate the job they did in partners with thumbs up, middle, or down. Then, when a child shares, Mrs. Nelson follows up with, “How is that going to help us be successful?”. Finally, after they are done sharing, the whole group claps and chants, “Good job sharing.”
I watch Mrs. Nelson’s next teamwork activity in awe.
Mrs. Nelson tells the kids that last time they did this activity, their area was 12. Now she says they’re subtracting two so it will be an area of 10. The colored square carpet becomes significant as I watch Mrs. Nelson show the class the ten squares which make up the shape with the area of ten. “I’m going to time you,” she tells them. “Ready, go!”
The children rush from the perimeter of the carpet to the middle squares in Mrs. Nelson’s shape.
The kids cheer.
(This kind of teaching exemplifies that teaching kindness and teamwork can not happen with a worksheet or a random activity during anti-bullying month – it has to be daily, active, and meaningful. Love this.)
I’ve only been here for one hour. Already I’ve seen Mrs. Nelson in her many roles as restaurant server, communicator, facilitator, instructional leader, manager, and organizer — not to mention the roles I don’t see — researcher, planner, collaborator, learner, designer. (I’ll see problem solver soon when two children have an issue during their “Brain Break” — or P.E. time.)
The reading instruction and activity focuses on retelling a story Mrs. Nelson read yesterday, Little Red Riding Hood. One boy was absent. Mrs. Nelson asks, “Do you know the story?” He shakes his head. She’ll have to catch him up on the story during individual work. I think how much we take for granted in our more affluent and educated lives — not every child has a shared knowledge of these familiar stories.
As students begin on their individual work, Mrs. Nelson pulls a group to work with her. (I’m tired already and I’m not doing anything but watching. Teachers has so much stamina!)
Before the students go outside for their “Brain Break,” Mrs. Nelson asks the class, “What needs to happen before Brain Break?”
One student who is on a specific behavior plan to help him get work done, Mrs. Nelson tells to plus 3 on his learning sheet. He gets points (or not) for each activity.
During the Brain Break, if children haven’t gotten to the 200 steps, they go to the Kindergarten room where they’ll read to the younger students. Mrs. Nelson explains that some students don’t have the support at home so this is the way they can practice reading every day.
“Every day is like a puzzle,” says Mrs. Nelson about why she loves teaching, “you’re trying to get the pieces to fit for everybody. It’s a challenge but I love it when students get it. That aha moment!”
While I’m visiting with Mrs. Nelson during her short break when a tall, gray haired man walks in. It’s her dad. He’s bringing her resources he’s found to help her with base ten. Apparently she’s needing more than the curriculum offers to make sure the students have the concept down solid — and her dad is a retired teacher.
I remember searching to find the best materials to make sure your students are learning concepts in-depth. This is one dedicated teacher, I think, as I watch her speak with her dad.
I’ve been at College View for two and a half hours. (Did I mention I’m already tired? And hungry? And wimpy?)
Mrs. Nelson clearly has built relationships with these children, all of whom have a wide range of skill sets and English language abilities. It’s apparent in everything she does and the way the children behave around her.
It’s a heck of a lot of work.
It’s being a teacher.