2009-2010 MPA Award-winning Submission

Christina Marlow

1) What was the most memorable classroom moment in your first year of teaching?

            Looking across my classroom and seeing students laughing, sharing memories, and demonstrating learning with their grandparents and great-grandparents was the most memorable moment during my first year of teaching.  Hosting "Grandparent's Day" took months of collaboration and planning, but was well worth the effort when I could see how much it impacted both the students and their grandparents.  It originated after my fellow second-grade teachers and I noted that while parents often participate in their children's education (through conferences, volunteering, field trips, etc.), grandparents are usually not in attendance.  We wanted to set aside a day that was dedicated to grandparents and their influence in children's lives. 
            I wove this idea into each subject as students completed projects to present during Grandparent's Day.  For our social studies unit titled Yesterday and Long Ago, students learned about the past and how it affects the present.  They completed timelines of their lives, including memorable events from the past with accompanying descriptions.  They also designed family trees to show how their ancestors played a role in their existence.  In language arts, my students wrote a letter to their grandparents sharing why they were important to them.  I incorporated technology by having students create a PowerPoint presentation (during their weekly computer lab time) that they would present to their grandparents. 
            When invitations were sent, I included a request that the grandparents bring something to share with the class (an artifact from "long ago," an activity or craft they do with their grandchild, or a memory of what school was like when they attended).  The big day began with a Grandparent's Tea (where students served juice and cookies) and then the students sang songs for them.  But the most memorable part was when my students proudly gave their grandparents a tour of our classroom and listened with awe as various grandparents shared about how school had changed so much over the decades.  One student shared a Chinese quilt she and her great-grandmother had made together.  Another proudly showed his classmates his grandpa's pocket-watch and shared that his grandpa had helped him learn to tell time. 
            It was wonderful to see the generational gap bridged and hear the feedback from grandparents.  They shared that they felt so honored during those few hours.  One grandmother noted that the day encouraged young kids to respect their elders.  I felt so lucky to be a facilitator in creating a stronger bond between my students and their families.

2) What is a specific example of how you believe your teaching helped a student, or students?

            Watching my kids as they filed into the classroom on the first day of school, it was clear to me that Evan didn't fit in.  He didn't look like the other kids.  His clothes and shoes were old and he didn't have a backpack.  There was no mother or father doting over him to make sure he found the right class and had the necessary supplies.  He also wore an expression that told me he hadn't enjoyed school in the past.  So although he didn't seem to fit in, I knew he was the student I'd been looking for.
            The previous week at our new-teacher orientation, district personnel had held a workshop to demonstrate a new approach they wanted teachers to take in creating their classroom environment.  It was called "Nurtured Heart."  The goal was to target "outliers," the students on the fringe who are often overlooked.  These could include students from a low socio-economic background, those living in a single-parent home, or students from an ethnic minority.  Evan fit all three categories.  As I learned in the workshop, my mission would be to use positive reinforcement in a consistent and convincing way.  We could make these students successful based on our words and attention alone! 
            The first few weeks of school were key to the program's success.  I made Evan the line leader, found numerous things to compliment (I love how nicely you are sitting, thank you for sharing your crayons, and what a loud reading voice you have), and watched the transformation begin.  Once he realized that he had the potential to become a model student, he did not hesitate in living up to that potential.  It was only after three months (during parent-teacher conferences) that I realized how significant of an impact I had made.
            I had never met Evan's mother before, due to her busy schedule (she was a single mother to four children and worked two jobs).  During the conference, she seemed joyful despite the fact that Evan was not receiving perfect scores.  I came to find out that at his previous school, he was constantly in trouble and was labeled by teachers and the administration as a bully and an intentional non-learner.  With few friends and little motivation, she said he had hated school.
            Now, although he still struggled in some academic areas, he was receiving appropriate help and plenty of encouragement!  He had several friends and would tell her that he loved school and couldn't wait to go back.  It amazes me that regardless of a student's academic abilities, their perception of school can be dramatically altered through a teacher's attitude toward them.  If you consider them a burden, they will be a burden.  If you treat them like a model student, they will prove you right!

3) What are you most looking forward to in your second year of teaching?

            In the same way that I enjoy opening a new book and savoring its smell, the crisp pages, and story waiting to be read, I am looking forward to a fresh start.  Another year means different personalities, more kids to build up, and new ears for my old jokes.  As an added bonus, I will have a renewed sense of confidence in knowing that yes, I have done this before!  I will know the tricky math concepts that I will need to pre-teach (hello, three-digit subtraction), the best way to prepare the students for the rigors of STAR testing (fun snacks right before they start) and even how to show off baby chicks (have paper on your carpet before you let them roam).
            Having taught the curriculum before allows me to replace some of my first-year insecurities with second-year creativity.  I am excited to have students actually dig for fossils during our dinosaur unit (I already have approval from my principal to pre-bury some fossils in an open area behind our school).  I also plan to increase the technology component in my lessons (i.e. slide shows of life cycles).  It is amazing what students can create through PowerPoint, even in second grade! 
            However, many of the things I am looking forward to next year are the things that I cherished from this year: the hand-written notes, the excitement in a student's voice when she reads a challenging passage successfully, or the expression on a student's face when he sees my 100% stamp on his math quiz.  It's great to be a hero in a child's eyes.  I hope that when I'm old, I will hear "Mrs. Marlow!" shouted across a parking lot and look up to see a student who remembered me fondly from all those years ago. 

Updated 4/5/12