Tadpoles and Children and Teaching! Oh My!

As part of Teacher Appreciation Week, I had the privilege of participating in ED Goes Back to School and shadowing kindergarten teacher Debbie D’Addario at McKinley Elementary School in Arlington, Va. My experience left me with a lasting impression of just how challenging it is to be an effective teacher and with a renewed appreciation for the people who step up to a teaching career.

In Ms. D’Addario’s classroom, when the morning bell rang, five-year olds who had been patiently lined up outside filed into the classroom one-by-one, systematically marked their attendance, turned in their homework, and sat in their assigned seats. I was immediately impressed by the routine Ms. D’Addario had established in her classroom. Next, everyone gathered on the carpet in the front of the room for a song about the class rules, which students sang and danced, reinforcing the expectations for the day in a fun and memorable way. We were then ready for our first activity!

The class was studying living and nonliving things. They had a tank of tadpoles that they were observing and today was a big day: Some of the tadpoles had grown back legs! Students drew pictures and wrote a few words in their tadpole workbooks, the small book that each was keeping to record their observations of the tadpoles’ transformation into frogs.

When the assignment wrapped up, the students gathered again on the carpet at the front of the classroom to continue a lesson about the difference between living and non-living things. I watched as Ms. D’Addario engaged the students with questions and taught the content, while simultaneously reining in the kids who were squirmy or causing distractions. She never got upset; she never raised her voice; and she effectively taught her lesson while managing the behavior of 19 children with varying attention spans.

Then, I got to try my hand at some teaching. A parent volunteer came into the classroom and the kids divided up into four groups for rotating activities that reinforced the concept they had just learned. I taught the same lesson four separate times to groups of a half-dozen students. Five-year-olds are a delight, but trying to keep them engaged without getting them overly excited is challenging! I could tell that periodically having extra adults in the classroom was incredibly helpful for Ms. D’Addario and her teaching assistant. Focusing attention on 19 five-year-olds all day, every day is not an easy task.

What did I learn from my classroom experience?

I was only at McKinley Elementary School for four hours, but let me tell you, the life of a teacher requires incredible creativity, thoughtfulness, knowledge, patience, and skill. So, if you haven’t already done so, make sure you thank the teachers in your life. They deserve it!

Click here to read about the experiences of several other OII staff members who shadowed teachers on May 6th as part of Teacher Appreciation Week (May 5-9, 2014).

Brittany Beth is a management and program analyst in the Magnet Schools Assistance Program, Parental Options and Information division, Office of Innovation and Improvement.