Updated: Jan 27, 2020
Spanish | French Teacher
Main Street Middle School, Montpelier, VT
What are you currently focused on as an educator? What are you deliberately doing in your practice?
I just returned from an RTI at Work conference, and so am currently hyper focused on collaborating with my colleagues to ensure that ALL kids learn because of what we do. At Main Street Middle School, we have recommitted to the PLC process, and currently working on establishing a guaranteed and viable curriculum so that we can provided targeted and timely interventions.
Please describe an obstacle you have overcome as an educator and how that impacted you professionally.
I recently had one class of students who struggled with behavior and motivation. I found myself unable to get roughly 25% of the class to proficiency, no matter how many different ways I tried to teach, how engaging I tried to make my lessons, and how clear I was about my expectations. Having this many kids not reach proficiency was clearly unacceptable, and forced me to rethink and restructure my practice to build in ways to "catch" kids who were falling behind. The lessons I learned and the changes I made continue to impact student achievement in my class.
What fills your bucket professionally?
On the first day of school, two students popped by my room to say hi. The first was an eighth grade student who I taught last year, who struggles to be respectful and on task in class, and who barely managed to qualify for French this year. The second was a ninth grader who came back to visit and give me a hug. This young man also struggled in French, and so has decided to take Latin this year. What fills my bucket is that, despite their scores in my class, these two guys know and trust that I care about them and their success.
How would you define innovation? What have you done professionally that you consider innovative?
For me, innovation is expanding the parameters of your thinking in order to solve a problem. Often, it requires letting go of an old way of doing something in order to open up more potential solutions. Sometimes, the solution itself is not particularly revolutionary, it is the change in perspective or increased flexibility that is. For example, in my introductory world language class, I usually take attendance by going down the roster and asking each student how they are (in the target language). But, for one class, this process often took 10 minutes because of chatting and inappropriate behavior. So, after tearing my hair out for a while, I changed my routine. Students came into class and got started working independently, and I went around the room and asked each one individually how they were doing. Rocket science? No. But it required me to uproot some established routines.
What advice would you share with other educators?
The longer I teach, the more important I think relationships are in working with students. Without mutual respect and trust, everything else you do will be harder. Take the time to get to know the interests and idiosyncrasies of your students, and ask for and use their feedback.
As Vermont 2020 Teacher of the Year, I am hoping to shine a light on some of the ways in which Vermont teachers are reaching all students, including those who are struggling to overcome barriers to their education. Please connect with me on Instagram @madamekahnvt to let me know of something working in your district, or to see what others are doing around the state.