The first grade teachers at Windham Elementary School have the high-pressure job of preparing students for a life of learning.
To some students, Ashely Davis, First Grade Program Chair Natasha Chalker, Nicole McNeil and Nicole Boyd will be the first teachers they’ve ever had and to others they will be only the second or third. Either way, it’s up to these teachers to prepare students for their future.
“First grade is a crucial year in a child’s education,” Chalker said. “I came from being a kindergarten teacher for 18 years and I can see how much students grow and how they learn in first grade.”
McNeil agreed with Chalker adding on that students learn one of the most vital skills in first grade.
“In first grade we’re really teaching them how to read so we’re really setting the foundation for them,” McNeil said.
Preparing the children for their future can be a tough challenge, especially if the teachers have to catch students up.
“Setting the skills they need to come in with like if they haven’t gone to Pre-K or kindergarten they might not have the skills such as letter sounds or reading skills or counting skills they need,” Boyd said.
McNeil said the students’ age also plays a factor in the challenge of teaching them.
“They’re so young, 6 and 7 (years old), some of them are little immature so behaviors (can be a struggle),” McNeil said.
To help keep the students’ attention and make sure that all the skills the students are taught are reinforced, the school has started integrating technology into the curriculum.
“We use Chromebooks with Zearn and Epic,” Boyd said.
“Zearn is for math, which correlates hand-in-hand with Engage New York. For reading we use Reading Street and with that we use Epic to help them reinforce their reading skills,” Boyd said.
“It works out pretty good, especially with Zearn because we can correlate the lesson we teach with that program. Whatever we teach that day, we can put them on Zearn to reinforce that skill.”
However, the reward of seeing students grow up into lifelong leaders is a reward all its own.
“That is my favorite part of being in a small school setting because the kids come to me and I see them growing up and they come back to see me in high school,” Chalker said. “I even have them come back to see me and they’re married and they have kids. I love to see that and to know that I made a small impact on their life.”
Boyd agreed with Chalker.
“It’s a great feeling to see students progressing and doing better, that’s what we want,” Boyd said. “We set the foundation so when they go to the next grade we want them to succeed and do as well as possible because that will help them in the next grade and then eventually in life.”
The teachers then discussed why they decided to become teachers and what keeps them coming back everyday and giving their all for all the students.
“I think it’s just a calling,” Davis said. “When you go into that (calling) I believe that’s where you’re rewarded at and that’s why you enjoy coming. It’s not really a job if you go into what you’re meant to do.”
McNeil said for her, she thinks of the students everyday.
“You have to remember why you got into teaching,” McNeil said. “This is their (students) only time during first grade. We already know how to read so just remember that this is their life and it’s so important to them that we do our best.”
For Boyd, it’s about making sure her students are successful and set up for their future.
“If we don’t give our best, when they move up they’re going to be behind forever,” Boyd said.
Chalker said that she enjoys the chance she gets to mold her students to be successful in anything they do in the future.
“I like the chance to mold the generation that’s coming through and make them into lifelong learners and leaders,” Chalker said.