I have lived and breathed education for over 42 years as an elementary teacher and as a parent of two boys. I have throughout those years had the opportunity to teach all grades PreK through 6th grade in Hillsborough and later in Pinellas Counties in Florida.
I loved the classroom as a student also, earning my Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education and certification in Administration and Supervision.
Now, as a retired classroom teacher, I find a new outlet for this love of education through the production and sharing of information and knowledge gained over all those years, not to mention the wisdom gained from listening to children.
In appreciation for all those talented teachers everywhere, I am enjoying the development and production of materials that will save teachers time and energy that can be devoted to the children. I am enjoying every minute of this endeavor.
Lincoln Elementary 1972-1974
I was a wet behind the ears, green as grass, first year teacher with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Elementary Education and a State Teaching Certificate tucked under my arm in 1971. I began life as a teacher in a sixth grade center. Yes, an entire school filled with 11 and 12 year olds. The staff was fairly young; quite a few of us were first and second year teachers. That usually happens when a new idea is put into practice like a center for only sixth graders. Our school system had been placed under court supervision, so it was the second year that staffs were integrated and the first year that students were bused for integration. Such was life in the south in those days.
All desks were in rows, the floors bare of carpet, and the windows open to catch a breeze with the help of the one fan. Those were the days before the referendum to add air conditioning to the classrooms in Florida. Under those windows were open shelves. One side wall held two bulletin boards and the maps. The front wall held the chalk board and on the other side of the room were the storage cabinets with a sink and a drinking fountain. I loved it!
There was a big wooden desk and chair with two large drawers – the deep one for student folders, the other for teacher stuff and one small narrow drawer over the seating area, the pen drawer? I had one display table, one round table, an overhead projector and screen, a globe and a record player.
Hooah! I was in business.
The color pieces of paper at the top of the windows were segments of a bookworm. Each book read created a segment with the title, author and child’s name. The goal was to stretch the bookworm around the entire room. No computers, no photocopy machine, no color printing except for the purplish writing of the ditto that one created and then ran off on a big barreled machine filled with flammable liquid. The typewriter was manual, as in not electric, if you even had access to a typewriter. There was a paper cutter per team, but the Ellison die-cut shapes machine was just a thought in the inventor’s mind until 1977. I didn’t use one until 1990.
You had to pass handwriting, art, and music to get your teaching degree as you were expected to be a classroom teacher, an art teacher, the daily physical education teacher, and the music teacher at least once a week! And the physical education teacher. And the music teacher at least once a week!I was full of energy, enthusiasm and ideas, open to all suggestions of teaming, use of materials and teaching techniques, trying very hard to think about what kids would like to do and how they would like to learn. Those were the days when the teacher would lecture and demonstrate to the whole group, and the students listened and worked at their desks. We often didn’t have enough text books and what we had could be way out of date.
I was too excited to be nervous and too young to worry!
Mango Elementary 1974-1976
Traveling from one city to another to teach consumed a lot of time and it was difficult in inclement weather, but when I sold my house and moved into an apartment near the University, I now had to travel twice as far as I had previously. It seemed like the right time to transfer to a closer school. I had originally interned at Mango Elementary with Margaret Young in the first grade and learned a great deal from her. In addition, the principal of the school had been my fifth grade teacher and was excellent at that. I assumed he would be the same as a principal. However, I found myself in a difficult situation. Having come from a school that involved the teachers in so many decisions, I found it suffocating to find myself at one where any difference of opinion would not be appreciated and perhaps not tolerated. Ouch! It was to be a difficult year where I struggled to adapt and questioned whether I even should.
Margaret Young, Supervising Teacher, 1971
My Fourth Grade Class
I taught fourth grade where five classes were divided into four rooms with the fifth teacher floating and taking turns at lessons. I remember her focus was art history enrichment. The rooms were in a fairly new pod which consisted of walls that had heavy plastic curtains that could be closed forming individual rooms and leaving an activity area in the center of the four cornered rooms, or all curtains could be pulled back to form an entirely open space the size of all five areas.
Sound was somewhat of an issue even with the curtains closed. The air conditioning unit in the pod was a new experience for me. Loved it! Only one nonopening window in my part of the pod though. It was a little dark in the pod making it necessary to use the artificial lights all of the time. I did miss the natural light!
Air condition vents on the ceiling. Whoo hoo!
Note the curtains that could retract forming a larger area.
As the year went on, I remember being uncomfortable with the announcements from lunch on whose class was the quietest and whose was not. I also remember Monday morning announcements of who was in church that weekend mixed in with the school’s information – very awkward and even then seemed inappropriate. There was also the list on the bulletin board with who hadn’t joined PTA (Parent Teacher Association) written in red ink. Team meetings were a sharing of what the principal wanted done – no discussion. And please don’t think about airing an opinion in a faculty meeting – kiss of death. I survived the first year. Maybe I was just too sensitive and misreading the cues.
I began the second year there again in the fourth grade when we lost a unit in intermediate due to a decrease in student enrollment. One teacher became distraught when she was identified as the one who would have to leave the school. At the same time, we had gained a unit in Kindergarten, but she didn’t have certification in that area so she couldn’t be assigned that class.
My major in college was Elementary Education, but I had also specialized in Early Childhood Education which meant I could teach Kindergarten. So I offered to take the new Kindergarten unit which would allow her to slide into my fourth grade position. Everyone was agreeable and thus began another new phase in my professional life.
Still located on the school’s campus was the original one room school house left over from bygone days. That became the new Kindergarten room. It truly was one room, all wooden – walls and floor, tons of windows on both sides and a real pot bellied stove that was used in the winter. I was immediately charmed by my new environment and began to create interest areas for the children. We had the usual housekeeping area, block area, art area, book area and manipulative area.
My teammate, Linda Barrington who was housed in the modern Kindergarten room across the way was delightful and helpful. The aide, Gail Freeman who was assigned to me was terrific with the children and with me. I was in Kindergarten heaven! I had found an age that was innocent and enthusiastic about everything! They were delightful. Their learning styles were intriguing and certainly combined the visual, auditory and kinesthetic areas.
Yvonne McKitrick, the Kindergarten Supervisor for the district at the time, came for a visit my first week with the children. She gave me the “atta boy, you’ll be fine!” approval and off we went for a personally rewarding year.
Note the letter people on the wall. We later received the inflated huggable ones.
The original Letter People Program purchased from AlphaTime was used to teach letter and sound recognition. The idea for each letter person was that each had a unique characteristic that acted as a memory device for the sound of that letter such as Mr. T had tall teeth. The consonants were male characters and the vowels were female. The district initially purchased the larger life-size huggable characters. In later years depending upon the budget available, some of the units used the smaller 14 inch inflatable characters. I also remember the music that was used with each letter person was catchy and memorable.
I wasn’t teaching Kindergarten in 1990 when The Letter People had their appearance revised by the new company that had purchased the rights to them. Junk food was no longer part of the letter people nor were any negative images such as Mister X being All Wrong.
Budget issues kept the kindergarten classes to half of a day in that district. One group would come into class in the morning and leave at noon to have lunch at home while another group of children would come in for the same experiences in the afternoon session. In that way we were able to offer twice the number of children a Kindergarten experience using the same district resources and budget – one room, one teacher and aide, one unit of materials, 28 children in the morning and another 28 in the afternoon.
I was living next to the University of South Florida then so it seemed like a good idea to get more training. I began my Master’s program in Early Childhood Education which would include from birth through third grade. I worked full time during the school year and in the academic program of the summer while going to school at night taking one then two classes per semester until I had earned enough credits to sit for my comprehensive exam. It took five years to get there, but I did. Since a secondary specialty was required, I also began to work on certification in Administration and Supervision. I achieved that later in the stay at home years.
The following school year in 1976, a part of our population would move to a new school to be named Bertha McDonald Elementary. One kindergarten unit from Mango was scheduled to go there. The other Kindergarten teacher had been at Mango for some time and wanted to stay. So, what’s to lose?
At the end of the school year, we packed up the unit and started on another adventure!
Bertha McDonald Elementary 1976-1980
Before the brand new school opened and was dedicated in 1976, units from surrounding schools were sent to McDonald. Mango Elementary sent my Kindergarten unit. The whole building was huge, able to house around 900 children. Using 10 school buses, some on double-runs, all but 20 of the students were bused into the school. The cost was $1,250,000 in those times. Mrs. Phyllis Specht was our principal.
Norma Marsh was later named Hillsborough County’s teacher of the year in 1990. I was fortunate to work with many talented people over my career.
The brand new school building was open concept with no walls or curtains between classes in grades 1-3 and grades 4-6. In the center of the building between real walls was the office area, library, art and music rooms, cafeteria with dining tables and inside activity space used for rainy day physical education when needed. The teachers’ lounge, telephone and mail area was also included in that central area. Those were the days when smoking was allowed on campus and the lounge available for that activity.
Darla Allen, the instruction aide, and I set up our unit in a two classroom area with a wet/dry activity area in the center and heavy blue plastic curtains that could be closed to separate Kindergarten from the open primary pod.
Mrs. Specht, principal, on the left. Mrs. Specht is receiving
an ‘end of the year dinner’ lei from Norma Marsh.
Aide, Darla Allen, student, Mr. F and myself on my classroom side.
Aide, Patsy Swint and Supervisor, Yvonne McKitrick in activity area.
Mrs. McKitrick was the supervisor that visited Mango Elementary when I first started teaching Kindergarten and here she was checking out the new school and the new team. Mrs. McKitrick was terrific. She knew both my team-mate and I to have fairly strong personalities. I remember her saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Mrs. McKitrick was witty and lots of fun to be around. We’ve kept in touch to this day.
Yvonne McKitrick established the Kindergarten Program in Hillsborough County. After she retired, she served on the Hillsborough County school board. There was a school opened in 2001 named after her that serves PreK-5 and is one of the few public schools in Florida to have received a distinguished Great Schools Rating of 10 out of 10.
At McDonald Elementary waist high shelving units formed the classroom space/boundaries. Carpet and acoustical ceiling tiles helped with softening sound from room to room. We had central air conditioning also! Yeah, I’m still traumatized from my first assignment with a big fan and lots of hot Florida air and dust coming through the open windows! Hurray for the bond issue that air conditioned the district’s schools.
The teaching areas were surprisingly quiet and busy with children remaining focused upon their own classroom activities. The areas sort of hummed. When the kindergarten classes walked through the area on our way to the cafeteria, we seldom saw a student glance our way.
The openness did encourage teaming and the coordination of quiet work with more active work assignments. In the center of both the primary and intermediate areas was a walled off rectangular area making up the teachers’ office areas and work space. A lot of coordination and planning took place in that common area.
In the Kindergarten area my room hugged one wall and my team mate’s room hugged the opposite wall. The door in the back wall lead to the primary open classroom area.
The two Kindergarten classes coordinated the activities that were planned for the activity area between the two rooms. Each class had a full time aide. Each class had a morning session of around 28 children and a repeat of that in the afternoon session with almost all of the children arriving by bus.
At first, we used the central wet/dry activity area for our everyday housekeeping and painting areas while using the carpeted areas for library, puzzles, blocks and manipulatives. The tables worked for adult directed small group and craft activities.
As the years went by we tried different arrangements in the classroom space. We ended with preferring the blocks and housekeeping to be on the carpeted area while art, crafts and cooking activities worked well in the central tiled area.
There was a kitchen with real life appliances to share in the center also. There was also a child-sized restroom in each side of the Kindergarten area behind the kitchen area in the shared tiled center.
During two of the years, the enrollment exceeded the then class size of 28. We gained a morning session in those years. One of those times included a Kindergarten teacher with her guitar. We had a great time that year when we combined the three morning classes and she strummed that guitar! The other time we had three morning units, I was the part-timer working the morning session having returned from a maternity and child care leave.
During the years that I was at McDonald, I enjoyed a terrific teaching situation with lots of interesting and talented teachers. I earned my Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education (after five long years of night classes) while I taught there.
My roommate and car pool of three years was a sixth grade teacher at McDonald. She moved to her own apartment the summer that I studied for my comprehensive exam for the Masters. It was a good move for her because she ended up dropping her garbage on the foot of a man that later became her husband. Strange, but true. That was over 38 years ago. I also married while teaching at McDonald. The 1979 marriage came with a cruise. Our marriage has lasted 37 years so far, but I have yet to see another cruise. Must have been traumatic for him!? (Last updated: 1/2017)
During the McDonald years we did welcome a new son, Jared into our family. After maternity and childcare leave, I worked six weeks as the morning part-time Kindergarten teacher. When our house and business sold within a short time of each other, we moved across the bay to a new county and I resigned my position. I spent the next 8 years as a stay-at-home mom looking at education from the other side of the fence.
Stay-At-Home Mom - FL Gulf Coast! 1980-1990
We always said that we would like to retire to the beach and then began to wonder why we were waiting. We put a deposit on a beach condo in its preconstruction phase before we were married. After we married, we bought a house five minutes from my husband’s business and fairly close to my school. We went about our lives while the condo building was going up which would be about a two year process. During that wait time, our son, Jared was born in 1980.
I used all of the available maternity leave and child care leave with him. When the leave was up Jared was a toddler and I did go back to work at Bertha McDonald Elementary in Kindergarten for the half-day session. Best laid plans…that lasted for only six weeks. They were indeed long draining weeks. Teaching is draining in itself and one needs a bit of recovery time. Toddlers don’t believe in that. There’s too much to do to watch Mom sit around and breathe. Hey, let’s get Mom to play!
After about six weeks, several situations occurred at the same time. I found myself without a reliable baby sitter since I wanted home-care for him and both the house and my husband’s business sold within weeks of each other.
We had been staying at the beach condo every weekend for a while now and it looked like it would soon be our permanent home. That put me about 40 miles from my school – too far for me on a daily basis now that I was a mom. In 1982 I resigned from my district to move across the bay to be a stay-at-home mom.
The move turned out to be an excellent idea. The condo was wonderful for us for over ten years until my second son (Jason, born in 1984) grew and the two guys together accumulated all that boy stuff. We started looking for a house and found one in 1991 less than a mile from the condo overlooking an inlet on the intercoastal and just across the street from the gulf. The house’s best feature, other than a bedroom for each boy, was a porch just perfect for several rocking chairs. Sunrise over the water and a breath of that salt air would cure anything.
During the stay at home years, I practiced my early childhood skills on the boys trying to provide the toys, play experiences, and mini-fieldtrips that would encourage their development. I wrote lesson plans in my head. How weird is that? There were also piles of books and reading every day. I never appreciated the quiet attention and stillness of children who are into a good story until I had my own for 24/7. I could read forever, I couldn’t keep up with them indefinitely!
Jared & Jason
We read – a lot!
As my older son, Jared, started school, I was available to drive and chaperone field trips, volunteer at school, type for the school’s newspaper and help with fund raising events.
Looking at the classroom from the parent’s point of view is interesting. Wanting your child to have a good experience puts you a bit at the mercy of the teacher. How to balance helping out without being a pain – certainly didn’t want any internal eye rolling going on. I also began to see how much influence and power each teacher holds. Things one might say and not think about twice would be the very thing that the child took to heart, repeated or followed faithfully.
A teacher in Florida must take courses or their equivalent of in-service class hours while working in order to renew the teaching certificate from the state every five years. I didn’t want mine to expire since I intended to eventually return to work. During those stay at home years I took courses in Educational Leadership for renewal purposes. I almost made it to a double master’s before the baby sitting problem raised its head again – this time with two children involved. I had a Masters in Early Childhood and I was two courses away from one in Educational Leadership. I never made the other Master’s degree, but I did obtain certification in Administration and Supervision from the state. That background helped later on in roles such as team leader and in the supervision of interns.
Strangely enough, school finance and school law were my favorite areas. I can’t explain it. Decades later, one son became an attorney and the other a certified public accountant. Strange? Maybe not. Who knows how things work?
The Private Preschool 1990
I had just spent eight years as a stay-at-home mom. The last year that my youngest son, Jason, was in a Montessori preschool, I had an opportunity to open a PreKindergarten Early Intervention class in a private school setting. I would be working with public school grant money and supervision while housed in a privately owned preschool site – kind of a foot in both worlds – public and private.
This is an ‘it’s a small world’ story within my own. Both of my sons had attended the same Montessori preschool. Jared, being four years older than Jason, was now in an elementary school while Jason was attending the preschool. Susan Heaton had worked in that preschool with the older son, but was no longer there at Jason’s time. As I was interviewing for the private PreK job and touring the school, I heard a voice that I recognized. There was Mrs. Heaton! She was now teaching preschool at the new site. We were again traveling in the same ‘circle’. (After I left, we would once again find ourselves traveling similar paths, but that’s part of another story.)
I did get the job at the private Preschool and teamed with another certified teacher as we set up and taught the PreKindergarten Early Intervention class according to the High/Scope program as indicated in the district’s grant request.
I loved the space. The corner room was full of windows and lots of natural light. It was air conditioned! (I do seem to be fixated on that comfort. Early experiences do indeed leave their mark.) The room was soon filled with furniture, materials and manipulatives. Teaching young children involves the same challenges and excitement no matter where they attend school and we were excited to get started.
The grant also provided a resource teacher who worked with several sites that kept us both true to the grant and learning about and implementing the High/Scope program.
There was also a home/school coordinator to work with parents in early childhood enrichment activities and appropriate child development expectations and goals.
The differences in working in a private site rather than a public school were several. The school was open every day with the exception of the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving weekend, Christmas and New Year’s. If it was open, you worked. I was only paid for the hours that I worked. There were no sick days and no vacation time for me. There was an insurance plan available for the other employees.
The teachers there had taken county child care classes and did hold that certificate. They were dedicated and talented teachers. However, most of the instructors were not certified teachers or graduates from a teaching college. Even though I held a Master’s in Early Childhood, ten years of experience in a public elementary school, certification by the state of Florida, I was still required to take the county child care classes in order to work in the private school.
One had multiple bosses – the owner, of course, the head teacher in charge of the preschool on a daily basis, the supervisor of the grant at the public school district level and to a degree the resource teacher and home/school coordinator who were semi-‘the-boss-of-you’ in order to insure that the grant specifications were being met.
Another difference was that planning time was only available after the children left and went into a regular day care class until they could be picked up by their parents, so that meant that planning time was unpaid. During the hours of 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. you and the children were together. We were given a half hour duty free lunch break because we could alternate since two people were assigned to the PreKindergarten Early Intervention class and you could use a small storage room to eat in private. Substitutes were not available. When someone was out, classes were combined. In our case, even though two adults were being paid for by the grant, when one was out, the other took over everything.
The salary for the teacher was set by the grant as a minimum salary. The difference was that at a private site the minimum salary was divided by 260 days and then that was broken down into an hourly wage. In public school the salary was for a ten month period of school days or 198 days of duty – quite a difference for the same teaching job.
After about 8 months on the job, the private school’s owner asked me to allow a teacher from another of her sites to shadow me for several days in order to learn about the program. Silly me! I naively thought that she was going to expand and open another PreK E. I. No, I was actually training my replacement. At the exit interview, I was told that I was just too expensive and she couldn’t afford to keep me. The other teacher would work for less. That was a lesson in business and the profit line. It was also a lesson in a system without an appeal process or even due process. No process here – just “Your last day will be ___.”
It’s a world of survival of the fittest in the private sector. My hat is off to all!
Campbell Park Elementary 1990-2002
The Second Decade of Teaching (St. Petersburg, FL)
Over the years many changes have come to the field of education, some by way of law, some by way of experience and insight, some by the influence of trainers, and some in the name of hope. One of those changes in my state came by way of law. About twenty years ago, as ordered by the Court, our district undertook a busing rotation to integrate schools in the name of equal education and resources for all. At the time, I was teaching at an elementary school in the heart of an economically deprived area that rotated the student body every two years. Some of the children from the neighborhood remained at the school while other neighborhoods took turns coming to our school on buses – many buses – every two years. Seldom did a teacher see a child outside of the immediate neighborhood ‘grow up’ in this school.
As frequently as the children rotated, the staff did not. The integrated staff loved the quaint school and most stayed for an entire career retiring from the same place from which they started. It was a school of two levels with inside carpeted open walkways on both floors and walls of windows from waist level to the ceiling looking both to the inside and outside of the school. Cute motivational flags hung beside each door. You could walk down the hallway and be part of each classroom’s activities just by looking in the windows. Once in a while, as the students went to class in the morning, a teacher would hang over the railing blowing bubbles that brought smiles to early morning faces.
In addition to the front door, doors in the side walls connected each classroom to the other. The administrator could drift from room to room along the back wall and never draw the students’ attention or disrupt the momentum of the lesson. The side doors were convenient for a quiet word between teachers or for exchanging or combining students for different activities during the day.
Welcome to Pre-Kindergarten!
I taught in the Pre-kindergarten Early Intervention Program housed in the elementary school from 1990-1998 using the High/Scope Program of Key Experiences. These Key Experiences included: Initiative and Social Relations, Creative Representation, Language and Literacy, Classification, Seriation, Number, Space, Time, Science, Social Studies, Movement and Music.
To qualify for this program the children had to be economically or developmentally disadvantaged. The High/Scope Program was a structured program consisting of blocks of time used for an opening activity, circle time, planning, work time and clean-up, recall, small group, literature and evaluation at the end of the day. It included recess in the morning, physical education with a certified instructor in the afternoon, breakfast, lunch and snack, and nap time at the appropriate times during the school day. The program was based upon an active learning premise that included materials, manipulation, choices, and language from the children and support from the adults.
At the beginning of the year, the children were usually nonreaders so a symbol was cut from the Ellison machine for each child. The symbol that the child chose represented his/her name. Work papers were labeled with the child’s name and symbol. Materials and cubby locations could easily be found. Pictures indicated where materials and manipulatives were to be replaced on the shelves during clean-up time. There was a multitude of materials for exploration, for housekeeping, block building, and for the art areas.
Each class of 16 children had a paraprofessional working with a certified early childhood teacher. Also available for a group of schools was a home-school coordinator who worked with the parents and one of two resource teachers who worked with the classroom teachers to maintain the structure, set up and procedures of the grant.
The class of 16 would be divided between two tables with the teacher and paraprofessional rotating groups during the day. Small group was a skill practice, exploration or craft activity. The paraprofessional’s job was to mimic the lesson with his/her group. The teacher and paraprofessional planned together and shared common goals for the children.
During the work time, students were sometimes observed with the key experiences in mind. Observations were recorded on labels and later placed on the child’s form that tracked his/her progress toward the program’s objectives.
Planning before play consisted of a quick skill practice followed by each child stating what center they would like to begin with and what they would like to do there. Giving some thought to the activity in the beginning brought an orderly release of children with plans to begin exploration at the centers. Having a previous plan allowed students to focus and begin the activity without flying from place to place.
The child’s symbol would be cut from plastic folders for durability. In the background of the photo, there is a blue planning board. The child hung his symbol on the clothespins when he/she was at that center. The symbol moved with the child when and if he/she wished to change centers.
Each child has his/her symbol on a chair that was placed at one of the two tables each day so that the child knew where he/she belonged when asked to go to his seat. The cots, cubbies, and folders of work were also labeled with the child’s symbol.
The strange colored design on the board in the background was a five day check-in system for the morning. As the child arrived, he took a small star out of the cup and placed it on the open star that corresponded with the day of the week. On the top were the symbols for the children so that each child had a column. Attendance taken!
We took the children on several field trips during each school year. Hands on Museums, aquariums, Seabird Sanctuary, the Science Center, the Fire Station, a farm and the Children’s Hospital were a few of the place that we visited. We also asked guest speakers to come in. Officer Smith is relaying safety information with her character puppet who the children are convinced is alive.
Around 1993 we also became involved with the Even Start Program which combined the current High/Scope Pre-K program for children with an adult education component working toward their G.E.D. (General Equivalency Diploma) for the parents. The parents of some of our children attended class with an adult education teacher on our elementary campus during the school day.
At a designated time of the day during the children’s work time, now called PACT (Parent and Child Together) time, the parents came in to interact and role play with their child. The adult education teacher, Pre-K teacher and the paraprofessional were also involved to model and point out the skills that the children were demonstrating within their play.
Afterward, the adult education teacher would draw observations and lessons for the parents centered on appropriate early childhood development, experiences and expectations. After several years, the adult education component was moved to a more central site and another Pre-K used for the parent/child time together.
We were an established PreK early intervention class with a few years of experience under our belts when the University of South Florida, Bayboro Campus, began to use us to provide several of their interns with an early childhood field experience in 1997. As one of the cooperating teachers, it was an enriching experience working with these young teachers in training. They were talented individuals while in college and have been an asset to their districts in the years since their graduation.
After teaching 8 years in Pre-kindergarten and serving as the team leader, I looked to go back to teaching the grades as a personal challenge to myself. An opportunity opened in second grade and I asked to be considered for that position in 1998. I taught second grade at Campbell Park for the next three years.
The first of three second grade classes at Campbell Park…
The new team and curriculum provided a fresh incentive to explore other ideas and teaching techniques. Second grade was still early childhood, but that age level required a different focus and academic planning. Those changes kept me growing professionally. I also served as team leader for second grade and the instructional partner for the English as a Second Language (ESOL) classes.
During several of these years I was the Primary network trainer for math, science, social studies and health and the Intermediate network trainer for language arts. In this way I had access to the current trends that the district was emphasizing and a responsibility to bring back that information to the staff at school in curriculum workshops.
My years at Campbell Park also included district level representation. I served as the school’s representative for the superintendent’s area teacher meetings for increased communication. In addition, I was the school’s representative to the teachers union meetings. I was also chosen to work on a year-long district committee for mathematics and was a member of our school’s team for the implementation of the district level classroom learning system.
These were years of a growing perspective on my part that included a broader base outside of the issues in the elementary classroom. I learned to think of how a decision might affect all levels of the educational system Pre-K through 12. After taking a summer long course called Educators in Industry, I realized how important each level is to the other and to the business world, as each level builds upon and depends on the previous level(s). We tend to see and stress over our own small part of this structure. Even at my own level it was always interesting and eye-opening to see how different schools approached similar problems.
After three years in second grade, an opening in 5th grade language arts/science was available and I began that adventure in 2001.
It was another special year.
After thirty years of busing, the community agreed to go back to neighborhood schools due to the hardship that busing placed on minority children and their families. In addition, busing was thought to discourage parent participation and support in their child’s schools due to distance and transportation issues. The Court loosened its hold and the district began to plan the changes. New large themed/attractor schools and magnet/specialty schools with top of the line facilities, computers and materials were planned and later built in difficult to integrate neighborhood schools.
In the beginning of this process, my school chose its specialty (marine science with an affiliation with and support of a nearby university). This specialty required over 200 hours of additional training during after school hours, week-ends and summers in preparation for the program. We would later write massive amounts of new curriculum based upon the theme. We had agreed as a staff to pursue that.
The quaint school itself would be torn down and replaced. I liked quaint, but there were advantages to new and improved. I loved marine science and had enjoyed the training that I had taken. But before the school that I loved disappeared into a rubble of bricks and dust to make way for the new, I was offered a job at a small quaint red brick school about 3 miles from my house instead of the 23 miles I had been driving for 12 years. I decided to go back to second grade, a new team, and a new principal, but that’s another story.
Anona Elementary 2002-2011
For twelve years I passed a quaint red brick school, set in a tree filled park like setting, on the way to work at Campbell Park Elementary in St. Petersburg, Florida. When Campbell Park was scheduled to be torn down and replaced by a marine magnet school, I decided to interview for a possible transfer. The new to me school was actually the oldest in the district celebrating close to one hundred years as an established school. It was also a ten minute drive from home. Wouldn’t that be dandy!
The interview went well with Principal, Greg Walker. I had the background experience, the degrees, the recommendations and then we discussed student achievement data. I think it was the computerized graphs and the data that got the principal’s interest. After the interview, I got a walking tour of the school and a promise to get back to me. He did. The job offered was a second grade in a nice building. Yes! Let’s do this. Back to second grade.
The year went well with a supportive teaching team, a good class and three parents that were willing to adopt the class at $150 each which made a really nice budget for supplies and materials. The classroom also came with a good supply of materials and leveled books, computers and equipment.
It was a great experience in many respects. It was my first experience with a strong community of parent volunteers. It was also my first experience with the parent grapevine where comments and opinions were shared at various opportunities like baseball games, the grocery store, church functions and play dates. Whatever happened – good or not so good – was known by all.
I was part of a ‘small town’ dynamic. It was different. One teacher was compared to another. Assignments and methods were questioned. What was said to one parent would be known by others. You really had to be consistent, confidential and good natured. I would think of Grandma’s “Watch your Ps and Qs.” I also thought of the Stepford Wives where everyone was so perfect. I wasn’t sure in the beginning if I would fit there. Where was the occasional goof or the divergent opinion? Would there be a place for quirky? As I was to find out in the years ahead, the answers to those questions were: yes, no and maybe, but don’t do it again. You know, there’s a certain amount of leeway in, “Ohhhh, I didn’t know.” You just have to use it sparingly.
In my second grade room, the acoustical tiles must have been older than I and I was old by that time. I talked maintenance into painting them when they painted my room that summer. Stupid me! The room was pristine, but the acoustical tiles no longer worked to absorb sound but rather reflected it, sort of like an empty room would. Luckily, the district maintenance team was replacing ceilings the next year so the torture only lasted for a year. The worst part was that it wasn’t my torture because the principal had called that summer and reassigned me. The third grade teacher and I were to trade teaching assignments the next year and we reported to each other’s room. He was stuck with my echoing ceiling for that year. I owed him.
That year was the second year of the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) and the second year that the other two team members would be together. I went from second grade – La Te Da to third grade – OMG! The intensity, the focus on this test, the paperwork required to document the students’ progress was heavy. The hours both at school and at home increased.
The parents were concerned, some tense, some desperate. No one wanted their child to be retained by this test. It took a while to become accustomed to the scrutiny by the parents, the curriculum specialist and the principal on a near daily basis. It was easier to just leave the classroom door open!
In retrospect we turned out to be a strong cohesive team. We were our own TeachersPayTeachers, but without the monetary reward. We planned together, wrote curriculum together, trained academically together with in-service after school hours and on Saturdays, analyzed data together and regrouped together. We were usually very successful against that test – seldom losing a student to retention each year. Some years all students passed including the ones mainstreamed from ESE classes (Exceptional Student Education). Not bad as related to the whole district, but still traumatic for the families involved.
Even with all of the pressure of the test, we did what was best for children. We took field trips. We had active student focused science lessons. We played math games and we read books that we loved. Every year third grade had a team in the school’s participation in the Battle of the Books. Children read 15 books chosen for that year and answer questions as a team about the books. The team with the most points for correct answers out of grades 3, 4, and 5 go on the district contest. Our school won the district contest more than once.
The school was fenced for security. My classroom was in a two room wing in line with the library. Outside the classroom door was a wonderful grassy area under shade trees fenced from the road and parking spaces – our own private mini-park. On numerous days in spring and fall we would take mats outside and read under those trees after lunch. Sometimes we would have an entire lesson out there or complete a messy activity outside.
Inside, the room had a computer area, a large group teaching area, a reading area, small group tables and another teaching area using the whiteboard, overhead projector or computer projection equipment
My class used the library computers once a week to work on FCAT Explorer, a reading comprehension program, and also to read and complete activities in the science area.
The advances in technology and the availability of the equipment and the programs for the classroom provide an important avenue for meeting the demands of differentiating instruction. Whether used to support a struggling student, enrich an on-level student or challenge an above-level student, it is an invaluable tool for the teacher.
The principal that approved my transfer was Greg Walker. After I had been there for a couple of years, he was offered a district level position for which he was well suited. His successor, Marsha Jordan, had been the principal of Anona for five years when she retired and a ‘new to us’ principal, Gaye Lively, transferred to Anona in June of 2010.
Here I was in my sunset years and this would be the third time that I had lost my identity! Each time one transfers or a new principal comes in, things change – leadership roles change, expectations may change, procedures change and then there are the growing pains between the administration and the staff. Ack! Within a ten year span we had three principals, all glad to be at Anona. Each had different strengths and styles, but all were academically focused. All in all, we were a fortunate staff.
During my time at Anona I also served outside of my classroom duties. For a time I was the team leader. When a younger team mate earned her Master’s of Educational Leadership degree, we voted her our ‘leader’. I was the school’s representative for the Teachers’ Union meetings. I was also the cooperating teacher for two interns, one from St. Pete College and the other from the University of South Florida. I had enjoyed that aspect of training and working with future teachers at Campbell Park and enjoyed the challenge here at Anona. All in all, 13 interns worked in my classroom during the last half of my career. Good memories!
First Year at Anona
Last Year at Anona
Every year another picture for the identification tag is taken. As much as you don’t like the current year’s picture, I guarantee you’ll appreciate it more and more the older it gets. You’ll wonder why you even complained.
After more than 30 years in the classroom and more than 40 years since I took my first teaching job, I said good-bye to these fine folks of Anona in June of 2011 and set off on a new adventure called Retirement! I enjoyed every minute with them and I do miss them even as I love my retirement days.
Retirement 2011-Present Day
I renewed my certificate one last time. Just in case! I am certified to teach in Florida until 2017. It’s always hard to let go.
Maybe you never really do let go.
Husband Joe and myself – both retired.