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Teacher Association President Interviews

President of the Delaware State Education Association, Frederika Jenner
President of the Alabama Conference of Educators, Marla Vaughn
President of the Arkansas Chapter of the American Association of Teachers of French, Sue Mistric
President of the Hawaii Association of Language Teachers, Satoru Shinagawa

Interview with Frederika Jenner, President of DSEA

Frederika Jenner, President of the Delaware State Education Association (DSEA), kindly took the time to interview with us about her past experiences and advice for educators at all levels. Mrs. Jenner discussed some of the biggest challenges facing educators today and her suggestions for solutions, and also shared with us how she followed the path from being an educator to becoming a leader not just in her school, but in the statewide DSEA.

Can you tell us why you decided to go into education and how you got started?

I went to a college that had a lab school on campus for pre-K and K students. I took a class my sophomore year (1969-70) focused on how young children learn. I was fascinated by the interactions among the children and between the teachers and students. I had never wanted to be a teacher before that time.

How did you decide on concentrating in instruction for your master’s degree?

The University of Delaware had a master’s program that focused on instruction rather than on a particular subject area. Elementary teachers are responsible for instruction in math, reading, English, writing, spelling, handwriting, social studies, science, bicycle safety, and head lice—every subject under the sun. I felt that this course of study would be more productive and helpful to me in enhancing my classroom instruction and enriching my classroom. So, I have a Master’s of Instruction degree.

What do you feel are one or two of the biggest challenges facing new educators today, and do you have any advice for overcoming these?

Challenges: Teacher preparation that truly prepares one for the cultural diversity of many of our classrooms; classroom management of reluctant and resistant learners; the reality of childhood poverty as it plays out in our classrooms and schools.

Advice: Provide as much time as possible for pre-service teachers to observe in and work in a variety of classrooms with time to interact with teachers; provide specific training in methods of classroom management, with opportunities to try out practices modeled in training and to come back together for troubleshooting and reflection on the experience; provide specific background on the effects of childhood poverty.

The development of a BIG TOOLBOX—a wide repertoire and deep understanding of practices/skills/strategies that can be employed as one moves through instruction each period or each day. Instruction is complicated—even more now than it ever was before. It may look like anyone can do it, but there is a complexity to effective instruction of classes of 25-30 kids that is difficult to imagine until you are out there in front of the class. There is nothing quite like flopping in front of a crowd of discontented 6th graders!

Throughout your career you have held many leadership positions, beginning with the Red Clay Education Association, an affiliate of the Delaware State Education Association (DSEA), of which you are now President. How have your career and educational background led you to where you are today?

What an interesting question. Here is how I expressed this on my blog: http://doesexperiencecount.wordpress.com/a-bit-about-frederika/

I have always been comfortable in a leadership position. A little bit in high school; more in college. I am a joiner. I have to be careful to not take on too much. I have had to learn to say “no.” I am politely outspoken—I do not hesitate to speak up or to ask questions. If there is a job that needs doing, I will do it. I expect that it will be done right. I am also driven by the need to be well-informed—to not be one of the last to know.

I have consistently been regarded as a leader at school. People come to me for advice on how to teach something or to resolve a problem with a student or parent. I was always allowed to assume a school leadership position by my colleagues and by the administration—which is not always the case.

I never wanted to become an administrator—to go to the dark side, as my colleagues would say. I always wanted to stay as a teacher. I do believe that this dedication to kids and other teachers/educators has been a big help to my union activism.

I am a capable writer and can speak in front of crowds with little nervousness—this really helps. I learned how to do this when I took a class in folklore and storytelling as part of my master’s degree work. Before that, I was a nervous wreck.

What are some of the benefits of joining a professional educator’s union like DSEA for a new teacher?

I joined my local teacher union right away—without hesitation. I grew up in the 60’s, graduating from college in 1972. I knew that joining was important—the thing to do. Everyone in my little school was a member. It provided a sense of belonging and camaraderie. Union membership allowed one to be better informed, gave a sense of protection and comfort, and gave anyone who chose to speak up a voice as an individual and an ever-present voice as a member of the union.

Read about how to become a teacher in Delaware.

Interview with Marla Vaughn, President of the Alabama Conference of Educators

Marla Vaughn, President of the Alabama Conference of Educators (ACoE), recently was kind enough to spend some of her time answering questions that we had for her as an educator. She shared with us what it’s like to be a teacher in an active and involved classroom, as well as a few tips for success.

Can you tell us why you decided to go into the education field and how you got started?

I decided in kindergarten that I wanted to be a teacher, due to the profound impact of my teacher. I began learning about children and teaching at a very young age. I volunteered in my church nursery and children’s classes; I worked camps; and I babysat. In high school I participated in SAFE—Student Action for Education—student teaching days. I spent two days during each of my junior and senior years in high school in a kindergarten classroom. I was hooked! I knew I wanted to teach for the rest of my life. I sincerely believe I was called by God to be a teacher.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Although our daily schedule consists of reading, math, lunch, recess, P.E., specials (art, music, computer lab, library, guidance), language arts and writing, character education, social studies and science, I am not sure there is a “typical” day in teaching—that’s the beauty of it! I have my plans and teaching outcomes to meet daily but I never know what “teachable moments” will arise. Sometimes the path I have planned to meet an objective is altered by my students, the questions they ask, statements they make and discussions we have. We still accomplish our goal and meet our objective, but it may be in a different way than I anticipated. There are also situations that come up that have nothing to do with education—a student is hungry because he/she was not able to eat at home, an accident happens and a student is hurt, severe weather is looming and students are worried and scared, just to name a few—which force me to wear many different hats and make numerous on-the-spot decisions. However there is one “typical” element each day, giving lots of TLC—Tender Loving Care.

What aspects of teaching do you enjoy the most?

At the risk of sounding cliché, my favorite thing about teaching is my kids! That’s why I became a teacher—because I love kids. I also love teaching! I love teaching my kids and watching them grow and learn. It is so fun and rewarding to see the proverbial “light bulb” come on when they learn something new. It is exciting to see them teach each other when they are struggling to understand something. Sometimes they can communicate with one another better than I can.

I also love teaching others how to teach. I enjoy presenting at conferences, hosting student teachers and being involved in other things that impact education.

What technology tools do you find most effective for helping your students learn in the classroom?

We love our interactive white board and all the fun “toys” that we have to go with it! We use these tools daily for group instruction and my kids use them during independent or small group work times. We also use computers daily for practicing skills we are learning. I hope to get classroom clickers in the near future to enhance our learning even further. Clickers allow students to be engaged and teachers to identify students who are struggling with specific skills and concepts.

How do you recommend new teachers stay immersed in their subjects after earning their degrees?

I recommend furthering one’s education by going on to earn additional degrees, participating in Professional Learning Communities and other types of professional development. I look for professional development opportunities in my own system as well as opportunities from other reputable organizations. Collaborating with colleagues is invaluable. Hearing what my fellow teachers are doing in their classrooms challenges me to be the best teacher I can be and do what’s best for my students.

How did your career path lead you to your current position as President of ACoE?

When I got into public education I knew I did not want to be part of a teacher union because my beliefs are so different from theirs. A teacher at my first school took me under her wing and mentored me and introduced me to ACoE. As I researched ACoE, I found many teachers I admired and respected were members, which spoke volumes to me. The following year I expressed interest in becoming more involved as opportunities arose. Within a few months I was asked to serve as a board member and later to serve as my system’s representative. I believe in what ACoE stands for and how we support teachers and students. I am honored and humbled to be serving as President and strive daily to uphold the integrity of ACoE and myself and do what’s best for children.

Do you have any advice to share with aspiring educators?

Simply I would say, follow your heart! If teaching and working with children is truly what you want to do, stick with it no matter what others may say or think. Currently there is a very bleak outlook on education but rest assured there are sound educators working on behalf of children and teachers both in and out of the classroom. I cannot think of a more rewarding calling one could have—to impact the lives of young people. Find a teacher whom you respect, look up to and ask her/him to mentor you. Spend time with that individual and soak up all you can—observe, ask questions, begin to develop your pedagogy. Stay the course and finish strong. Years later when your students come back to thank you—and they will—you will receive your reward!

We extend our sincere thanks to President Vaughn for sharing her thoughts and experiences with us.

Learn about becoming a teacher in Alabama

Interview with Sue Mistric, President of the Arkansas Chapter of the American Association of Teachers of French

arkansas teacherWe recently had the good fortune to interview Madame Sue Mistric, Prof de français, Mount St. Mary Academy, Little Rock, Arkansas, and President of the Arkansas Chapter of the American Association of Teachers of French. The 2012-2013 school year is Mme Mistric’s 40th year of teaching high school, with five years teaching public school and thirty-five years teaching in a private school setting. We’re glad she was willing to share her knowledge and experience with us!

Would you share with us your reasons for becoming a teacher?
I believe teaching is a calling, not merely a profession. True professional educators see their jobs as fulfilling their life’s mission, not something to do to fill up the time and earn a paycheck.

Which aspects of your undergraduate education helped you the most in preparing for a career as a teacher?
Knowledge of the material I planned to teach, plus Foreign Language Teaching Methods Classes.

What is something that you learned from experience in your career that you wish you knew when you started?
That it takes THREE YEARS to “get a grip” when starting something new: a new school, a new preparation, a new textbook. And that the teacher usually learns more than the students.

What is something you wish every new teacher knew?
The importance of professional educator associations for networking, fresh ideas, professional sharing, and professional growth. The dues to pay and registration fees are worth every penny and burn-out is avoided.

Can you describe what a typical school day looks like for you?
We are an A Day/B Day school: periods 1 through 4 of 90 minute classes on A Days, periods 5 through 8 of 90 minute classes on B Days – so I am going to describe one of each, plus talk about my extra-curricular responsibilities.

Leave home no later than 7:15, preferably earlier. Arrive at school, park, enter, and clock in. Go check mailbox if time. Leave lunch in teachers’ room fridge. Any tests/quizzes/handouts prepared the night before that need to be run off I leave with the run-off secretary. Get upstairs to my classroom (I don’t have to travel from room to room!), secure my purse and jacket. Unpack my book bag and boot up the computer to be ready for 8:00 a.m. class. I usually have everything ready for the morning in my classroom the night before: handouts, assignments posted, teaching materials available, CDs or DVDs lined out, seating chart attendance notebook on the correct page, computer needs listed.

7:55 is first bell, and as the kids start coming in I greet them. 8:00 is 2nd bell, and I note attendance to be aware of any tardies. Stand for the opening prayer (we are a private Catholic school), pledge, and be seated for announcements. Send in electronic attendance report and start class with prayer requests from students and prayer in French. Return any graded materials, do assigned lesson, take up required material, secure next assignment is known. We work the entire 90 minutes.

DAILY GOAL: every student speaks French every day.

Period 1 lasts till 9:30. I try to stop class by 9:28 so they can pack up and be ready to leave on time. Have 4 minute passing time, 2nd period arrives. Repeat greetings, e-attendance, class prayer, and lessons of the day. Period 2 ends at 11:04.

At 11:10 HOMEROOM starts with announcements and class business by the class officer while I do e-attendance. At 11:15 we have “SCHOOL TV”–recorded announcements/school business for about 4 to 7 minutes. Barring any further homeroom business, kids have quiet study time during which they are encouraged to use flash drives to back up the morning classes’ materials. Kids are expected to remain seated and work quietly till homeroom is over at 11:37.

My lunch is next, so I have till 12:10 (33 minutes) to lock up, pass through the restroom, get a drink of water, get down to the teachers’ room, check my mailbox, and eat lunch. If I was able to get anything ready I needed to have run off, I take it downstairs as I go and leave it with the run-off secretary. She will run it through the copier as she has time and put the folder back in my mailbox later.

Period 3 start at 12:15. This year period 3 is a preparation period for me, so I use it to take care of errands. I am department head and have department business/financial records responsibility. Department heads meet once/month after school till 5 p.m., departments meet once/month after school till 4:15. And of course there are faculty meetings and/or faculty in-services monthly, sometimes till 5 p.m.

The financial office is downstairs, so I try to combine trips to there and back to my mailbox to pick up any run-offs. There is a copier for less than 20 copies in the teachers’ room downstairs, but one is also in the library which is just across the hall upstairs. I also use my prep period to get things organized from period 1 and 2 to be ready for them next time, plus to organize anything I may need to take home. I also have to prepare for the next class today and tomorrow’s classes. If I have any personal phone calls to make, this is the time. There is a phone to use in the teachers’ room or in the back room of the library if I don’t use my cell.

Period 4 starts at 1:46 and the process is repeated. In my case, periods 1, 2, and 4 are three different preps. This involves an entirely different set of teaching materials each time, so I spend a lot of my prep time making sure each set is organized. School is out at 3:20. I may check out to leave at 3:40, but I rarely leave before 4 p.m. One day per week I stay after school for tutoring/makeups till 4:10 (by appointment), then do my best to leave before 4:30 to beat the major traffic commute. If I cannot leave by then, I usually just work until 5:15 and then drive home.
The next class day will be a “B” day, periods 5 through 8 with a repeat of the previous day’s pattern with different lesson plans ( I have 4 preps). This day is also the day of all school study hall/activity period (“period 8”) for club meetings and any assemblies. The weekly bulletin helps students keep track of which club meets when and where that they can sign out of study hall for, and when the all school assemblies are. Teachers with club meetings to sponsor will have a sub come in so the teacher can go to her club. Full time teaching includes teaching 5 or 6 of the periods, keeping a study hall and a homeroom section, and sponsoring a club/activity.

I have French Club that meets during study hall time once/quarter. French Club officers meet after school before each club meeting to plan it. The Language Council that includes all the French, Spanish, and Latin Club officers to coordinate “tri-lingual” activities meets once a quarter after school. We sponsor National French Week, National Language Week, Roman Banquet, fund raisers, a tri-lingual language banquet, and the language honor societies for each language. In addition, every student in every language takes the national exam for that language, and we participate in the state’s language festival in the spring. I also have my trip to France group meeting monthly after school, more often in April and May before we travel in June.

What do you find the most enjoyable about teaching students a foreign language?
Being able to show my students that there are many different ways human beings spend their days/weeks/months/seasons/years… I want them to learn that such differences are to be appreciated, not thought bizarre or “cute” or “disgusting.” I’ve been teaching “cultural diversity appreciation” for years, long before it became a buzzword for language education. When I see proof that my students have mastered this, I feel I have succeeded.

What are some of the challenges foreign language educators face, and how do you overcome those?
The challenge to motivate students to continue beyond the basic requirement: Make your class one they want more of by being firm but fun and challenging without being elitist.

The challenge to let kids take the “easy way out” instead of working consistently and progressively: Get yourself re-charged with professional organization in-services to get new ideas and get renewed and inspired to be your best and expect the best from your students.

The challenge to always be and do your best: Don’t be satisfied with “getting by” behaviors in your students or yourself. Always strive for transparency, fairness, honesty, consistency, and excellence. Expect excellence and it happens.

How do you recommend new teachers stay immersed in their subjects after earning their degrees?
Join your professional language educator associations and attend in-services, immersions, training, and conferences with other language professionals. Getting to be with and learn from other adults who love doing what you do is energizing. Professional growth draws its strength from other professionals.

  • Take every opportunity possible to hear/see/listen/speak French, especially with other adults.
  • Travel to target language cultures/countries as often as you can.
  • Host an Amity International Intern to get a young adult native speaker in your classroom for an extended time.
  • Take advantage of community resources to enrich yourself, your classroom, and your students.

We sincerely thank Mme Mistric for her in-depth and educative advice, and congratulate her on her 40th year of teaching! Learn more about becoming a foreign language teacher.

Interview with Satoru Shinagawa, President of the Hawaii Association of Language Teachers

We had the good fortune to interview Satoru Shinagawa, President of the Hawaii Association of Language Teachers. She shared with us her career experiences and tips for success as a language teacher.

hawaii teacherWhich aspects of your undergraduate education helped you the most in preparing for a career as a teacher?

To get my students ready to serve the local community. There are many Japanese tourists, so my students are learning Japanese to help those tourists.

What aspects of teaching do you enjoy the most?

It’s like raising a baby. At first, they don’t speak anything, or not much. But after a semester or two, they speak a lot!

You have taught Japanese courses entirely online; what methods do you use to do that effectively?

I use various methods. My own “blackboard emulation method” is one of the latest ones I made. It emulates blackboard on the net, so students can see and hear me write and talk at the same time.

What are some ways that you think technology makes teaching Japanese as a second language easier?

Integrating various technologies. I can’t think of one. Interactive exercises, QuickTime movies, web recording systems, asynchronous-synchronous conversation, to list a few.

Are there any ways that technology makes teaching more difficult?

When students can’t figure out how to use the latest technology, it’s hard, but I always make QuickTime videos to explain how to use it. If they still can’t figure it out, I use Blackboard Collaborate to “meet” the students to explain how to use it.

Do you have any recommendations for new teachers as far as handling academic dishonesty?

Give many questions and give a little time. This is an extreme example, but if you give students 100 questions, and give only 5 minutes to answer, they will not have time to cheat.

Our thanks goes out to President Shinagawa for sharing with us!

Learn about becoming a teacher in Hawaii