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My Classroom

Sarah Walsh

2nd Grade Teacher

Imagine School at Palmer Ranch

Sarasota, Florida

How long have you been teaching? 15 years

How have you changed as a teacher over your career?

I've learned that kids think differently than adults. In the past when a kid in my classroom did something wrong, I went right to issuing a consequence. Now I engage the child and ask “Why did this happen?” or “Why are you angry with this person?” I’ve learned that most times, misbehavior has a secondary cause that's not always obvious. If I engage the child, I am more likely to learn how to help that child prevent it from happening again.

What was a mistake you made and what did you learn from it?

Probably my biggest mistake was thinking another teacher was wrong, when I really didn't see her point of view and then called her out on it. Thankfully she was forgiving when I apologized! We're on the same team.

If you could go back to your first day as a teacher, what would you tell yourself?

I's say, "Do the best you can and know that that is very good! You were drawn to this occupation for a reason!"

What's the most rewarding part of your job?

I love the light bulb moments when something clicks and a student "gets it." Also when former students come back to visit and tell me how much they enjoyed my class. Those are great moments.

What's the hardest part of your job?

It's not a level playing field. Kids who have parents who value education and who are engaged have such an advantage in learning. It's a challenge to encourage kids who have parents who are less engaged, because those kids are often the ones who are struggling. You have to overcome that all the time.

Do you have any tips for dealing with difficult students?

I try to change their mentality, because kids get labeled all the time. Every year I have a student or two who will target others when they're struggling and say things like, "Ms. Walsh, he didn't do anything over the summer. He can't read at all!" I nip that talk in the bud quickly. Poor self-talk needs to be stopped as well. I had one student this year, who on the first day of school came right out and told me, "I'm a slacker!" I told him I never want to hear that from him again.

Can you give an example of a sound piece of advice you've recently received?

Our school is heeding recent research which confirms that primary school kids can really focus well for no more than 15 minutes before their focus goes down. That's not to say that they can't focus for longer, it's just that their ability starts to drop. So we do a lot of 15-minute time blocks that seems to really work.

Do you have any tried and true things you do from year-to-year?

It's always very hard to manage time in the classroom. There are interruptions or odd time chunks where I have 5 minutes to kill before P.E. or lunch. In those moments, I want to make sure we stay productive, so I have activities that I can have kids do at the drop of a hat. My spelling station is Make-A-Man (which plays like Hangman) using spelling words. My math station is the number card game 7-Up. I have stations like that active all year long.

Do you have any resources that you use that are not provided by your school?  

I love the website Teachers Pay Teachers and I also use the Homeroom App.

How do you use play in your classroom?

I try to have a lot of free choices that include play when students are done with their classwork. I use a lot of learning games and play activities, but give the kids free choice of what to do during that "free time." The skill levels of my students are so diverse that cooperative games have worked very well for me too.

How do you view competition in the classroom?

Earlier in my career, I'd give kids stars for behavior or reward kids by giving them special jobs like holding the door, but I've gotten away from kids competing with one another. I urge kids to compete with themselves. You want to encourage them to compete with who they were yesterday or earlier in the school year, not the student sitting next to them. That's more helpful, especially if you have a diverse group of students who differ greatly in their abilities.

What's your view on recess?

Every kid should have it! I don't agree with taking recess away. I think a teacher who uses recess as a reward and who takes it away from kids who misbehave are shooting themselves in the foot. I was having this discussion with our P.E. teacher the other day. Kids who are not as successful in the classroom or who struggle with behavior issues are often the ones who need recess the most. These are kids who need to move. These are kids who are excelling and building up their self esteem at recess.

What do kids learn at recess?

Life skills. Supervised but unstructured play is very important for all kids. They will run into issues and we encourage them to work them out. A common problem is a kid running up and complaining that "so and so won't play with me."  My usual response is to say something like, "Well aren't you lucky there are so many kids out here. I'm sure you can find someone to play with you." That teaches them how to problem-solve.

Are there any trends in education that you're excited about?

There's a trend to give kids autonomy and embolden them to make decisions. We don't have a line order in my classroom, I don't tell the kids where to sit in the lunchroom, I don't tell them what activity to do when their classwork is done. They get to decide all those things. I tell them, "you can decide as long as your decision is a good one," you know, safe, within the rules, kind, etc. Every year there are Tattle Tales in 2nd grade. I empower them to go back to the person they're tattling on and work to solve the problem themselves. It's not just academic skills, but life skills we're teaching them. That's exciting.

Thank you, Ms. Walsh!