SEBRING — Before students receive their final report card Wednesday on the last day of school, two new teachers reflected on what they learned in their first year in the classroom.
Woodlawn Elementary first-year teachers, Elizabeth Ep and Amanda Tindell, both graduates from Warner University, were eager about their first year in the classroom when interviewed by Highlands Today in August during the school’s back-to-school orientation.
Both Tindell and Ep said Monday they were grateful for their mentors and the support of their fellow teachers.
Tindell said the university prepared her in many ways, but she didn’t learn that teachers do a lot of paperwork and that she would be more than just a teacher to her students.
As a first-grade teacher she learned to always be prepared for the unexpected.
“You never know what a 6-year-old will do or say at any given time,” Tindell noted.
“The toughest part in the classroom is making sure you bring your ‘A’ game everyday,” she said. Teaching 18 6-year-olds for about seven hours a day can definitely be a challenge to keep their attention if you don’t make learning fun, engaging and hands-on.”
But, the challenges are outweighed by the positives, according to Tindell.
“Being able to cheer a student up who came in not having the best day, those small things really are the best parts of being in the classroom” she said.
Tindell said first-graders are more amazing than she realized.
“No matter how high I set my expectations or how rigorous an activity was, the students wanted to learn and synergized together to complete the challenge,” she said.
Ep noted the progress of her third-graders.
“It’s really cool seeing the kids coming from the first day of school to now and what they are able to accomplish,” she said. For example, many of her students struggled with addition and subtraction at the start of the school year and now they are doing long division.
As a new teacher, Ep had her own struggles, but she had support from other teachers and from her mentor, reading coach Cheryl Vermilye.
“I struggled with reading because the kids have so many different learning styles,” she said. “So having the reading coach as my mentor has definitely opened my eyes to different learning styles and different ways I can incorporate reading even into my math and my science and my social studies.”
She said Woodlawn Elementary is like a family and it didn’t matter what grade you taught; everyone was willing to help.
“You can just send an email out and there are resources that will come straight to you,” Ep said.
As the schools transition from the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards to the Common Core Standards, Tindell and Ep said they had an advantage because they only learned the Common Core standards so they didn’t have to make a transition.
Tindell said: “It was actually good for me. I know a lot of teachers had a hard time adjusting to it from what I heard because they knew the Next Generation [Sunshine State Standards], then it was a big change to the Common Core. With me coming straight from Warner University, that’s all I learned, so it wasn’t such a big adjustment to make.”
Ep said as a first-year teacher she is jumping into something new. “So I think it was easy for me to grasp things because everything is fresh for me. I didn’t have the different standards that they had before.”
Both teachers are already looking ahead to next year.
Tindell said she has big plans. “I know that I want to do some things different this year with a couple of lessons; I want to add a ton of things; I want to make a lot of stuff,” she said. “So, I have a lot on my plate that I want to do this summer creating lots and lots of stuff.”
Ep said she will look into ways to enhance student learning.
“Just going beyond that shallow part of just learning it and making sure that they ‘master’ it, which is the biggest thing that I want for next year,” she said.
As a mentor, Vermilye guides new teachers through the school year, which includes going through a checklist from time to time that covers report card codes, progress reports and training opportunities.
“We also meet weekly just to spot-check the week and ask how are things going,” she said. “Because sometimes teachers don’t know what they don’t know.”
Vermilye said she and Ep texted a lot each week.
Woodlawn Elementary Principal Melissa Blackman said the biggest challenges for new teachers are understanding the educational standards and connecting with their students and getting the teacher-student relationship in place.
“They have done a nice job doing that,” she said.