For Aurele Van Reck, teaching is a second career that she says was inspired by "my own children's learning journeys."
Van Reck teaches kindergarten at Fremont Elementary School in Fremont Elementary District 79. She has been teaching for seven years, all at District 79. She also co-teaches math, Spanish and walking club in grades K-2. She also is a summer school preschool teacher.
Q. For many of your students, kindergarten is the first time they'll find themselves in a structured school setting. How do you help set your students' mind at ease and make their transition as smooth as possible?
A. Having a preschool background has given me the opportunity to work with many of my incoming students during summer school. We are able to meet and get to know each other in an environment (the district's preschool program) that is familiar to them first, then, come fall, I am a familiar face in a new environment. It is a seamless transition.
For students who didn't participate in our preschool program first, it is important to teach them how to be students first, then focus on our academic planning. For a student just coming in, this is the first time they have had to participate in a group, walk down the hallways, follow classroom expectations; things that many just assume children know when they are learned skills.
Q. How do you balance the necessary learning components of kindergarten with the equally important socialization aspects your students need?
A. Having a full-day program has been absolutely paramount in helping to balance the academic and social/emotional components of kindergarten. We have the gift of time, which allows for work and movement and play.
The core of our instruction happens in the morning, and the afternoon gives us time to dig deeper into those areas and/or interventions and, of course, play. The smaller class size in my class are offered, coupled with having a full-day classroom aide, allows us to completely differentiate learning experiences and activities for each student.
We don't have the pressure of having to "move on." Because this is a full-day program, we can take the afternoon to circle back and hit those areas of weakness on an individual level, giving extra practice, support and interventions to help close the achievement gaps my students may experience.
Q. The use of laptops, tablets and other high-tech items in and out of the classroom is becoming the norm, even at the primary levels of education. How are your students using technology, or what is your class doing to prepare students to use such technology in the coming years?
A. Technology is integrated throughout our day. There are so many different apps that are available to our students that enhance the skills we are working on. We use our iPads to show what we know in math and record ourselves explaining our thinking, as well as retell stories and illustrate by using a variety of drawing apps.
We are also able to post work that we want to showcase on a popular site for a digital portfolio. Daily 5 (Daily 5 is a literacy block where students participate in independent activities that focus on foundational skills and build independent work habits) is a great way to use our iPads as books, and the students are able to choose from hundreds of books on a digital library scaled to their own reading level.
Q. What drew you to teaching at the kindergarten level?
A. Kindergarten students are so excited to be at school and learn. They are limitless at 5 years old, and that is so much fun to be a part of.