Jodi Bird is a first-grade teacher at H.C. Storm Elementary School in Batavia with a lot of experience working with young children. She's been teaching for 24 years; 13 teaching first grade, 11 teaching kindergarten.
The Daily Herald caught up with Bird to learn more about the challenges and rewards of teaching first grade.
Q. What expectations do you have for young learners?
Bird. First-graders start the year at all different levels -- ages (5-7), academic skills, social/emotional skills. Although they start at different levels, my goal is for every child to grow in each of these areas.
Our building follows the 3B's -- Be Respectful, Be Responsible and Be Safe. We use these 3B's to develop our expectations for the school year. The expectations for all students are to do their best, be problem solvers, work hard, persevere, be kind and safe to one another, and to be helpful.
To reinforce the expectations, the students make goals for themselves and we brainstorm ideas or a plan on how to accomplish their goals. Our goals may change several times throughout the year. These expectations/goals will help students make the most of the time they have during our school day and be the best version of themselves.
Q. Is it important to get to know the young students? If so, please explain what you do.
Bird. It is extremely important to get to know your students. I am with my students 175 days a year, so I want to know as much about them as I can. I want them to love coming to school each day.
Teaching is not all about academics. It is also building trusting relationships with your students. I want them each to know I truly care about them and their well-being, in and out of school.
At the beginning of the year, we play games to get to know each other and our interests. During the school year, we start the day with a quick classroom meeting to check in with each other. I love hearing about what is happening in their lives, as well as they want to hear about mine.
They want to know about Mr. Bird and my kids, Payton and Maddie. They all know my love for shopping and chocolate. I enjoy attending their events out of school: going to sporting events, plays, and dance recitals. They are such an important part of my life.
Q. Describe your classroom atmosphere.
Bird. Our classroom is a home away from home for my students. I want to make sure that our classroom is a community that is a safe and loving environment. Our classroom is a place that fosters risk taking and a positive mindset.
I want to instill an environment where students love to learn and take ownership of it. It's a place where we look out for one another. We work hard, but we also laugh and have fun. We love to listen to music, take dance breaks and catch up during snack time.
Our space is flexible for working independently, with partners and in groups. We welcome parent helpers, seniors from Homestead and high schoolers to our room to work with us each week.
Q. Do you do anything special in the classroom, such as a group cheer or something else?
Bird. To show students that I care about them and recognize their unique qualities, I write a short message to a specific student on our class white board each day. Toward the middle of the school year, the students have the opportunity to write a message to a classmate. Not only does it show the student I appreciate their uniqueness, but it also allows them to appreciate each other.
Q. How much independence do you give to the young students
A. First grade is a year of big growth for 6- and 7-year-olds. Not only do our first-graders grow academically, but they make huge gains in their social/emotional development and their independence level.
We start day one teaching, modeling, and practicing their independence. First-graders need to learn many different routines in the classroom and build stamina and confidence in themselves to know that they are capable of working independently.
It takes a lot of practice, but it is amazing to see how independent first-graders can become in just a few weeks of school. They have many opportunities throughout their day to work independently on skills and concepts.
My students receive immediate feedback so they know they are on the right track, or to try another strategy, or to practice more. To build independence, we also have jobs each week (which they love) to help build responsibility and independence for themselves and our classroom.