Teachers prepare their classrooms for coming school year - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Teachers prepare their classrooms for coming school year

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Posted: Sunday, August 11, 2013 10:15 pm

Why do some teachers cut short summer vacation to voluntarily make an early return to their classrooms?

Call it dedication, organization or obsession. Maybe it’s a combination of traits and values, but more at the heart perhaps it’s a passion some teachers have toward making their best efforts to educate students. Teachers’ vehicles began joining those of administrators, secretaries and maintenance personnel in school parking lots while the first day of classes was more than two weeks away.

“Ultimately, teachers succeed only when students succeed,” Alyson Villarreal, a first-year sophomore language arts instructor at Los Fresnos High School said Thursday as she surveyed her new classroom. The students will not arrive until Aug. 26.

Her first teaching job comes in her hometown; she graduated from LFHS in 2009. She graduated from the University of Texas at Brownsville, Villarreal said, and her professors emphasized making youngsters ready for the future. “The best way to guarantee a better future is by educating the younger generation so they’re ready to face the future,” she said.

Villarreal said that she worries about teaching students “the one important lesson they’ll need for the rest of their life” and she’s conscious of the fact that some high school students will look older than her. She added, “That’s OK. I can be stern when I want to.”

Although Villarreal feels a certain familiarity with Los Fresnos — where she did her student teaching in freshmen language arts so she will have some returning students — she understands that she will be a role model while representing the school and the community. The teamwork behind her in the Los Fresnos education community helps reduce some of the pressure, she said.

“I went to bed thinking of lesson plans and I woke up thinking of the students (as a student teacher),” Villarreal said. “Teaching never ends in the classroom.”

School year preparations are more routine for Tammi Garcia, a pre-kindergarten instructor at Pullam Elementary School in Brownsville who’s entering her fifth year as a teacher after working 10 years as a para-professional. She taught summer school and persuaded the custodians to wax hallway floors on a schedule to accommodate her advanced work in the classroom.

“You can’t wait to the last minute to get ready,” she said. “I like to make the classroom as inviting as possible to eliminate that fear factor for children. I love to see the expressions on their faces – even the parents who get excited.”

Garcia suggests that parents and students attend Meet the Teachers Night so children gain an opportunity for children explore her room. On the first day of class, she distracts and entertains students with laughter and some “little tricks.”

“In pre-kindergarten we do games – not work sheets – and hands-on activities with puzzles, sounds, letters, counting, colors, syllables, and rhyming,” Garcia said. “I want the kids to truly, truly, truly, truly have a love for school and education.”

Alma Cosio, assistant principal of instruction for kindergarten and first grade at IDEA Academy Brownsville, is making a transition to administration after five years of teaching first-grade reading. She said that she plans to spend approximately 85 percent of her time in classrooms providing teachers with feedback.

Experience on the site-based management committee at IDEA Academy Frontier in Brownsville and as a grade-level leader helped develop her leadership skills for her new role, Cosio said. She said the school’s direct instruction approach focuses on teaching small groups of students to meet each child’s academic comfort level so they can advance while avoiding frustration roadblocks.

“Jumping into school earlier helps me transfer what I know into training teachers for the classroom. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I am excited,” she said.

Ana Duran, a third grade math instructor at IDEA Academy Brownsville beginning her third year as a teacher, also got into the building early.

“You have school in the back of your mind all summer to find what you want for your students. I don’t wait for the school year to open,” said Duran, who added that she spends more time shopping at teachers’ supply stores than at malls or other stores.

Duran said it takes time to incorporate IDEA Academy’s core values into lessons. She recommends that families support students with daily math facts practice so the knowledge becomes fluid.

“Being involved in your child’s education is very important and knowing their level of learning so you can know where to help them,” she said.

Examples of real-life learning she cited include telling time, counting change and identifying money while shopping, and timing fast fact practice to make it fun.

Francis Guerrero, who teaches third grade at Pullam, said she attended a technology conference during the summer break to learn more about finding education strategies online and using technology for better communication among educators. It’s important to warmly greet students daily and get them motivated, she said, because a positive environment makes students feel better.

“I like to get in the classroom early, before the first day teachers report for duty, to do a little bit every day and get a jump start on the year,” she said. “We get just as excited about the new school year as the kids do.”

dralph@brownsvilleherald.com

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