Kavita Venkatesh, Elementary ELL Teacher, on Teaching
Three words that describe your teaching persona
Technology-driven, Innovative, Humorous
Why teach? Or, how did you become a teacher?
I had planned on being a teacher my senior year of high school when my senior project was to teach a 4-week unit to 6th graders on tectonic plates. I realized in graduate school, though, that my real passion was ESL and issues related to immigration and culture in the US. Since then I’ve been an ESL teacher and special education teacher and am beyond intrigued by the concept of background knowledge and how it not only affects K-12 students, but all of us in our daily interactions.
What would you be if not a teacher?
What do you do to optimize student engagement in class?
A lot of humor and collaborative learning styles. I also make a lot of personal connections to anything we are learning about and I encourage my students to make the connections and share them with their classmates. It keeps them engaged and build a great community.
Coffee, tea, or caffeine-free?
Describe your classroom management style (including a few best practices) in a few sentences.
I build relationships with my kids individually outside of class (we have lunch groups, we’ll spend recess indoors playing a game or creating large poster drawings). Generally that helps with management. But outside of that I do a simple “sticker” system, where they get a sticker for each hour they are with me and on task and at the end of a month, they win a party.
Favorite Cartoon/TV/Movie Teacher
Charlie Brown’s Teacher
Favorite Book (to read or to teach)
Is teaching a science or art? Explain.
I think it depends on what part of teaching you are working on. I think the planning and organization of it is a science, making sure it’s all put together. But I think the actual implementation of lessons and working with students is an art.
Who was your favorite teacher as a student? Why?
I have two! Brian Weaver – 6th grade science – he was the most engaging teacher and he didn’t let more than 5 minutes pass without making a joke. I hated science until the 6th grade. Naomi Horchak-Morris – 10th chem, 11th physics, 12th chem seminar, and my yearbook advisor – she was brilliant beyond belief and developed the best relationships with her students…we’re now friends and get drinks whenever I visit home!
Describe your process of preparing a lesson.
I start by figuring out the end goal of what I want to students to learn and what I want them to produce. Then I figure out what activity or reading or graphic organizer would be best to support them in a variety of ways to reach the ultimate goal (as a special education and ESL teacher, I think in terms of differentiation). Then I begin to write up my specific objectives, materials and students groups (if needed). I don’t write typical lesson plans anymore, but I have those 3 components prepared ahead of time. I also don’t write up the standards since we have a “birdseye” of units and objectives for each grade level at my school.
How do you fit differentiation into your lessons?
Graphic organizers galore! It took a while for me to really get the hang of creating a graphic organizer or finding an appropriate one, but I feel like I am able to create one for anything I teach at this point. Additionally, I believe in small group learning. I teach upper elementary and they really thrive in that kind of an environment. It is also a way to differentiate for all students. Sometimes we think only our “”struggling”” students need differentiation, but everyone does at times!
Which teacher do you admire most and what makes him/her a great teacher?
My two favorite teachers, I admire significantly! Additionally, there was an AP physics teacher at my high school (I never took his course though). The entire class loved him and said that he was so great because he was engaging, hilarious, knew a lot about his topic, used to present at conferences and then share the experiences with him and listened to Pearl Jam while planning. For his wedding anniversary, his wife bought him a segway (the year they came out), he brought it into school and they took the entire thing apart and tried to figure out how it “really worked”. I think that completely explains why he was a great teacher.
What makes a teacher effective?
Building relationships, creating engaging lessons, and a whole lot of humor! Also, realizing that if a lesson doesn’t go well, you have another day to try again…being a few days off from a pacing guide is not the end of the world :).