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Kaiulani Ivory, Middle School Math Teacher, on Teaching

January 31, 2012


Three words/phrases that describe your teaching persona

Constructive, supportive, positive

 Why teach? Or, how did you become a teacher?

Both my mother and father are elementary teachers . . . consequently I guess you could say I was born to be a teacher. Everyday I enjoy being at work and while most people work with co-workers who act like seven-year olds, my co-workers are seven-year olds. Their positivity, passion to learn, and fascination with everything drives my instruction everyday. The workplace of a teacher is just so rewarding and working the extra hours and putting in the extra time is worth every second when you consider the results and the children you affect.

 What would you be if not a teacher?

I would work in a non-profit abroad.

What do you do to optimize student engagement in class?

I integrate their lives and do read alouds. I give student surveys and also pay close attention to what they write in writer’s workshop and then will include names, events, and popular activities in my lesson. It’s never 5 cubes vs. 3 cubes, it’s 5 Bakugan toys vs 3 Bakugan toys. I also like to take my read-aloud and spread it through the day. If the read-aloud is on pigs, then our math problem of the day may be about a pig eating apples.

Coffee, tea, or caffeine-free?


Describe your classroom management style (including a few best practices) in a few sentences.

My classroom management style is calm respect. I never raise my voice and never get angry, ever. I always use a very low and slow tone and if when reprimanding I also talk very close to the student and will usually kneel down to their eye-level. If I have an especially “energetic” student I spend a lot of one on one time with them at the beginning of the year. I inundate them with positive messages, and the fact that I am trying to help them be the best and that I truly respect them, their behavior is not them when they do something “wrong;” they are just making a bad choice. They are not the problem, the bad choice is the problem; they just need to make a better choice. This is the key for me because if a child feels as if they are just a “bad student,” how are they going to change who they are? It’s a lot easier to frame misbehavior as “bad choices.” Choices are easy to make and easy to change.

Favorite Cartoon/TV/Movie Teacher

Ms. Frizzle

Favorite Book (to read or to teach)

Mars Needs Moms

Is teaching a science or art? Explain.

Art. It has scientific features in that there are certain concrete steps you can take to be an effective teacher. But how you choose those, implement them, and present them is completely an art. When you watch a good teacher you don’t see good teaching, you feel it, in their instruction and the looks on the student’s faces. When I see amazing teaching it is so ethereal and I get the same feeling I feel when listening to a gripping song or intense movie, just this thought of wow, this is awesome, and I have no idea where this magic comes from. Great teaching is an art.

Describe your process of preparing a lesson.

I do two things. First I think about my own concept of the objective: how did I learn it, how do I comprehend it. Then I think about the steps it takes to do it in my mind. Next I start thinking of my students’ background knowledge and also how they learn. I then will usually look for resources on ways to teach it and compare them with my and my students’ usual thought processes. Coming from this angle — of first understanding how I grasp the concept, then how my students would grasp the concept or have grasped the background knowledge — allows me to more clearly look through best practices of teaching a new concept.

How do you fit differentiation into your lessons?

Through small group instruction. I create accountable and rigorous small group activities and then rotate through groups giving small group differentiation to other kids. Also on a lot of class problems I will give multiple choice (harder/easier words and harder/easier numbers). Joan had 5/12/68 zhu zhu pets and lost 3/5/48 of them, how many does he have left? Students are then allowed to choose the numbers that work best for them we go through how to choose numbers and they are matched up a/b/c and a/b/c, the a’s go together, the b’s go together, the c’s go together. This way a student doesn’t end up with 12-48, although that could be a very strong teachable moment . . .

Who was your favorite teacher as a student? Why?

Ms. Bauer, 5th grade. I learned about tangrams and haikus in her class and didn’t hear of them again until junior year of high school, and still remembered them from her class. Ingraining tangrams and haikus into a 5th graders mind, for life . . . that’s teaching.

Which teacher do you admire most and what makes him/her a great teacher?

My father. He has such an amazing passion for teaching. He is 72, teaching 4th grade in the same classroom he was teaching it in 30 years ago. He just got an aquarium in his room for his kids to explore water life. Installing a new aquarium in your room, after 40 years of teaching, at the age of 72, to find something new and engaging for your students. I can only hope to keep my fire ablaze that bright and that long.

What makes a teacher effective?

Their ability to make students respect them. If a student respects you (not necessarily “likes” you, but respects you) they will: A. listen to what you have to say, B. gain self-esteem each minute they’re in your class, and C. remember what you say.


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