This post is in partnership with University of Phoenix
Trisha Riche has been a teacher for 8 years. She is an inclusion kindergarten teacher at R.L. Brown Elementary located in Jacksonville, Florida. She loves to think outside the box and encourages her kids to be who they are.
GOOD: How do you see the classroom atmosphere changing in the next five to ten years? How can teachers adapt to these changes?
RICHE: I hope it’s very very very far away from teaching to the test. I’d like to see more fun, hands-on activities. I’m an “inclusion kindergarten teacher” – I have special needs kids mixed in with regular kids. For that reason I’m really big on creating community and working together – we’re a team. I pair them up with others on different ability levels. I use creativity in how they’re assessed. I use singing, activities, and other ways to get them physically involved.
Kindergarteners in FL have to take a 19-page math test – it's not age-appropriate. Some of our kids come in and don’t know their numbers or alphabets. These "standardized tests" couldn't have been made up by teachers—certainly not ones that teach five year olds. For example, in Florida under FAIR standardized testing, they ask a really extensive list of vocabulary words (similar to ‘yacht,’ or ‘hedge’). A kid in an upper middle class family might be exposed to some of these words but many kids are not. Some of my kids have never seen many of these things before.
Why aren’t required state tests differentiated when we’re asking teachers to differentiate to students ability?
GOOD: What's the best advice you can give to first year teachers who are planning to stay in education for the long term?
RICHE: My main one: make really good relationships with your students and their parents.I have parents that haven’t had their kids in my classroom for years still come and volunteer. We do all kinds of things outside the classroom too.
Don’t sugar-coat with parents:"If it doesn’t change this is what’s going to happen." Be honest without being harsh. Don’t let anything intimidate you. Take it a day at a time – don’t get overwhelmed. Take breathers.
There’s a lot of paperwork…Pace yourself, be organized.
GOOD: With technology changing so quickly, what are the ways teachers can stay innovative in the classroom?
RICHE: I don’t think innovation comes with technology at all. Creativity comes with experimentation. It's more about being creative, being able to problem-solve. We teachers are full-time problem-solvers. We still have to get kids from point A to point B, whether or not we have technology resources. For some easy innovative ideas go to http://www.edutopia.org/blog/creativity-in-classroom-trisha-riche
GOOD: Where should schools be looking to find teachers of tomorrow?
RICHE: To adventure-seeker camps! Because so many things happen in the classroom that college or schools don’t prepare you for. Outdoor adventure groups know how to improvise. One kid throws up, another pees on himself, a third starts crying, all at the same time…the toilet in the bathroom breaks, now what? Schools should find people used to thinking on their feet. It’s a big part of teaching.
GOOD: What do you think is an essential quality to a successful teacher and how can we help nurture this quality?
RICHE: Don't be afraid to ask or receive questions. If you can’t learn something from your students, you shouldn’t be teaching. I learn from my students every day.
I once had an assignment where my kids talked about living and non-living things…one student had a boat on the living side. He said, "A boat needs water to survive…living things need water to survive.” Technically he wasn't right, but I listened to him, I found out more about his process of reasoning. I always ask them why.
GOOD: We've focused on technological or pedagogical ways that teachers innovate, but what is it about teacher-child relationships that'll endure well into the 21st century?
RICHE: They need nurturing and support, especially in kindergarten. They must feel supported and loved. Sometimes teachers feel they should be cold and can’t be a friend….but you must really connect with them. Classrooms are always a family. They need to feel like they belong. Kids open up about all kinds of things, some of them really hard to hear. And some, just great -- I've had fifth graders come back and tell me how they’re doing. It's important to let kids be who they want to be.
Teachers have to be happy in what they’re doing. Kids bring out your emotions. They should see you happy, sad, even having a bad day. Because then they know they can do those things too, and bounce back.
To read more thoughts from classroom teachers about the future of education, read the GOOD Guide to Finding the Teachers of Tomorrow.