FACULTY IN FOCUS offers a deeper look into what motivates our teachers, what they bring to the classroom, and why they love teaching Brookwood kids. This week, Ms. Alexander shares her perspective with us.
Ms. Alexander | Kindergarten Teacher, 2016-2018 Amory Parker Chair
What do you teach, and how long have you been teaching?
I have been teaching Kindergarten for 9 years at Brookwood School. Before that, I spent several years working in Kindergarten, 2nd grade and 5th grade in various settings, and have taught religious education at temples as well. I have wanted to be a Kindergarten teacher since I was 14. When I was in 8th grade, I helped out in the Kindergarten classroom at my school and just fell in love with that age and how malleable the kids’ minds were and how excited they were to learn, and I was amazed at what they could learn in such a short period of time. So from that point on, I knew I wanted to be a Kindergarten teacher. I love teaching this grade!
What’s the most rewarding part of teaching at Brookwood?
I think the most rewarding part of teaching here is the support that teachers receive both from colleagues and from administrators, and also from parents too. I feel incredibly supported by everyone around me, and that, in turn, helps parents know that that their children are being supported in a similar way. I have found that the environment in which teaching and learning happens here at Brookwood is full of excitement and innovation, and that is something that sets us apart from other schools. We are such a collaborative community - we don’t teach in isolation. The faculty have ample room for creativity - I can teach in the way that is best for the children in my classroom. Teachers here have a great deal of ownership over our curriculum and we are empowered to be experts in the areas that we are teaching. If we have something we want to teach and we bring that idea to a team meeting, instead of being told, “Oh that won’t work here, or that doesn’t make sense,” the response more often is “How can I help you? How can we make that happen for your curriculum?” Ultimately, we are trusted as educators to understand and implement best practices and to design age-appropriate curriculum that best fits the needs of our children.
What’s a moment you’ll never forget from your teaching career?
I think the times when children are able to share their learning with one another are the most rewarding to witness as a teacher. For example, a couple of years ago, Kindergarten students had each been studying a specific animal for two months and had conducted research individually on their animal. When it came time to share their learning with their parents and the Pre-Kindergarten students, my fellow teachers and I were surprised by how much they had learned and then produced to showcase their knowledge of their animals. It was so rewarding to stand back and watch the Kindergartners teach their parents and younger students about what they had learned. They had made books, illustrations, clay models, habitats and drawn pictures to illustrate information about their animals. They were so proud and had taken so much ownership over the project. The process was much more important than the product; the fact that they walked away feeling like experts on their topics is what you hope for as a teacher. You know that these types of experiences are really making an impact on kids when you hear stories from their parents years later saying, "my child still talks about the animal they studied in Kindergarten."
Do you have a favorite topic or unit that you like to teach and why?
I really love teaching writing. Kindergartners arrive in September along a continuum of writing development and many begin the year saying they don't know how to write. Writing may not seem accessible to them. Through our workshop model, we scaffold their individual development and begin by helping them tell a story through words or pictures and label various things in their illustrations. This looks different for each student depending on his or her stage of writing development. I love the moment when we transition from teaching how to write just one letter or one word on a page to teaching the students how to write a sentence and helping them realize that they can communicate an entire thought. This moment comes where kindergartners discover that they can tell their whole story with words, and we show them how they can string words together, like, “I went to the park.” It’s incredibly powerful for these young students to get their ideas onto paper and then be able to have others understand them. They are so proud that they can write a sentence, whether it is just the first letter of each word or many sounds. It’s amazing how fast this ability grows. By January, they are writing 2-3 sentences in a 20 minute period, and they're using spaces and punctuation. It’s inspiring and exciting to witness that growth and transition as a teacher.
From your experience, what makes Brookwood unique?
I’ve never been in a place where I have felt so connected to students, parents, teachers, colleagues, maintenance staff, kitchen staff… everyone works together and cares deeply for one another. If you encounter someone who's challenged with a personal difficulty or tragedy, everyone rallies and there's an outpouring of support. I don’t think this level of caring happens everywhere. By the same token, I also think how deeply we care for children sets us apart from other schools. You walk down the halls and through classrooms, and you can see how everything we do is about what's best for children and what makes them feel known, safe and happy.
What did your five-year-old self want to be when you grew up?
I knew from an early age that I enjoyed working with younger kids, even when I was young myself. I was a mother’s helper when I was 8 years old; I babysat a lot; I worked in camps as a counselor as soon as I could. I remember giving all my stuffed animals piano lessons - I lined them all up on the piano bench and I had a notebook where I kept track of their progress. I don’t remember what I taught them, but it was important to me to keep track of their successes and accomplishments. I think it was always in me to be a teacher!