FACULTY IN FOCUS | Mr. Wilfahrt

Excellence at Brookwood stems from our educational approach to developing kids' cognitive, social emotional and physical skills—supported by research to be the best way for kids to think deeply, learn always and thrive. Kids spend a majority of their waking hours at school, so when their educators—teachers, mentors and role models—support and champion them just as much as their parents do, our kids win. By using the most effective best practices in teaching and learning, Brookwood teachers help students develop awareness and adaptability that prepare them for what's next. Our students grow into confident, capable and compassionate leaders ready for an every-changing world.

Our blog series, Faculty in Focus, offers a deeper look into what motivates our teachers and why they love teaching Brookwood kids. This week, Mr. Wilfahrt shares his perspective with us.

What do you teach, and how long have you been teaching?
I am one of Brookwood’s 1st grade teachers and have been teaching 1st grade for thirty years. Brookwood is my one and only position in my teaching career. I feel blessed that I’ve landed in a career that is not just an occupation, but a passion. 

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What’s the most rewarding part of teaching at Brookwood?
My colleagues. Also, most of my closest friendships originated at Brookwood, either with colleagues or with parents whose children I’ve taught. I also love reconnecting with former students; my first students are now starting families of their own. I’ve attended weddings, college graduations and other celebratory events at the invitation of former first-graders or their parents. The history we share is important to me.

What’s a moment you’ll never forget from your teaching career?
That’s hard; there are so many... Maybe instead of a moment, I’ll share a realization. My first year of teaching, I felt completely in over my head. My graduate school courses felt totally irrelevant in the face of the day-to-day practicalities of teaching. "Perhaps next year will be better," I thought, trying to assuage my conscience of the future of the students in front of me. While I did improve--slowly, I kept hearing over the next seven years how wonderfully that first class was doing with their schoolwork and what fine young people they were. It was then, upon their graduation, I realized two truths. First, teaching is a group effort; there are many, many teachers who have a hand in shaping each child’s educational experience. Second, children are much more resilient than they are given credit for.

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Do you have a favorite topic or unit that you like to teach and why?
My favorite classroom lessons are those that, regardless of subject or intent, result in an “aha!” moment for one or more of my students. It’s often seen as a look on a child’s face and in the eyes, as if some partially formed thoughts suddenly coalesced.

Often this occurs within the first week of first grade. I begin with a world geography unit that, in a very messy way, melds children’s natural interest in science and social studies together. I find my students have lots of names and facts, but need guidance in attaching these to a broader context. Starting with making the layers of the Earth out of clay, we shift our focus to the uneven nature of the Earth’s crust, leading to our salt dough maps of the seven continents and their location on our pumpkin globes, etc. I believe, through developmentally appropriate projects, we establish the groundwork for a lifetime of understanding the landforms and the cultures they support.

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From your experience, what makes Brookwood unique?
Thanks for ending this with an easy one… The sense of community and caring that, I’m told, is apparent from the moment one walks through the door. I’ve become accustomed to the happy energy that pervades the hallways and classrooms, but now and then am reminded that this is indeed a special place. Just last week, a new Brookwood parent joined us at lunch on her child’s birthday. As the meal ended, I walked over and planned to apologetically comment on the clamor. She spoke first, however, and said, “I’ve never seen so much skipping and so many smiles!”

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