I started my career in education at the age of eight when I began a Good News Club in my playroom and invited all my neighborhood friends. Every week I prepared flannel board stories, made games, thought up object lessons, fixed lemonade or apple juice, and shared Bible stories with my friends. I used my allowance to purchase prizes for everyone who listened and worked hard. That summer I was an "official" representative of Good News Clubs at the Orange County Fair. It was in my blood. The funny thing was I didn't realize it—I had no idea that I would become a teacher. I just knew I liked having a club.
In eighth grade my English teacher assigned a term paper to be written about the occupation I would have as an adult. I had no clue. I only knew one thing at that time: I HATED school and whatever I was when I grew up, it wouldn't have anything to do with that vapidly boring institution. But since my mother was a teacher and I didn’t have any better ideas, that’s what I wrote about. It confirmed my conviction that teaching wasn’t even in the universe of things I would ever consider doing.
Age sixteen brought a radical change to that notion. My father had died recently and my mother had “given” me his car so that I could get myself to and from school and help her with the errands and driving my sisters around. My friend, Julie, was working at a private day care center. She knew how hard I was working, mostly babysitting and sewing for other people, to earn enough money to support my car and my other needs, so when a job opened up at her work place she let me know right away. With her recommendation, I was hired. My first day the leaving aide was there to teach me the ropes. The second day it was just me and 24 four year olds. Yes, folks, there were 24 four year olds and me, a junior in high school, from 3:00-5:00 every afternoon. My job was to teach Spanish and reading. Well, the Spanish went excellently—I couldn’t believe how fast they learned it and how fine their accents were. The parents were impressed. Mrs. Patterson, the owner of the day care center, was pleased. I was in heaven.
Reading, however, not so much. The children couldn’t remember the sounds, they couldn’t blend sounds even when I showed them over and over. (I didn’t know it was called modeling in those days.) They couldn’t trace letters on paper or even on the chalkboard. I couldn’t understand how they could be so smart at learning Spanish and so "dumb" at reading. It’s all language, right? After a few weeks, I decided I must be doing something wrong, so I ran down to my second home, the public library, and checked out several books on child development and teaching reading. I learned very quickly why things were going the way they were and how to change the approach to match the developmental needs of the children. As soon as I did that, the children were just as smart at reading as they were at Spanish. I had learned probably the most valuable lesson of my career—if the children weren't learning it was most likely not their problem, but mine! I was now in seventh heaven.
I lived to work. I spent much of my free time inventing games and materials to help children learn,and all of my school hours dreaming about going to work. I pined for work. I didn’t even mind the hour I spent each day cleaning the classroom and the bathrooms. It gave me a good time to evaluate what had happened that day, and make plans for what I would try the next day. I was having the most fun I had ever had and was getting paid for it as well. Life doesn’t get better than that, does it?
A few years later I became an aide for a nonprofit preschool closer to my house. There the director, Glenda, became my mentor. She signed me up for the Association for the Education of Young Children and gave me lesson plans and materials for thematic teaching plans. As a faculty we attended all the local meetings. That, combined with the child development classes I was now taking in college, taught me more and more about effective and fun teaching techniques. I was thriving as an assistant. Within six months, I graduated to the position of teacher: I now had six three year olds on Tuesdays and Thursdays and eight four year olds on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in my own little classroom that was about the size of a bedroom. I was a real teacher!
You can imagine how shocked I was when I began my college education coursework to discover not a hint of thematic instructional techniques were included in any of my courses. All subjects were separated with no carry over at all between them. I was really surprised, but tried it for a brief period. It just didn’t work for me. There was never enough time to do everything and the skills I taught in reading did not transfer to the reading we did in science and social studies. It wasn’t long before I was back to thematic teaching.
I’ve been involved in teaching now for more than thirty years. I’ve taught preschoolers up to eighth graders both in general education and in special education. I’ve been a classroom teacher, a reading specialist, a resource specialist, a special day class teacher, and an intervention teacher. I’ve developed a number of school wide programs to support thematic instruction, worked with student teachers in my classroom, and been a mentor. Everything I’ve done since first becoming a preschool teacher in 1972 has been focused on thematic instruction that is child centered and designed to make learning real. Now I write thematic units that I hope are practical, easy to use, active and inquiry based, and useful to other teachers who want to make school productive, efficient, and fun for ALL of their students. I believe that children really
Well, that's my story—the LONG version. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions or are looking for something you can't find. That's what I live for now!