Feature Friday: Mariah Woodford

Today’s Feature Friday is spotlighting a friend of mine teaching in Phoenix, Arizona. Mariah Woodford teaches first grade in an SEI mixed classroom. This means half of her students have to take the AZELLA test, and half do not. The AZELLA test is a standardized test given to students whose home language is primarily Spanish. Mariah loves teaching first grade because she loves the kind-hearted spirits and that at this age they don’t hold grudges, so the end of the day is always followed with a hug. She also loves crafting and using glitter any chance she has! 

What made you want to go into teaching?

“This question makes me laugh a little just because since deciding to get my degree in education I have been asked this question too many times to count. Long story short, I grew up in a family of six, so I was always around other kids. All of my jobs dealt with kids, (gymnastics coach, track coach, camp counselor, bus aid) and when thinking about my future I knew I wanted a career that would allow me to be a mom and a career that I could continue to do as my future kids got older.” 

How have you integrated the arts into your core curriculum? 

“Our school has a partnership with the Phoenix Symphony and they have created a program called “Mind Over Music” M.O.M for short. What happens is each grade is assigned a musician and together the musician and the teachers create lessons that mesh music into the student’s everyday learning.” 

If you could recommend one children’s book, what would it be and why?

“I can’t think of any in specific but you can’t go wrong with Dr. Suess. These books are extremely engaging and silly. These books are a great tool to use when teaching about rhymes and how to rhyme. They are also great “repeat after me” books. This can help them gain comprehension skills as they are more likely to remember what happened in the story with all of the repetition.” 

What do you wish someone would have told you in your first year teaching?

“During your own schooling, you start to think about your teaching philosophy and everything you really want to do and things you tell yourself you will NEVER do. Once I got my own classroom I realized everything I said in school wasn’t based on any real experience and a lot of my beliefs about my own teaching had changed. This, however, was a really hard pill to swallow because I was so committed to try and do everything I told myself I would do as a teacher. This truly is just not possible, especially in your first year. There were times that I honestly was so lost in all of the day-to-day tasks and learning the new curriculums that I had no idea if my kids were even learning anything. So to all new teachers- teaching is honestly the hardest thing you may ever do. I’m saying possibly harder than giving birth and taking care of a newborn. I have the experience to back that up.  Don’t think you can do everything. You just can’t. Even if you think your kids aren’t learning, you were trained in this field and just simply being in class and putting on your best teaching face is all they really need.”  

What is a big challenge you face often in teaching, and how do you overcome it?

“The biggest challenge I face in teaching is behavior. Just when I think I have got my classroom under control and I feel they know and understand the rules and procedures, the next day it’s as if they have never heard of them before. I don’t believe I have overcome this, but I have learned some tools in helping keep the whole situation at a calm level. If you are heated and angry, there is no chance you can then de-escalate the also angry and heated child. It’s 100% okay to allow yourself to take a breather, leave the situation and collect your thoughts, before returning to the situation. I have to remind myself of this every day. Truly this I feel is what can make or break a teacher. The verdict is still out on what it will do to me.”

What has been your favorite experience from this school year so far?

“I am not sure if this fits into my favorite experience but I do have my all-time favorite comment. Background, my students were on the carpet free drawing on their personal whiteboards. I was getting the technology ready. This is what I heard/ saw:
Student A points to student B’s whiteboard and in all seriousness and full sass says “Yaaaassss Queen!!” I lost it and couldn’t help but laugh out loud.” 

What are the Negative impacts you have felt as a teacher with schools shutting down due to coronavirus? 

“I never in a million years thought that the end of my school year was just going to be ripped away from me, without even a chance to say goodbye to my students. Before all the schools shut down, we had left for spring break. I had left my kids telling them that when we get back they will have popsicles waiting for them, as we had just won the door decorating competition. Even though that is such a small thing, I find myself thinking about it a lot. It reminds me of all the other things we won’t get to do now as a class. Here are just a few: Easter activities and crafts, canceled. Field day, canceled. Big end of the year science project, canceled. Mothers day fun, canceled. Last week of school fun until the end, canceled. Giving them their last hug before summer, canceled. “

“I did not go to school to be trained on how to be an online teacher. I was trained to be in the classroom with human contact. Because of this virus, we were thrown a whole new situation and were asked to come up with a plan in a matter of days. Making video lessons with no students responding and just hoping that they have access to even watch them, honestly sucks.”

What are the positive impacts you have seen come from it? 

“A lot of teachers in my district would agree that this whole year we have been asked to implement all types of technology into the classroom in many different learning opportunities. We, however, felt there wasn’t ever enough time for us as teachers to really learn the technology ourselves to then correctly implement it for the students. WELL, now implementing technology is literally the ONLY thing we can do, and now have basically been forced to learn it, and learn it all. I feel I know so much more now about technology and implementing it into children’s learning.”

“I feel this has made my students realize how much they actually do like school and like learning. It was a good reset for us all. My students have been asking for more and more work. The one face-to-face meeting I have had with the few students that got on has been so heartwarming. All of their faces lit up when they saw one another and were just so happy to see their classmate’s faces.”

“I have a toddler myself who usually goes to daycare all day while I am at work. This has been a little blessing in disguise as now I have been given a lot more time to focus on my daughter. We have played all of the games of hide-and-seek and tag as you could possibly imagine!”

How has this affected your students? 

“Unfortunately, this has affected my students greatly. I work in a title one district. Switching to online school is not an easy switch. Most of my students don’t have a device and/or even internet access for the online learning that I have tirelessly been working on. My students are all bilingual, with Spanish being their first language. Because of that, learning how to read/ write is even harder than it already is. It is so crucial that my students go to school every day to learn all of the skills that they can so that they don’t fall even more behind. “

“As of right now, I have seen 8 of my 24 students doing the online assignments. That means 16 of them are most likely not doing any type of schooling at home. This is devastating as a teacher. My number one job is to teach my students how to read and have the foundational skills they need for the upper grades. For 16 of my students, this is not happening. And for my other 8 students, their learning is limited.  Teaching kids to read through a computer screen is not the easiest of tasks.” 

If you could give another teacher some advice on this situation, what would you tell them? 

“The only advice I feel there is to give is to take a deep breath and realize this is such a crazy situation that we have been put in, and we can’t fix it all. Every household in the whole world is having to change plans, and figure out how to live in this pandemic. I think it’s okay to take a step back and to only do what’s most important. In my eyes, that’s to simply be with your family, (or whoever you live with) and enjoy the time you have together that normally is not there. Things will work out, maybe just not how we expected them to.”

Mariah is a fantastic first great teacher with great insight into teaching. She has plenty of trial and error experience in her first few years of being an educator as well as her personal experience navigating COVID-19 school shutdowns, and I feel like it’s important information that all of us can learn from. Thanks for the interview, Mariah!

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