Feature Friday: Kami Meacham

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here. 

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Kami Mecham. Kami has been teaching for twelve years, eight of those years were teaching 3rd grade, three years teaching 4th grade, and now she is in her second year of 2nd grade! 

Kami also has a job as an instructional coach. She loves that she not only teaches full time, but is able to interact with other teachers as a mentor and coach. Another exciting thing about Kami is that she did her student teaching in Washington D.C. After her student teaching, she came back to Utah to start her career as a teacher and instructional coach. 

 What is your favorite thing about teaching this age/subject?

“Although it sounds cheesy, my favorite thing about teaching elementary school is the kids: the girl who wears her new dress on picture day and twirls as she walks in the classroom; the boy who has a “lucky hat” that he says helps him do his best reading; the students who cheer each other on when the math problems are hard.  The students make me excited to get up each morning and I feel lucky to play a small role in helping them reach their potential!”

What is one of your favorite ways to utilize technology in the classroom? 

“Technology is a great engagement tool in the classroom.  My favorite way to use technology is to provide experiences that will engage students in the curriculum and encourage an excitement for the learning.  I believe that even young students can learn to use technology productively and can benefit from its use.  Some specific ways I engage students with technology include QR codes, apps to record the students reading, guided research experiences, and games that provide real-time data.” 

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

“Choosing just one children’s book to recommend is definitely a challenge but I absolutely love The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo.  The character of Edward Tulane has been a favorite with my students as he discovers his ability to love.  Using this book to spark conversations of love, friendship, acceptance, and understanding in my classroom has provided some of the most authentic discussions I have had with my students and has served as a foundation of building unity within the classroom.”

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

“Looking back on my first year of teaching, I wish someone would have told me that it is ok to have fun and enjoy the small moments.  Teaching is hard.  Teaching is exhausting.  Teaching can be overwhelming.  With all of that, I wish someone would have helped me see that I could put in the hard work to be an effective teacher while also having fun with my students.  While it is important to do the hard work and it is normal to feel overwhelmed, I have since learned I am a better teacher when I take a step back, have fun, and enjoy my job.  I would have loved for someone to tell me I didn’t have to have a “perfect” classroom year one (or any year really) in order to make a positive impact for my students.  Teaching is hard but teaching is also exciting, fun, and rewarding!”

Who influenced you most to choose a career education? 

“There wasn’t just one person or one moment that inspired me to pursue a career in education.  I always wanted to be a teacher, although my reasons have changed over the years.  I attribute this desire to the amazing examples of great teachers I had in my life.  Mrs. Stratton, my third grade teacher, who gave each student a nickname and affectionately called me “Camerilla” for many years even after I left her classroom.  Mrs. Ivie, my second grade teacher, who had the most amazing stuffed dinosaurs we got to hold while we were reading.  Mrs. Gamble, my fourth grade teacher, who brought the Oregon trail unit to life.  All of these teachers, and many more, showed me what an educator can be and made me want to be part of something bigger.  Their positive influence continues to inspire me today.”

 What are the benefits you’ve seen in collaborating with other teachers? 

“Collaboration opens doors.  When professionals come together with a common purpose, the possibilities are endless.  One of my favorite things is being part of a collaborative brainstorming session where a team meets together with a question, problem, or goal to tackle.  I love watching different team members bring their own perspective, building on each other, and creating an end result that is more effective than anyone imagined at the beginning.  Successful collaboration allows for each member of a team to add their individual strengths to a larger whole.”  

“I am lucky to get to participate in collaboration as a teacher and as an instructional coach and I have seen the process increase instructional effectiveness, improve student outcomes, and build school or classroom culture many times.  I especially love collaborating about engagement strategies, room transformations, and ways we can create an exciting and welcoming environment for our students.”

How do you use student voice in your classroom and what outcomes have you seen from it? 

“Classroom meetings are a big way I use student voice in my classroom.  We have class leaders who lead our meetings as we discuss things that are going awesome and other things that we can improve on.  This is a safe opportunity for students to voice concerns and also help come up with solutions.”

“Collecting and responding to student questions is another way I use student voice.  As students ask questions throughout our units, I use those questions to drive my instruction and guide our lessons to those things my students are interested in and ready for, while also covering the required curriculum and standards.”

 What has been one of your favorite teaching moments so far? 

“There are so many!  One moment near the top of the favorite list was when a student, who had spent the first half of the school year telling me he couldn’t read, came to school one morning with a book in hand and asked if he could read it to the class.   That moment really summed up why I do what I do: help my students realize their potential, help them build their confidence, and provide them with the skills to then leave my classroom and tackle the world.”

What is a favorite unit you teach with your students? 

“When I think of some of my favorite units that I have taught, a particular third grade math unit stands out.  This also happens to be one of my favorite examples of the power of collaboration.  As a team, we knew we had a unit coming up on two-step word problems.  This is a challenging unit and tends to be daunting to both students and teachers.  Because of this, the third grade team decided we wanted to take a fresh, engaging approach to the unit.  We brainstormed together, worked through a lot of ideas, and eventually came up with an idea even better than we had anticipated at the beginning.  We decided to teach this unit with the theme of “magic.””

“We approached the two-step word problems with the twist of taking steps in magic tricks and our students became “mathmagicians.”  Along with that we tied the magic theme into other areas with books and writing activities.  An otherwise boring, daunting unit became fun and successful.  My students thrived and their assessment scores reflected that.  Not only did I get to dress up like a magician, but I also saw my students’ confidence grow throughout the process.”


Thank you for your insight Kami! I especially loved what she said about collaboration and how it opens doors when you work together! I agree wholeheartedly, and this is why I started Feature Friday! To spread the knowledge of teachers worldwide! 

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Feature Friday: Emma Mecham

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here. 

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Emma Mecham. She is a past professor of mine at Utah State University that I grew to love while taking her course. Her dedication to student relationships and really shining light to pre-service teachers of what they are in for in becoming an educator stood out to me. I could go on and on at how great an influence she was to me, but maybe that should be saved for a different blog post! Here is what Emma has for us today.

What grade/ subjects have you taught and for how long? 

“I’m currently a teacher educator, working with undergraduate and graduate students in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership in the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. I’ve been at USU for just over a decade now and really cherish my opportunity to work with future and current teachers and administrators. I certainly learn as much from them as they can from me. I’ve previously worked in elementary schools with younger, but no less valuable mentors, from Utah to India to Peru. My favorite grade to teach was third grade – it’s that sweet spot where kids don’t yet know I’m not cool but also have an increasingly complex curriculum. However, I’ve spent a fair amount of time working with preschoolers and kindergartners (and some extraordinary early childhood educators) in the past ten years, and their intellectual and social curiosity delights me. “

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

“There are so many wonderful children’s books, I couldn’t possibly choose just one – and it is, of course, dependent on age and reading ability. One of the really exciting changes I’ve seen during my career is the creativity in early reader books – Mo Willems comes to mind, but so do Sandra Boynton and Jon Klassen. The wit and artistry of those beginning reading books are wonderful.”

How have you seen education change in the years you’ve taught?

“Education has changed a great deal during my career thus far, with the effects of federal programs like NCLB, RTT, and ESSA and the growth of the school choice movement. There was a time during the most exacting years of NCLB when I wondered if I was doing my students a disservice by encouraging them to be teachers – teacher morale was very low, with good reason. However, there are a lot of really hopeful things happening in schools right now, and the graduate students I work with are leading fantastic innovations and finding ways to stretch the systems they work in to allow for greater excellence.”

Who influenced you most to choose a career education? 

“I suppose my interest in becoming a teacher was influenced by a whole group of wonderful educators, but probably foremost my mother. My mother taught (and continues to teach as a volunteer, well into her retirement) English Language Learners of all ages. Her love of her students and her passion for solving problems of equity in her community were daily lessons of the joys and value of teaching to me. I was also influenced by wonderful teachers in my own education – men and women who treated their students with respect and admiration, who got us outside into wild spaces and cultural spaces we hadn’t previously explored, who were curious and optimistic, and singularly individual. A few of those folks to come to mind straight away – Kaye Rheese, Dorthy Dobson, John Bedingfield, Nan Wharton, and Blake Pickett – remarkable teachers, all of them.” 

What are the benefits you’ve seen in collaborating with other teachers? 

“I learn so much from my colleagues. Collaboration keeps me humble, excited, learning new methods and ways of seeing and practicing. And I find that is true not just among my University faculty colleagues, but with my elementary and secondary colleagues, parents, and community partners. There are a lot of people who know things I don’t and who are generous in their willingness to share.”

How do you use student voice in your classroom and what outcomes have you seen from it? 

“One of my objectives as a teacher is to be sure that I am doing less talking than my students are. I try to provide as many opportunities for students to discuss ideas and demonstrate their understanding in groups as much as possible. Additionally, I give students choice in assessments and learning opportunities.”

What advice do you have for pre-service teachers? 

“Choosing to be a teacher is choosing a complex, difficult job. It is immensely rewarding, but you should prepare yourself for some exhausting days and a steep learning curve. It is also one of the most profound ways to make the world better. It’s not that I’m trying to scare pre-service teachers away, but I do want them to have clarity about the choice they are making before they commit to it. The high rate of teachers who leave the profession within the first five years is very costly and I believe we could improve that if pre-service teachers understood the profession better before they invested four years of college.” 

How do you create valuable student relationships and why is it important to do as an educator? 

“Many years ago when he was in graduate school, my older brother was given some wise advice by a mentor, that he passed on to me: “You can become a lawyer, but you’ll spend the rest of your life with tired middle-aged people. Or you can become a college professor and send the rest of your life with excited young adults.” And not only do I get to spend my days being taught and energized by young people, but the students I have are also passionate, nurturing, and committed to good. They are really easy to like and I think they can tell how much I do.”


I hope Emma was able to have at least the tiniest of influence on your life through this interview because she truly is a person I wish everyone had the opportunity to meet and build a relationship with. Thank you for taking the time to read a little slice of her knowledge! 

Feature Friday: Faige Meller

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here. 

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Faige Meller. Faige is an elementary school teacher in Los Angeles, CA. She started teaching preschool in 1977, and Kindergarten in 1991. In 2015, Faige retried and has substitute taught since. Faige is a seasoned teacher and is sharing just a tiny fragment of her knowledge with us today! Here’s what she has to say. 

What is your favorite part of teaching kindergarten? 

“I really feel this was the place I was meant to be! A grade that lends itself to play, exploration, and wonder. In this, we combined read aloud, math, literacy growth, science, movement, and play! I guess I said play again. Play drove so much of the learning. SEL always a focus. And of course those hugs.”

How do you incorporate the arts into core curriculum? 

“Our thematic units readily integrated the arts. We look at STEAM now and that has always been part of our curriculum. The language may have been different, but not the meaning.” 

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

“So difficult to focus on one book. There are so many beautiful, poignant books out there. Today I’d say Each Kindness by Jaqueline Woodson. This story continues to resonate, especially now! It leads to incredibly rich discussions, conversations, and reflections. “Why did this happen? What can we have done differently? Would you be an Upstander? And many times words and actions have no redos!”

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

“My first year of teaching was such a blur of worry. I was so worried about making mistakes. I wanted to be the best and make sure the kids, parents, and administrators liked me. I wish I was told to relax, enjoy the moment, watch, look, listen to the kids. Have fun, kids are resilient and so are you! And don’t volunteer for everything!” 

How have you seen education changed in your teaching experience? 

“There have been many changes. Some that supported my pedagogy and others that I questioned for this age group. But all changes were done with the thoughtful consideration to do what’s best for our students.” 

Wonder wall Kinders' wonders. We work on finding answers to our questions.

How do you use student voice in your classroom and what outcomes have you seen from it?

“Student voice was present on a daily basis, from “free choice” morning activities to opportunities for exploration during genius hour time and our Wonder Wall questions.

Kinders felt confident in sharing their wonders, finding ways to discover answers, and knowing their voice was important in our learning.” 

How is subbing different from being a teacher?

“As a substitute teacher, I knew I was there to support the teacher’s work with their students. I looked at it as an opportunity to learn alongside the students. The kinders knew me and that was a great inroad to establishing rapport and a relationship with the kinders.  And as I subbed in 1st, 2nd, and Toddlers, 3s and 4s my primary goal was to be there for the teachers (my school has a team teaching model) and students. A big difference was the accountability and responsibility basically on the other teacher‘s shoulders.  I was basically the helper, to be available for what the lead teacher needed from me.”

How is subbing the same as being a teacher?

“As a substitute teacher I did many read alouds, led Morning Meetings, did math activities, writing, and reading workshop. I followed the lesson plans left by the teacher but could use my discretion and expertise to modify the lessons. I did have autonomy as well. I collaborated with the teachers to create a program that met the student’s needs, that encouraged questioning, wonder, voice, and choice.”

What tips do you have for substitute teachers?

“Smile as you come into the room excited to be there. If you’re a substitute teacher you’re there because you’re valued and have been asked to sub. Hopefully, because you want to be there. Leave the critiques at the door. Go in and enjoy the students your lucky to meet and teach.”


Thank you for sharing with us Faige! There was a lot to learn for her! What was your biggest takeaway? 

Feature Friday: Kayla Eddington

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here. 

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Kayla Eddington, a second-grade teacher in Utah. Here is what Kayla has for us today! 

What is your favorite thing about teaching 2nd grade?  

“I love the age. They are so loveable. They love coming to school to learn and to see you as the teacher. I love that you can still discipline them and they will love you no matter what.”

What made you want to go into teaching? 

“I grew up playing school at home. I thought it was the best thing ever. I guess my thoughts never changed because here I am. I love teaching kids and seeing them get things and share their learning with the class.”

How have you integrated the arts into your core curriculum? 

I love to incorporate visual arts into all subject areas. Recently it has been super fun to add to my student’s writing. I love teaching songs that go along with the content we are teaching. I believe it helps kids remember what we learned that day.”

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

“This is such a hard question. There are so many choices. One of my favorite college professors read us Clementine by Sara Pennypacker. I fell in love with books. Clementine, the main character is so funny. I have read it to my students every year and they have all fallen in love with it as well and want to read all the books in the series.”

What are your best tips for avoiding burnout? 

“I had to learn a balance in all things. I try to not bring anything home unless it is something pressing. I have also learned to be ahead of the game and planned out a week or two in advance. This has saved me so many times.”

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

“I wish I would have known how hard it is and what teachers really do behind the scenes. They don’t teach you that stuff in college and you don’t come to understand it all until you are right in the middle of it all.  I love it just the same, however.”

What are the benefits you’ve seen in collaborating with your team of teachers? 

“This saved me my first few years of teaching. There is no way I would have made it without other teachers on my team helping me through the way. I love to bounce ideas off of others as well. We all help each other out in many different ways. Everyone has their own set of strengths and weaknesses. It is so helpful to have others to help out.”

How do you use student voice in your classroom and what outcomes have you seen from it? 

“I love to hear my students teach each other. One way I love to do it and so do my students is during math. They love to come up in front of the class and show each other how to solve a problem and talk about why they did what they did. I literally have kids upset when they don’t get a turn. This is when I know they love having their voice heard and to feel included. I also love to have a mini-meeting on Monday mornings and let each student share their thoughts about what we might be talking about that day.”


Thanks for your time and thoughts, Kayla! I’m excited to read her book recommendation. Head back next week to read our Feature Friday post from a California teacher!

Feature Friday: Scott Hunsaker

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here. 

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Dr. Scott Hunsaker. He is a well known college professor at Utah State University teaching pre-service teachers. While teaching at USU he has received multiple awards including  Teacher of the Year, Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year, and the Carol and William Strong Human Service Awards from the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services. He was also honored by the Utah Association for Gifted Children for his career work in gifted and talented education. Here’s what Dr. Hunsaker has for us today.

What grade/ subjects have you taught and for how long? 

“I taught 6th grade in an elementary school for 8 years. I also taught about 1 year in the lockup unit of a private school for “troubled” boys, and ½ year in a 5/6 combination gifted magnet class. I’ve been at Utah State (25 years), and, before that, University of Georgia (4 years) teaching undergraduate and graduate students in teacher preparation programs and in gifted education.”

What is your favorite thing about teaching this age/subject? 

“Sixth graders are on the cusp between childhood and adolescence. I enjoyed being there to help them through that transition. I also very much enjoyed teaching the social studies content—Western Hemisphere. I enjoy working with undergraduate students because their informed naivete inspires me to remember why I went into teaching so many years ago. Graduate students provide an opportunity for me to challenge and be challenged.”

What is one of your favorite ways to utilize technology in the classroom? 

“I’ve really enjoyed, recently, using an AI-enhanced group discussion format that has markedly improved student responses to weekly readings and students’ responses to one another.”

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

“I’m still very partial to Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. It is written in a unique format that is becoming more popular of late—free verse poetry. It provides a subtle critique of “state tests” and how we ought to be responding to those. It gets back at that theme of the transition between childhood and adolescence and even into adulthood that I’ve already mentioned makes teaching 6th graders so engaging for me. The use of figurative language is superb. Finally, I love stories that explore parent-child relationships, but especially father-child relationships. Another author who does much the same through his use of free verse poetry, but usually focusing on sports stories, is Kwame Alexander.”

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

“How do you really teach a math lesson.This was not presented well in my teacher preparation program. The math methods course seemed to be more a math “arts and crafts” class. Here at USU, the math methods courses do not make this mistake.”

How have you seen education change in the years you’ve taught? 

“There have been many important changes in teaching since I began. Two changes, I’m not particularly glad to see—the emphasis on high-stakes testing for accountability and the deprofessionalization of teaching. Both are associated with the politicization of teaching and schools. I’m glad to see, however, a move toward standards-based grading, when it is implemented correctly, since this is a better indicator, in my opinion, of what a student is actually learning, as opposed to the more typical points systems leading to letter grades. I also believe that the internet gives teachers and students access to many wonderful resources that were previously unavailable.”

What has been one of your favorite teaching moments so far? 

“Oh so many to choose from. I’d have to say, though, that I thoroughly loved what occurred when I was doing a demonstration teaching with a 6th-grade magnet gifted classroom. Our text was Secret Garden by Frances Hodgsen Burnett. By the students’ choice, we were discussing ideas related to the word “tyranny” that appeared in the text. The discussion ranged from discussing examples of “tyranny” in the story, but also in the students’ experience—including the “tyranny” they experienced on the playground.” The discussion lasted well over the 30-minutes I’d been given, and the teacher later told me she couldn’t get the students to end the discussion even after I left.”

What tips do you have for pre-service teachers? 

“Remember that you’re a novice. You don’t have to be perfect on your first attempts. You’ve got time and space to grow.”

What is a brief overview of standards-based grading? 

“I gave a brief overview above, but the keys are as follows: Define intended outcomes or standards clearly. Establish the evidence that you will accept that demonstrates that a student has met the standard. Provide students opportunities to practice the knowledge, skills, and dispositions related to those outcomes without consequence for those practice efforts. Provide regular and specific feedback. Especially for students who’ve not yet met the standard, use practice efforts to refocus instruction on intended outcomes (i.e., standards). Provide students who’ve met the standard opportunities to go beyond the intended outcome through extensions. Do not cloud the assessment of standards achievement (and, therefore, academic grades) with extraneous information such as attendance, punctuality (e.g., being late for class or being late with assignments), averaging in practice, number of attempts, etc. Provide multiple pathways and opportunities to demonstrate achievement of the standard.”

How and why is this more effective than traditional grading? 

“Because the focus is on what students are actually learning, not how or when they learn, the grade given is more likely to be a grade that reflects actual learning rather than exogenous variables.”

Why is it important to have a specified college course for pre-service teachers regarding assessment? 

“Assessment is all about gathering information to make instructional decisions. We should be gathering this information before beginning instruction about a set of standards, while giving that instruction, and after having given instruction. This helps the teacher know how to modify the planned instruction to meet the specific needs of groups of learners or individual learners, what adjustments to make along the way, and whether the instruction has been successful or not. The knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to use assessment in this way—not merely as a way for the student to earn points to receive a grade—is essential to the success of prospective teachers in schools today, as assessment, either through a shift to standards-based grading or high-stakes testing, is emphasized so much more than when I was in the public school classroom.”


Thank you Scott for your thoughts! It’s very clear Dr. Hunsaker is very intelligent in his field of study and has a lot of great information he can share with the education world. I am humbled he took time to be interviewed for the blog. 

Head back to our Feature Friday next week to see what interview we have in store for you! 

New Blog Schedule: A Peek Into What I Will Be Writing About

I’m coming up on one year of writing for this blog, I cannot believe it has been that long! I’ve loved the experience it has given me, the research opportunities, and the new relationships I’ve been able to make. When I began writing, I created a blog schedule. My original blog schedule ended up changing and adapting over time and eventually became non-existent. I was writing what was relevant and important to me at the time, and it truly worked so well! I loved the adaptability of it. 

However, I’m ready to get back into a blogging schedule. I like the consistency and dependability of a blog schedule and it’s what I need in my life right now. Here is what I have settled on. 

Monday: Past Teachers Still Teaching Me Today

I’ve written about past teachers and professors on my blog before and came to realize that they are continuing to teach me as I take these lessons from them and apply them to my education world today. I want to write out each of these stories and gather them together as one big resource. You can read the ones I’ve already written in these links. 

Mrs. Scoresby 

Mr. Meyer

Max Longhurst

Wednesday: How Each Enneagram Type Learns

I wrote about each Myers-Briggs personality type and how to adapt your teaching to each type. For the next ten or so weeks I’ll be breaking down the nine Enneagram types and diving into more depth on what Enneagram is and how to understand it. 

Friday: Feature Friday 

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you know Feature Friday has been a consistent Friday post since April! Originally I planned to do this for 2-3 months, but it has been such a hit and so fun to do, I decided to continue. If you are an educator in any shape or form, please reach out to me to be featured. 

What posts are you most excited to see? 

Feature Friday: Jake Downs

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Jake Downs. Jake teaches 4th grade in a rural community in Cache Valley, Utah. He also runs a podcast regarding teaching called The Teaching Literacy Podcast. He gives us great insight on the podcast and how it has helped his teaching below. 

What is the Teaching Literacy Podcast and why did you start it?

“The Teaching Literacy Podcast grew out of my experience in my Ph.D. program at Utah State University.  I found there was so much compelling research out there that could really benefit teachers, but it can often be like finding a needle in a haystack.  I also had a few classes where we discussed that there’s not really great channels to allow teachers access to high-quality literacy research.  That really bothered me- there’s this wealth of knowledge out there that could help improve instruction, but it remains largely aloof from teachers.  The current model really follows a trickle-down diffusion approach, which takes time and loses certain nuances.”

“I started the podcast to help address that.  I take quality research, interview the researcher, and talk about their findings and how it would apply to classroom management.  I’ve seen enthusiastic responses from researchers and educators alike. The researchers I’ve talked with are not the stereotypical ivory tower professors, nearly all of them are former teachers who care greatly about supporting our nation’s teachers and readers. Teachers have appreciated listening to research straight from the researcher’s mouth, with ideas of how it could help their instruction.  It’s been a great experience so far, and one I look forward to continuing.”

What is your favorite thing about teaching this age/subject?

“4th grade is a perfect age!  Old enough to be more independent and capable of impressive critical thought, but they still have the magic of childhood that seems to evaporate soon after.  This age group has great content to teach in reading and math as well.” 

“Reading-wise, the third and fourth grades pivot away from a steady diet of phonics and fluency practice, and towards more of a comprehension focus.  Fluency is still an important aspect of my instruction, but I’ve found great satisfaction in teaching reading comprehension, and supporting students to develop proficiency in silent reading efficiency.”

“Math for fourth graders slides toward complexity and abstraction.  For example, in third grade, it’s fairly easy to draw three groups of 6 to model 3×6.  In fourth grade, however, modeling 36×22 becomes more abstract.  We still do it, but we begin to use area models rather than direct representations.  That’s just one example, but I feel that something shifts between third and fourth grades with how the math is approached.”

How have you integrated the arts into your core curriculum?

“One way I’ve integrated art on and off throughout the years is through using ‘One-Pagers’ to integrate reading.  They’re pretty popular right now, just Google the term if you’re unfamiliar, but the gist of it is fusing an artistic representation of a scene from a specific text with summaries and/or direct quotes from the text. One thing good readers do is sift and separate important information from trivial details.  When done right, One-Pagers allow this to be practiced in the classroom in a way that students generally find very engaging.”

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

“Every year I read ‘City of Ember’ to my students.  It’s a great book about two kids in a dying city that get caught up in an adventure much bigger than themselves- or the city itself.  There are lots of twists and turns, with a jaw-dropping ending.  It’s always a highlight of my year and provides lots of great little teaching moments about comprehension throughout.  A careful reading will show that the ending was there all around, just the bread crumbs were so subtle that it really takes careful reading to put it all together.”

What are your best tips for avoiding burnout? 

“I’ve experienced burnout as an educator, something I think everyone who teaches young minds experiences at one time or another.  There’s a lot of ebb and flow to teaching, but burnout should be avoided at all costs.  It’s like your teeth, if you’re brushing and flossing then getting a cavity filled will be few and far between.  Even if you go to the dentist right when the tooth starts hurting, getting the cavity filled won’t be too bad.  However, if you neglect brushing and flossing, neglect going to the dentist when the tooth starts hurting then pain, infection, and the inevitable root canal is headed your way.”

Something in our culture has made us almost fanatically preventative with our oral health, yet tending to our mental health is much more reactive.  Find what ‘brushing and flossing’ means for you, and do it as much as you need to avoid burnout root canals.  For me, it’s reading good books, thinking deep thoughts, feeling in the driver’s seat with how my classroom is running.  When those things aren’t happening, burnout can creep in for me.  

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

“There was this perception among my peers in my teaching program that much of what we were learning was relatively useless because things would be different ‘in a real classroom.’  I feel that perception is unfortunate and even dangerous.  True, there is some degree of disconnect between the teaching program and actual classrooms.  But isn’t that true of nearly all non-apprenticeship programs?  Do CPA’s complain about the disconnect between business college and real-life accounting?  What about nurses?” 

“Using a metaphor of learning to fly might be a more productive view towards teacher preparation. Teacher preparation programs are like learning how to fly in a wind tunnel or a flight simulator, assuming many variables to focus on the principles of learning.  The goal isn’t to take a Cessna to the next state over, the goal is to learn the principles of lift, drag, and aero dynamism.  Learning those principles, and the tradeoffs between them are critical to being a successful pilot once you climb into the cockpit.  Yes, piloting an actual plane will have its own learning curve, but the knowledge gained from that crucial pre-flight training will make the difference between a pilot on ‘auto-pilot’ and one who truly understands flying.”

“Good teacher ed programs provide invaluable assistance in ‘flight simulators,’ which means they are not invaluable.  As a first-year teacher, don’t readily discard everything you learned in your prep program.  Find ways to bridge what you’ve learned into your everyday experience.”

How has running your podcast helped you in your teaching?

“Teaching fourth grade, working towards a Ph.D. in literacy, and starting a literacy podcast has been a very fortunate experience.  It’s given me a bit of a ‘workshop’ where what I read and learn from interviews I can tinker within my classroom, and then what I learn from that tinkering informs what I look into next.  It’s certainly been a unique experience- one that I wouldn’t trade for anything.”

If you could give teachers one piece of advice about teaching literacy, what would it be?

“Learn the pedagogy and research of literacy.  Teaching Literacy Podcast is one way I’m trying to make that research more readily digestible for educators, but there are many out there.  Once I really started to learn the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s’ of fluency and reading comprehension my instruction shifted dramatically.  Rather than relying on the curriculum to do the teaching, my curriculum became a tool to leverage my thinking.  I think many of the reading curricula out there are well done and do the things they do for a reason, but they are not a replacement for teacher pedagogical knowledge.  Teachers teach, that’s the bottom line, so learning how reading works will greatly improve any teacher’s instruction.”


Thank you Jake for sharing your insight with us! If you are interested in listening to the Teaching Literacy podcast, you can find it on Apple, Google, or Stitcher. The majority of podcast apps have it available. You can also listen at Teachingliteracypodcast.com.