Feature Friday: Kiera Rasmussen

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 Kiera Rasmussen, a first-grade teacher in Roanoke, Virginia. Mrs. Rasmussen loves teaching this age because they mostly have their foundation for learning, but are still young and excited about new information. She received her elementary education degree from Utah State University. 

What made you want to go into teaching? 

Ever since I can remember, I have loved working with children and teaching. I wanted a career that would make an impact on future generations and I could see the difference I was making.

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

Giraffes Can’t Dance – I love the lesson that it teaches. It is okay to be different and unique! Everyone has something they are good at and it is not always the same as everyone else.

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

I worked in an inner-city school, so it was very challenging to have students from very rough homes and family life, and many students with behavior problems. What I kept in my mind the whole time is that they just need love and stability. My most important job as their teacher was to make sure the students knew they were loved and safe. It was also important to lean on coworkers and receive help.

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

I wish someone would have told me that it is okay when lessons or days don’t go well! It doesn’t mean you are not doing a good job. Most of the time, following the lesson plan exactly does NOT work. It may not work exactly as thought for that group of kids or even just that day. Teaching requires adapting to the students.

Who influenced you most to choose a career education? 

My mom! She has been teaching for 25+ years. She taught while I was growing up, so I had the chance to watch her and learn so much from her. I had a lot of experience practicing and learning from her example.

Thanks Kiera for all of your insight! Come back next week to read our Feature Friday post from our old writer here at Honors Grad U, Mary Wade!

A Few Of My Favorite Teacher Memes

With so much going on in the world right now, let’s take a little break to laugh at some of my favorite teacher memes! Then share with your friends so they can laugh as well!

Because memes are so widespread and easily shared, it was nearly impossible for me to give credit where needed. However, many of the memes are made by Bored Teachers, you can see their logo on most of the pictures. I apologize for not giving proper credit to the rest of the memes.

You know this has been you too!
They didn’t prepare me for seating charts in my college classes!
It’s always good to look for the positive!
I want this hung in my classroom someday!

There truly is no happiness compared to the feeling of your students understanding the topics you’ve worked so tirelessly to teach them. Teaching comes with pros and cons galore, but we all know we do it for the children.

I hope this roll of memes helped you relax and laugh a little during such a stressful and crazy 2020 we are having. Stay safe and keep washing your hands!

Feature Friday: Patrick Tolman

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 Patrick Tolman, a high school social studies teacher. Mr. Tolman received his Master’s degree in curriculum design with an emphasis on educational technology, so I took this interviewing opportunity to ask deeper questions about utilizing tech in classrooms. He had some great answers to share with us! 

What is your favorite thing about teaching high school social studies? 

“My favorite part of teaching social studies is having a student’s perspective. These ideas and opinions change from year to year and student to student and they always make the in-class discussions more valuable and allow us to talk about the historical thinking skills that I focus on in my class.”

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

“I love tools that allow students to provide their opinions or responses anonymously so that there are no barriers to student participation. Tools like polleverywhere or padlet that allow students to participate with their favorite device (their cellphone).  I have got some of the best responses from students using these tools that I am fairly certain I would not have received with a traditional question, answer, raise your hand, response type of situation.  I got my Master’s degree in curriculum design and instruction with an emphasis on educational technology and my thesis was about improving the classroom using cell phones so I could go on about what a great opportunity teachers have to help students engage more with these devices.”

What are the benefits you have seen by utilizing technology in your classroom?

“The biggest benefit of using technology in the classroom is that you are giving students more buy-in.  Technology plays such a large role in students’ lives today that by using it in class you are giving the students a king of validation to a part of themselves. Especially if you make use of their cell phones!”  

There are a lot of frustrations that come with using technology, how do you move past this and keep it a positive aspect in your teaching? 

“You have to plan ahead and be ok with some hiccups in using it at first. Just like regular classroom management you have to establish norms for how it is used in class. But…….”

What advice do you have for the educators out there currently using minimal technology, but want to expand and use more? 

“You can’t be afraid to use new things.  We ask the kids to learn new things all the time so we have to be willing to do the same.  Education is a field in which we have to be in the process of continual improvement!  There are so many tools out there you are bound to find something that will make your classroom more engaging and likely make the presentation of information easier!”

What are your best tips for avoiding burnout? 

“Plan ahead.  Put in some extra work in the summer to prepare for the school year so that you aren’t stressed preparing last minute.  If possible do your grading at work and then leave it at work. Don’t take it home with you. When you go home, be home and present for your home life.”

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

“I teach at an alternative high school and some of the responses I get from students are inappropriate and have to be addressed as such, but in general, I try to make sure that even if students give an answer that is not correct that we explore their response and talk about it so that students feel that their voice is heard and matters.  The outcome I see from this is that most students are willing to speak up and answer in class which is great for me as a teacher and great for them to buy into what we are discussing.” 

Thanks, Mr. Tolman, for your great thoughts and for diving deeper into the ever-growing educational technology.

Come back next week for a very special Feature Friday, where our old writer here at Honors Grad U, Mary Wade will be showering us with her wisdom once again!

Feature Friday: Cassie Lee

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 Cassie Lee, an elementary teacher in West Jordan, Utah. She taught second grade for a year and is currently teaching in a first-grade classroom. Here’s what Cassie has to say: 

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

“First graders are so enthusiastic and curious about everything! They are all little scientists and just want to know more about the world around them. Any question or experience can be turned into a teaching opportunity, and I love fostering that love of learning in them. They have such a love of life and there is never a dull moment in my classroom. How many people can say their job is never boring?” 

What made you want to go into teaching? 

“My main reason for going into teaching was that I wanted to pay forward the hard work that good teachers before me had done. My dad is an immigrant and had some teachers who impacted his life greatly, to the point where he named my brother after one of them. Those teachers took the time to really care and went above and beyond the call of duty. I myself had many amazing teachers who also took the time to get to know me and loved me for who I was. I wanted to be able to have that kind of impact in the lives of children as well.” 

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

“At the first school I taught at, I had a SmartBoard in my room and that was a really fun, engaging and interactive tool. My students loved getting to use it and interact with it. It had its fair share of shortcomings and glitches (I will never forget when it didn’t want to work during an observation, ahh!) but overall it was an enjoyable resource. My students could sort information on it, roll interactive dice, write on it, etc. It gave all of them an interactive visual to participate with during my lessons and I enjoyed learning the variety of ways I could use it in my classroom.”

How have you integrated the arts into your core curriculum? 

“I enjoy using visual art in my teaching most of all, but I also enjoy using elements of drama, dance, and music. Integrating the arts is engaging and enjoyable and gives students more chances to be creative and demonstrate their learning.” 

“As a first-grade teacher, I have to keep my kids moving, so we act out and dance a lot. We will also learn songs connected to our curriculum too. Due to time constraints and maintaining a rigorous pace, I integrate social studies and science into reading, and I integrate the arts into that as well. We do an art project every Friday that is linked to the unit we studied that week. It is a really fun way to cap off that week’s worth of learning.”

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

“What a hard thing to do! I openly acknowledge that I am addicted to kids’ books. So I’m going to cheat a little and give two answers.”

“If I had to pick a book to use for teaching, it would be The Panda Problem by Deborah Underwood. It is such a fun and clever way to teach story elements and get the kids engaged in narrative writing.”

“If I had to pick one children’s book that changed my life personally it would be The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. What a heart-wrenching and beautiful story. It really tugs at your heart and makes you think. If I taught an older grade I would totally read it as a read-aloud.”

What are your best tips for avoiding burnout? 

“That’s a big question. Burnout is very real and very overwhelming. I recommend remembering to take time for yourself and your own hobbies, outside of teaching. I myself am married but don’t have any kids. It’s easy for me to come home and work non-stop. I’m learning how to cut myself off and take time for self-care. It’s not a selfish thing, it’s how I keep myself healthy and fully able to do my job to my best ability.” 

“I’m also working on saying no. That sounds weird, but I tend to be the kind of person who just keeps accepting more and more additional work and responsibilities. I like being helpful and tackling big projects, but I’ve started noticing that I am burning out quickly. It’s important to be self-reflective and learn to create some boundaries.”

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

“That it’s okay to acknowledge my mistakes and apologize to my class. Whether that was over something I mistaught, a situation I mishandled, etc. You’re not a bad teacher because you’re not perfect. You’re not a bad teacher for messing up. You’re just human, and that’s okay. It’s always funny to me how my kids react to me apologizing. They’re always so shocked. Adults hardly ever apologize to kids for their mistakes, right? But it’s a valuable lesson to see and learn- no one is perfect, and that’s okay.”

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

“We all learn from each other! I have always been the youngest person on my teams and I worried in the beginning about not being able to contribute. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Younger teachers bring a fresh perspective and new ideas. It’s been really enjoyable to collaborate and see what comes of it. Everyone benefits and all of our teaching practices improve.”

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

“Student voice is a funny thing in first grade. First graders can be very random and silly, so I try to hone that to my advantage. You gotta think quickly on your feet when a kid replies to your question with a random answer, like telling you their pet’s name. I always try to affirm their initial response but will push for deeper thinking with questioning. I want kids to feel comfortable to be themselves and express themselves, but I also want them to learn how to do that respectfully. They are all such unique individuals, so it’s also fun to work on collaborative projects, like a class story or art project.”

Thanks, Cassie for the great words you have for us today! 

Feature Friday: Logan Nielsen

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 Logan Nielsen, a 7th and 8th grade English teacher. She received her education at Utah Valley University and then taught for 8 years before eventually staying home to raise her family and become a different kind of teacher. Here’s what she has to say about teaching- 

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

“I taught junior high English for 8 years and absolutely loved it. People would always give me a look of either pity, amazement, or sympathy when they found out what grades I taught, but I would always respond by telling them how much I loved it and loved my students. One of my favorite things about teaching junior high was that the students are still so impressionable. They, for the most part, are very receptive to learning and are still young enough that they haven’t been jaded by the world. They are still kids at heart but are also turning into incredible young adults.”

What made you want to go into teaching? 

“I chose to go into teaching because I had a passion for my content area. I loved all things reading and writing, so teaching English just made sense for me. I wanted to share that passion with young people and help them realize how amazing reading and writing could be.”

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

“I had a smartboard in my classroom and loved to use that. I also frequently used Google Docs for assignments. We frequently did PowerPoint or other types of computer-based presentations. As cell phones became more popular among that age, I began to utilize their access to various apps for classroom instruction.”

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

“This is a tough question for me! There are so many great ones out there. For me, personally, I love anything by Shel Silverstein. He has an amazing way of teaching poignant lessons through silly poetry. Kids love it, and adults do as well.”

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

“I saw a shift in how students learn. Technology began to play a much larger role in my later years of teaching than it did in my earlier years. I also saw a change where students began to be more responsible for their learning. They were able to do more inquiry-based learning where they were in control of what they were doing.” 

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

“I believe that student voice is absolutely crucial to a positive learning environment. Students do so much better if they have a say in what is going on. They love choice. As a time when they are faced with so many life changes, and often times are wanting to feel some independence, I believe that allowing their voices to be heard is extremely beneficial. I loved giving project options and letting them choose what they wanted to do. I loved free writing time, where students were able to tell me anything they wanted to. I loved getting them to think critically about issues that impact them or that they would have opinions on. I saw students blossom when given the chance to share their voice. It is truly one of the most magical things about teaching.”

What is your favorite unit you teach and why is it your favorite?

“With my 7th graders, my absolute favorite unit was teaching the novel The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I loved teaching it because, even though it was written in the 1960s, there was still so much that was relatable to teenagers today. It was always the one book I could count on every student enjoying and getting involved with. I mean, who doesn’t love Ponyboy?!”

“With my 8th graders, my favorite unit to teach was the novel The Giver by Lois Lowry. It became my favorite because, again, there are many things that are relatable in it. It has so many topics and issues that are excellent discussion starters. It’s amazing how deeply 14-year-olds feel about certain issues, and I loved seeing them come to life when we would discuss the issues present in the novel.”

Thanks for the great insight, Logan! What a fun Feature Friday we had this week! Next week we get to hear from a second grade teacher with an excellent book list to share with us, come on back to hear what she has to say!

Feature Friday: Nadine Ball

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 Nadine Ball, a second-grade teacher at Ucon Elementary in Ucon, Idaho, which is where I went to elementary school! She has been teaching there for 30 years now. Nadine is mom to Rachel Hassman, our feature Friday interview from last week. Rachel mentioned what an influence her mom has been in choosing a teaching career, so I only found it fitting to interview the legend herself! 

 Mrs. Ball loves second graders for their sense of humor and ability to accept other peers without judgment. She also loves what an innocent view they have of the world. Here’s what Nadine has for us today. 

How do you integrate the arts into your classroom? 

“I admit I was better at this when our district did not hire music teachers. Now we have them and it is awesome. When I was without music teachers, I recruited parent volunteers to come into the classroom and teach music. As far as art itself, I have always encouraged creativity and taught some sort of art lesson weekly. I still do this and it definitely varies each week and is often related to holidays. I rely on what I learned in my art methods class years ago to teach such things as grid, painting, etc.”

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

“Wow, to recommend just one childrenś book…I cannot do it!
Maybe to recommend just one author:  Here are three.”

Suzy Kline (Horrible Harry series)
Tomie dePaola
Chris Van Allsburg

What are your best tips to avoid burnout? 

“a. take summer off and relax!
b. hang out and chat often with colleagues; share fears and frustrations
c. try to always appreciate kids and their unique qualities”

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

“To just chill out and enjoy each day! Recognize the fact that every day will not be a great one and you always have tomorrow. Kids are resilient and forgiving.”

How has education changed in the years you’ve taught? 

“Education has changed every single year. I would say Math and Reading instruction has seen the most changes, mostly in theories and what works best for kids. When federal money is flowing, math and reading curriculum is updated often and each time something new is adopted, it is slightly different. HOW to teach math and reading is always tweaked, depending on what book on the subjects is popular at the time.”

How do you use student voice in your classroom? 

“Second graders do pretty much what I want them to and I call the shots mostly. I feel that I welcome all types of opinions and allow kids to express themselves freely. We do quite a bit of journal writing, creative writing and research and I think this allows kids to use their own interests. None of my kids participate in student council, where their voice could change the school. But we do have that and as kids get older, their voice maybe means more. I always listen to kids and their ideas!”

What are your favorite units to teach? 

“–solar system
–early US history and native Americans
–Idaho and state symbols

It was so fun to be able to interview two generations of second-grade teachers and see the insight they had for us. Enjoy that new grandbaby, Nadine and thanks for sharing your thoughts with us today! 

Feature Friday: Rachel Hassman

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 Rachel Hassman, a second-grade teacher in Nampa, Idaho. She claims her best friends are 7 to 8-year-olds who are silly and creative, yet more capable than we give them credit for. She started her education at Northwest Nazarene University where she was recruited as a soccer player, started her undergrad as pre-med, then switched later to an education degree. She also has a master’s degree in curriculum, innovation, and instruction. Receiving a master’s degree in administration may be in her future as well! A certain part of their future is their first baby coming soon, how exciting! Read what Mrs. Hassman has to say about teaching below. 

What made you want to go into teaching? 

“I originally began college as a pre-med student. I have always loved science and I only saw myself in a career that was geared towards community and public service. Through many conversations with my mom (who is also an incredible 2nd-grade teacher!), I began to realize that the career I wanted was in education and not in the medical field. As a young person, my only idea of “helping” was to heal the sick. After being involved in a few mission trips and serving opportunities I began to realize that education is the tool that many families and communities need in order to make real growth and change happen. Education is transformative in that it can empower the educated individual to become whoever they want to be. There is no geographic movement, living situation, or amount of poverty that can take away your knowledge. Schools are the link between families, services, success, and so much more. I realized that I wanted in on this transformative work so I changed my major and never looked back!” 

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

“A big challenge I face daily is student behavior. I teach in a school whose population is 92% below the poverty line. Our entire building receives free breakfast and lunch. I have many students who are homeless and many more who live in foster care. Because of these demographics (and all that comes along with these living situations), students arrive in my room with countless past and current trauma’s affecting their emotional well-being. Before I even have the chance to intervene academically I have the challenge of teaching emotional regulation and creating an environment of safety. Fostering Resilient Learners was an amazing read and it taught me how to recognize, empathize, and work with students dealing with the effects of trauma. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who works with people because chances are, we’ve all been through something!” 

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

“You’re going to get punched. You’re going to have to forgive the kid. And you’re going to have to greet him with a smile the very next day. Crazy, unpredictable things are going to happen with your group and your year. Every year. You absolutely HAVE to lean into your support systems. I can remember calling our instructional coach into my room for 5 minutes so I could leave and let out a good, frustrated cry. I can also remember waiting way too long to call on my principal for help in many difficult situations. I also didn’t value a relationship with our school counselor in my first year. Now, in year 4, she is as much a counselor and support system for me as she is for my students. You have so much support in your building. Look for it, ask for it, and be so grateful for it.” 

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

“There is always something new. Some years everything is new! This is one of the things I love about teaching. There is almost nothing I am currently doing that I did in my first year. Constant change, updating, and researching creates the kind of learning environment kids need: one that fits them! The biggest change I’ve seen in my own teaching is the attention to differentiation. I no-longer teach the bulk of my day whole group. In fact, there is very little I do whole group! Most of my time is spent meeting in differentiated groups that are fluid and change weekly and sometimes daily. I see this as a shift in education as a whole as well. Increased access to technology helps in the differentiation of students’ independent work. I’ve been introduced to many different programs that can help fill gaps in phonics, math facts, etc. These are incredibly helpful to me so while students work independently on filling their own gaps, I can focus on a small group and the exact needs of that group.” 

Who influenced you most to choose a career in education? 

“My mom! I grew up in her classroom before and after school and I always knew how much she loved her job. She has always been an incredible example of serving her community through teaching (and many other endeavors). I’ve known my whole life that her job also allowed her to be a really good mom for me and my brothers. That is something I value as well -my husband and I are expecting our first baby in May of 2020! She may not know it, but just by watching my mom all those years, she made teaching seem like the best job in the whole world. Then when college came along, she was so helpful to guide me through my transition from the pursuit of the medical field to the pursuit of education. She was patient and encouraging in my search for what was always right there in front of me!”

Rachel has great advice for all of us, especially what she has to say to first-year teachers! That is advice any teacher can use. Thanks for the great interview, Rachel, and congrats on the new baby coming soon!