In this week's edition of "Leaders in Early Education," we're excited to introduce Amanda Tessier, an accomplished kindergarten teacher who gained a loyal following on Instagram over the years. Operating under the handle @mrstessierkindergarten, Amanda has become a beacon of inspiration, generously sharing her insights, experiences, and innovative teaching methods with an ever-growing community. Let's delve into Amanda's story, celebrating her dedication to early education and the positive influence she extends beyond the classroom.
1. How do you come up with creative and engaging activities to keep young learners excited about coming to school every day?
Honestly, it’s always been one of my gifts. I am a very creative person and I am able to look at an objective or goal, and come up with a fun game to accomplish it. A lot of times I think of ideas 30 seconds before I’m about to teach the lesson. I think it also comes with years of experience and lessons that I’ve learned along the way. Ask me to keep my classroom clean and we have a whole other issue– everyone has different gifts. :)
2. Kindergarten is a critical foundation for future learning. What strategies do you use to ensure that your students are well-prepared for the academic challenges ahead?
First and foremost, I think it’s crucial in Kindergarten to develop a LOVE for learning. Kindergarten is a transitional year where play is still very important in learning, but they’re also capable of growing a stamina for independence. We need to help students understand it’s okay to feel confused or not know everything, because that’s part of the process. When I create trusting relationships with my students, they want to do their best for themselves and for me. In my classroom, I work really hard to build confidence and strong relationships.
3. Can you describe a particularly rewarding moment or success story from your time as a Kindergarten teacher that highlights the impact of your work?
That is a hard question to pinpoint one moment because there are so many. I will say the most challenging students are always the students that impact you forever. Last year was the hardest in all of my 16 years of teaching. The only time I have ever had a thought about changing careers. I had support from my coworkers and I truly learned so much. This year has been off to an incredible start and I’m so thankful I stuck with it and I am such a better teacher for going through those hard times.
4. What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of teaching Kindergarten, and how do you overcome these challenges?
The varying levels of academic knowledge and maturity levels. Some kids come into Kindergarten reading fluently at a 2nd grade level, and some kids come into Kindergarten knowing one letter of the alphabet. It’s hard to meet the needs of all students. I will say that I teach at a school that values small class sizes so it makes it easier to reach each student personally.
5. Kindergarten teachers often play a crucial role in helping children develop essential social skills. How do you facilitate this in your classroom?
Well it definitely helps that this topic is one of my passions. I’m a social butterfly myself and I love to help students learn to articulate their emotions and relate to others. I’m thankful that the school I teach at values the importance of teaching social skills. We use the Responsive Classroom Approach which is a social emotional approach to teaching and discipline. I have also been working with Diane Alber, the author and creator of the Little Spot Social Emotional Curriculum. I think she’s amazing and is doing wonderful things with her creative energy to help millions of children around the world be able to spot their emotions and become successful adults.
6. Burnout can be a concern amongst teachers. What strategies do you personally use to prevent burnout and stay motivated throughout the school year?
A huge part of the reason I stay at the school I am at is not because of the pay (obviously), but because of the amazing community. I have incredible coworkers, some that I’ve been with for 12 years. They have become great friends and a support system and been through events in both my personal and professional life. Before I had children, teaching was my identity and my whole life. I would go home and laminate all the things, go the extra mile (or ten), buy all the cute crafts, etc etc. I have learned that the extra stuff is not necessary. If I’m present during the hours of the day the children are here, they will get the best out of me. I go home, and I leave work at school. It gets so much easier to do that as the years go by. Stick with it. You are making a difference!
7. Kindergarten students have diverse learning needs and abilities. How do you differentiate your instruction to accommodate the varying needs of your students?
I teach at a private school so our class sizes are much smaller, which makes it easier to meet the varying needs of students. It is definitely still a challenge! I try to utilize all my time with the students like pulling from play time or centers to work with individual students or groups. I also have great parent support and often send home resources to get extra help from home.
8. Parent-teacher communication is vital in early education. How do you establish and maintain effective communication with the parents or guardians of your students?
Well I’ve always been an over-sharer so communication comes easily to me. I also think becoming a parent at the school I teach at has helped me greatly in this area. I try to imagine receiving the same email I am writing to a parent. When I discuss behavior issues with parents, I try to be transparent in that I deal with the same issues with my children too. Teachers and parents are a team to set the children up for success so a trusting relationship is key.
Taking photos and videos to capture special moments means a lot to me, so I try to send home one photo/video each day to give parents a glimpse into the classroom. I use Class Dojo which works really slick.
9. As a leader in education, what advice would you give to aspiring Kindergarten teachers or those considering a career in early childhood education?
A leader in education? I certainly don’t think of myself that way. I once worked with a teacher by the name of Marge Kauffer. When I started working with her, I was a fresh 20 something and she was nearing retirement. I always admired how she was open to new ideas and she never stopped learning. She wasn’t a veteran teacher who told others what to do, she learned from them as well as shared her expertise. She knew that education is ever-changing and she wanted to know what best practices were at that time.
I am type B (messy, creative etc) and I started working with a younger teacher who was my polar opposite in the classroom- type A. She was organized and a self proclaimed “not-fun” teacher. I learned a great deal from her in our 3 years together. In short, I would say- always be open to learning more! Never be too proud to try something new.