By Katherine Kolidas
Alumni, College of Education
As a recent graduate of the class of 2018 Master’s in Early Childhood Education and Teaching of Grand Canyon University, I cannot help but reflect back to that day a few years ago when clarity came over my thoughts and I decided to become a lifelong teacher. It was a decision that took months of soul searching, careful thinking, deep conversations with fellow teachers and volunteer work that helped me to uncover what I was truly meant to do: teach.
In hindsight, I had already been doing it. I have always found myself guiding others, lending a helping hand and problem solving whenever I could. Up until that point I was working as a fashion designer in New York City. This was a profession that I held successfully for twenty years in an industry that was very good to me. However, with all the rewards, I never felt I was in the place where I was supposed to be and truly gratified. Deep inside I knew I wanted to serve my community and contribute to improving the lives of others. I knew this because every time I helped someone or improved their quality of life I felt exhilarated.
When I became a mother, I experienced the greatest joy of my life twice with my two daughters. As my girls grew, I started to think about teaching. I would drop them off at school in the morning and dream about how wonderful it would be to be a teacher there. Meanwhile, one of my coworkers at the time would always mention what his wife (a kindergarten teacher) was up to with her students. Each time, this made me imagine my own self as a teacher, planning lessons in my head.
Eventually I began to volunteer more of my time at my children’s schools. I would sub, teach visual arts or contribute however my help was needed to support the school’s learning environment. When I was volunteering at the schools, I never wanted to leave because I felt like I belonged there. I just wanted to do more. Seeing the positive impact that I was making even at those levels filled me with happiness and energy. Subsequently, I noticed the discrepancy between the fulfillment I was obtaining from my teaching, compared to that of my current job, and concluded I had some serious decisions to make.
As I was considering whether to become a teacher, I realized there was no other option, for me, but early childhood education. Volunteering and working with different grade levels at schools helped me understand that a child’s social, emotional and academic success starts at the very young levels of early childhood. For children at these ages, educators can nurture and foster a love for learning, build social skills by facilitating interpersonal interactions and contribute to a healthy sense of trust and boundaries.
Our formative years are our most important developmental years are found in early childhood. They are fundamentally important because this is where we form, learn and develop our learning and social skills. This is where the foundation is set for our academic and lifelong success which includes growth, development, learning and happiness. Seeing my daughters become independent, empathetic and successful young women, who are able to reach their goals, made it evident to me that the strong social and academic foundation set during their formative years helped set them on this path. I want every child have this opportunity. This is where I could provide the most effective influence on a child’s development, because this is where it all begins.
I started to pursue a Master’s in Early Childhood in a traditional college setting, but it was a difficult schedule to maintain with my other responsibilities. I begin my search for online programs. I wanted to find an accredited program at an accredited university. My search came to an end with Grand Canyon University. Attending Grand Canyon University’s online program made me feel like I was part of a special community.
The support, encouragement and engagement that I experienced from professors and fellow classmates on the LoudCloud forums surpassed any that I have experienced in a traditional class setting. I will miss our topic discussion questions on the LoudCloud. This is a testimony of the wonderful university Grand Canyon is. From my first conversation with my counselor I knew I had found the place for me.
My counselor’s sincere demeanor and the time she invested in getting to know me provided me with insight to the type of university Grand Canyon is, its culture and dogma. My coursework studies and entire experience at Grand Canyon University have been amazing. I am confident that the education and preparation I received has prepared me to be an effective teacher for my students. I am honored and humbled to be a recipient of GCU’s 2018 Exemplary Teacher Candidate Award. This is a tremendous honor bestowed onto me that I cherish and will uphold every day I teach. I hold myself and my students to the highest of standards so that we can achieve excellence with every learning experience, everyday.
In 2015, I was given the most amazing opportunity. I was hired as a lead nursery teacher for a private pre-school in New York City. The director was able to hire me under the work-study program. This June, I will be completing my third year holding this position and I have signed on to continue in September. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to continue working in a place where I am encouraged to implement a STEAM based, student-centered learning environment that is supported by my progressive teaching philosophy.
When children are in an environment wherein they are encouraged to explore, experiment and inquire, they internalize what they learn. I believe that every child can learn when information is presented to them in a manner that connects to their individual learning style. In my nursery classroom and in the kindergarten classroom where I did my student teaching session 2, I used visual literacy to support the implementation instruction. I communicated information to my students with pictures without having to say a word. Visual literacy is a visual language understood by everyone. I use it as a method to recall student’s background knowledge on content, connect facts, or sequence directions.
When creating lesson plans, I always utilize methods and activities that connect to the three different learning styles. I include differentiated instruction for my students that need individual support. This way, all needs are met and everyone is given the opportunity to learn effectively. In order to teach each of my students I must get to know them, as various factors directly impact their individual learning styles. Getting to know students can provide insightful information on how their cognitive, affective and physiological factors contribute to their academic, social, emotional and physiological performance in the classroom. This is insightful information because it allows us to be proactive and address issues before or when they arise.
I believe that student centered learning environments are most productive and successful learning environments. One critical factor in obtaining this environment is effective classroom management. Some have argued that student-centered learning environments are unstructured, citing the classroom’s inevitable bustling, movement, and “distractions.” However, for the student to truly be centered, it requires careful planning and implementation of management that involves a cooperative effort of the entire classroom to maintain a cohesive learning environment. Having routine, schedules, rules (including the consequences for breaking them) and making expectations clearly known, sets the pace and tone of the classroom. I introduce our class rules and consequences on day one. They are fair, just and age appropriate. I inform my students of my expectations of them and what we will be doing in our class.
To transition my students, I use cues that are fun and easy and stick to our schedule. This helps students acclimate and familiarize themselves in their new environment and feel safe to engage. Additionally, I use a noise level chart to control the noise level in the classroom. Finally, I strive to teach by example and acknowledge my students’ achievements. Every day, a student is chosen to be the classroom helper. The helper of the day represents the best listener the day before. It is a fun reward as well as a motivational tool for my students to strive to do well. When I put my lesson instruction together I always try to include new vocabulary, academic language, hands on activities and instructional methods that will intrigue, inspire and encourage critical thinking in my students.
Every day that my students come to school, I want them to feel like it is an extension of their home. I want them to be in a place where they feel safe and accepted for who they are. I want them to come to school excited with anticipation for what the day will be, a day filled with extraordinary learning experiences where they can explore and inquire about what they learn.
Every school year that ends feels like the best year ever, but the next one is always just as wonderful and nothing is better than seeing the children in my classroom learn, engage with their peers and smile.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.