Friday, November 8, 2013

Veterans of 40 Years in the classroom

Link to published article  At TER
While it can't be said for all professions everyone I know remembers a teacher who changed their world in a positive way. It was a teacher who helped me love learning and who made me think I was going to fantastic when I grew up. For most people that teacher was someone they encountered in their youth but for me it happened to be my daughter's kindergarten teacher. She is organized, enthusiastic, creative and kind. She had a reputation of being a stable force in education because of her forty one years of experience yet was one of the first to embrace 21st century digital technologies.  I was questioning my own educational practices when I first met her and was struck by this thought:  while every child in kindergarten was excited to learn the same can't be said for every student in my high school classroom. Curiosity got the best of me so I studied my daughter's experiences. I took notes on how this teacher hooked students on math and drilled them on phonemes. I volunteered in the classroom and mimicked her collaborative discussion tactics of "think, pair, share" in my own classroom. By continuing best elementary school practices at the secondary level, I found this sudden rapport with students, eager to engage because routines and language of instruction was familiar.   I piloted other practices of formative polling, deliberate phoneme review, instruction for independent and collaborative assignments. Eventually I confessed my covert  operation and began to enjoy face to face conversations. If only there was more opportunity for co teaching!

Diane Marcoux-LaClair will retire this year from education but will continue to be engaged in worldly experiences. Her son, serving in the Peace Corp, in French Senegal returns next year. Until then she will tend her garden and experimenting with different strategies for keeping deer out.  XC skiing and snowshoeing will probably bring her to the woods behind my own home if I'm lucky. 

Here is her story.
My name is Diane Marcoux-LaClair and I was born second of six children to French-Canadian parents. I grew up in Hyde Park, Vermont and attended Hyde Park Elementary School. Actually, you can say that I started first grade at HPES in 1960 and have gone to school every year since! Whew! I am retiring in June.

How long have you been teaching or coaching?

I began working with the children of Hyde Park Elementary School in my senior year at LUHS as part of the “Co-op” program. Watching Mrs. Nancy DeForge work her magic in a classroom filled with children with special needs is what made me decide what I “wanted to be when I grew up.”  Following my graduation in June of 1972, I went to work as a fulltime teacher’s aide at HPES, and learned how to be a teacher from three teachers I really admired: Nancy Stokes, Peg Mudgett, and Grace Miner.  While I worked there, I took courses, and completed the ADP at Goddard College, earning my BA in Early Childhood Education and getting my teaching license in 1980. I have been a kindergarten teacher at HPES ever sinceI’ve been teaching in one aspect or another for 41 years.

What is it that you do that inspires students to want to engage?
In other words, what do you believe is your gift that you bring to teaching?

was blessed with really good spirit! Good spirit inevitably becomes joy. I think that if teachers take and bring joy to their teaching, children will take and bring joy to their learning.

What change in education/ coaching really helped make a difference for the greatest number of students?

For the greatest number of students, I don’t think it has happened yet. In my opinion, until we can say, in all honesty, that every child, including children with special needs, gifted children, AND all of the kids in the middle, are treated with the same amount of respect, time, resources, and teacher attention, education hasn’t changed enough yet. The education pendulum seems to be stuck on one side: somehow we have to get it back in the middle.

4. What method of teaching has consistently helped more students succeed?

Having been a teacher of 5 year olds for so many years, this is an easy question! With kindergartners, it’s all about hands-on learning! Over the past 33 years, my students and I have tapped the maple trees on the playground and made maple syrup in the classroom. We’ve dug up soil and planted a beautiful sunflower garden in front of the kindergarten classroom windows. We have spent hours watching life cycles in the spring with the tadpoles and in the fall with metamorphic Monarchs.  We’ve walked all over town andgotten to know the people in it as well as invited countless people to come in to share their expertise and teach us stuff we wouldn’t necessarily learn in our kindergarten curriculum. Grandparents have always had open invitations as they tell the best stories and children listen carefully. Whether through performing dozens of scientific experiments or dances on stages, engaging in these types of activities makes it impossible for children to fail. I’ve taught children about squares and rectangles by teaching them the box dance and about triangles by teaching them the waltz: 1, 2, 3. 1, 2, 3… I am passionate about mathematics. Last week, the children were learning number combinations to 4. I used  bunk-beds fashioned out of personal check boxes and small plastic teddy bear counters. The question of the day was “How many ways can you put those 4 bears to bed?” Very quickly, the children figured it out and took turns coming up with the different combinations. “2 on the top bunk. 2 on the bottom bunk.” “3 on the top bunk. 1 on the bottom bunk.” “4 on the top bunk. They’re all sleeping together! None on the bottom bunk.” When it was time for lunch, no one wanted to go. They wanted to keep playing the game with “bigger” numbers. Hands-on learning has always been the true “hokey pokey” and that’s what it’s really all about!


If you could have more of anything what would that be?

Time! There never seems to be enough hours in a day for me. My mind is always working, working… I go to bed thinking about something my students do not understand, and, believe it or not, in the morning I always have the solution, or an idea about something I can design to help them better understand. You should see my storage totes: they are filled with games, gizmos and doohickeys I have made over the years. I still use them! This is the thing: education, and our world have changed dramatically, but kids really haven’t. Kindergartners are kindergartners through and through. The 18 delightful students I have in my classroom this year still love seeing “Eggbert” go down the ramp in his wooden car and hitting the wall (with and without his seatbelt) as much as my students did years and years ago. They still love to go outside and do the leaf dance as they watch the autumn leaves fall to the ground, and walk through town in the spring, in the rain, walking and splashing through every puddle they see. They still press their noses against the window panes as they watch for the very first snowflake to fall. This is why I have taught kindergarten for so long. It’s always been about how delightful five year olds are…

Can you describe an outstanding moment in the history of your career?

I have been both honored and humbled by receiving several teaching awards and accolades over the years, but really, the hundreds of students I have taught and the support of their parents, are what truly merit to be called “outstanding”.

What does it take to help every student succeed?

Instill in them the belief that they can!

Who inspired you?

Besides Gordan Gayer (my high school history teacher), Nancy DeForge, Grace Miner, and my Dad and Mom? Every single child I have every taught.

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