by, Ellen A. Thompson, Ed. D.,
Thoughts from a Longtime educator…
I left teaching my multiage, primary classroom in 1999. The very same year that I applied for and received my National Board Certification. As I sit at my computer these 23 years later, I find myself often thinking about that last class of mine and how they shaped me as a teacher. In all honesty it was my multiage experiences that gave me the courage to step away from Room 6, a place I loved dearly. Afterall, I grew up as a teacher in that very room.
The best part of becoming a National Board Certified Teacher is that the process makes you reflect. You have to. Each of the 6 entries, poses a question or possibility that you, the applicant, have to apply to your unique learning environment. As a primary school teacher, I was awarded the Early Childhood Generalist National Board certification in November of 1999.
From my NBCT entry #1: Reflecting on a Teaching and Learning Sequence, 1999
The running of a restaurant open to the public, staffed and directed by 24 first, second and third graders is no small task. Yet it is a task that my multiage class, their parents, families and myself have taken on willingly. It is our way to create a showcase event which allows the students to share their knowledge of their year-long thematic studies with their community at large.
This year’s restaurant experience will entail several language arts, social studies, science, arts, and math goals as we ready ourselves for our paying customers. Our goals for this event are as intertwined as the theme study the children have been involved in since the fall, Ancient Civilizations of the Americas. As we have studied the cultural patterns of the Maya, Inca and Aztec people, we have been comparing and contrasting these three civilizations, while of course doing the same with our own culture as well. A very real goal for these children has been for them to develop a sense of their own culture and a sense of cultures different from their own. In learning about this, we have read novels, poetry, folk tales, and factual writing, plus we have viewed many videotapes which illustrate these cultures.
To best understand the dynamics at work with this undertaking, it is important to understand the class itself. These students are in a multiage classroom for children ages 6-9 years of age. In traditional terms these children are in grades one, two, and three. The students remain in the classroom for the length of the program. As the older children leave each year, younger students replace them and all of the children are then able to experience every the role within the classroom structure. The class, itself, is made up of students which not only characterize diversity through their ages, but also through their abilities as well. There are children who are behaviorally challenged, academically challenged and academically talented as well as just plain “regular.” Not only are the children involved in this class, so therefore are their parents and families. Their relationship to the class grows and strengthens over the three years of their child’s education within Room 6. The year-long thematic study is owned by all of the class members from teacher to students to family members. Together we generate the sequences of learning activities keeping in mind the school district and state standards requirements.
Because this is a classroom structure over time, traditions rule. The running of the restaurant has become one such tradition. The Quetzalcoatl Cantina is the fifth offering from this environment in as many years. As such, the children, families, and myself have been learning and sharing and creating all year long with this culminating event clearly in our minds. Older students share with the newest members just as older parents share with the newest parents in the classroom. And always we are amazed by the depth of learning and understanding that we all achieve in the process of the year long thematic study. Indeed, the learning is deeper and stronger the more it is integrated across the disciplines. And it is remembered for a lifetime if it reaches out beyond the classroom environment to others in real, valid means.
Just reading this has transported me back in time to Room 6. This idea of really knowing children as learners across time has so much potential for all teachers and learners. The National Board process taught me that learning is not a set of skills pushed forward by the teacher, but rather a set of connected experiences that pushed each learner to expand and grow as real people with curiosity, empathy, and perseverance. My entries, when read as a whole, show how this dynamic is created within the mind and work of a teacher.
Right now in 2022, we educators need to find that reflective space and time again. Teaching has been upended by a pandemic. We have been shocked by more ugly and violent mass shootings. We have lost our place as our profession gets pummeled over what we teach, what books we read, and so much more.
Reflecting on my own classroom has reminded me of the “why” of teaching. We teach to make a difference. We teach to excite our kids with real authentic learning. We teach to create our next group of leaders. We teach to create memories. We teach to make a difference in our world.
Thinking about beginning the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards process? You can find information here: National Board Information
Ellen A. Thompson, Ed.D., Literacy Consultant
Ellen Thompson has been an educator for over 43 years. She taught as a classroom teacher in Vermont for over twenty years with many of those years in a multiage setting teaching children aged 6-9 years of age. Ellen was named the Vermont State Teacher of the Year in 1993 and she achieved her National Board Certification as an Early Childhood Generalist in 1999. Ellen began consulting nationally in 1993 and has continued this work throughout her years as an educator. Upon leaving the classroom, Ellen joined the Elementary Education literacy faculty at the University of Vermont in 2000. At the University, she taught undergraduate literacy courses, supervised student teachers and also worked as a literacy consultant in two large scale literacy research projects which spanned the grades K-6. For twelve years Ellen worked with the Essex Town School District as the Director of Instruction and Information Services. During this time, Ellen completed her doctoral studies in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Vermont in the fall of 2007. After the merging of the Essex Town School District and the Chittenden Central Supervisory Union, Ellen continued working with educators in the newly created Essex Westford School District as the Director of Learning Design. Ellen is currently a literacy consultant for Partnerships in Literacy and Learning.