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Maryland Classroom: A School Community that Nurtures Students and Teachers Alike
By Tara Lewis, Kindergarten Teacher, Pine Grove Elementary, Baltimore County Public Schools
I have been a part of the Pine Grove family for three years now. My journey began quite unexpectedly when I was informed I would be moving to a new school just three days before the start of the school year. Upon hearing this news, I panicked. I had my classroom set up, names posted in students’ cubbies, and had gotten to know my team and colleagues. I remember it like it was yesterday when my former teammate drove me to Pine Grove to meet my new principal and see my new place of employment.
Anyone that met me that day can probably recall how out of sorts I appeared. I had three days to set up my classroom, meet my new colleagues, and learn the curriculum, as I was new to Baltimore County Public Schools. This might sound like the beginning of a sad story but what happened next quite literally, as we teachers put it, “turned my frown upside down.”
I began my day meeting Principal Jean Wilson, who immediately embraced me with a warm hug and said, “Welcome to the Pine Grove family!” After that I was shown to my new classroom and had numerous faculty and staff members come make introductions and offer to lend a hand. Nobody panicked over the time restraint to get the room ready and everyone was so incredibly helpful. I even had a teammate text me that first night asking me what type of coffee she could bring me the next morning. From that day forward, I have truly felt like Pine Grove is my family. The faculty and staff at Pine Grove Elementary are not only incredibly smart and gifted in teaching, but they also demonstrate love and compassion on a daily basis. You can learn effective practices and methods of teaching from textbooks, but a book won’t teach you the heart behind it. This is something you will learn from working at Pine Grove.
We recite our code of conduct every day, students and faculty alike, pledging to be, ‘respectful, responsible, safe, and prepared.’ To me, this means caring about and treating my students as if they were my own family. I let my students know that our classroom really is like our second home. In our classroom, we are a team and we care about one another. I try my best to instill a love of learning in all of my students and teach them to care and show compassion. I purposefully make mistakes in front of my students to remind them that it is okay to make mistakes. I encourage my students to take risks and always try his or her best and, most importantly, I remind them to not be afraid. I think sometimes there is a tremendous looming pressure to perform and succeed, even in Kindergarten. I understand that everyone learns at his or her own speed and I give gentle encouragement. There will always be that one student who may not believe in him or herself and they just need to be told they are smart and they are capable.
One of my most memorable experiences came just this year when I was assessing a student on her sight words. She is very bright, but extremely reserved and nervous during any type of testing. As she struggled through the first few words, shaking her head that she didn’t know the words in front of her, I paused the assessment. I took her hands in mine and said, “Are you nervous?” She quietly answered, “yes.” I said, “don’t let these words scare you! Think of your letter sounds you know, look for little words in big words, and you’ve got this!” She smiled and nodded her head, then began sounding out words and persevering. She ended up moving from 5 to 42 sight words that day. There is no greater joy in teaching than seeing the reaction on a child’s face when they realize they have learned how to read.
Now this is just one snapshot of the many tremendous success stories that can be found at Pine Grove Elementary on a daily basis. These successes are not possible without the encouraging, supportive, and compassionate faculty and staff found here at our school. Even though my start at Pine Grove was unexpected, I now truly believe that everything happens for a reason. I am so incredibly proud to call Pine Grove Elementary my family and second home, and I look forward to our future successes.