At Kinsey Elementary School, veteran kindergarten teacher Nina Andersson and new first-grade teacher Jessica Fetsco are ready to start the new school year.
“I’m looking forward to getting to know my students and celebrating their successes with them,” Fetsco said.
Andersson is looking forward to watching her students grow thoroughout the school year.
“We call it being classroom friends,” she said. “I want them to know that that they’re here to have fun and learn. And it’s OK if they’re at a different learning level than another student. They may not be there yet, but we’ll all get there. We’re all different and that’s OK.”
Fetsco is one of 67 new teachers who were hired by Flagstaff Unified School District. It’ll be the first year that she’ll have a whole classroom to herself.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” she said.
But she’s not too worried because she’ll be surrounded by veterans like Andersson, who has been teaching kindergarten at Kinsey for the last 17 years.
Andersson started working with children at a young age as a babysitter and started working in the teaching field in Sweden at age 18.
“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “Although babysitting is very different from teaching.”
In order to help new teachers get used to the profession, the district has a mentorship program that partners newer teachers with more experienced ones, Andersson said.
“It’s a great program. It really cuts down on the stress for new teachers to have someone they can talk to. I love mentoring new teachers,” Andersson said. “But even if we didn’t have that program, the faculty at this school is really good about helping each other out. They really care deeply about the kids.”
Both women said that they’ve been working on their classrooms for the past several weeks. As a new teacher Fetsco had to remove some stuff from her new room, purchase supplies, decorate, figure out her room layout, decide on a seating chart and create lesson plans. She also attended professional development classes and scoured Pinterest for project and decorating ideas.
Fetsco said she resisted going into teaching for several years.
“My entire family are teachers, my siblings, my parents, my uncles and aunts,” she said. “I wanted to be different so I went into business.”
After a few years, she went back to school for a master’s degree in teaching. Now she’s starting her first year as full-fledged teacher.
Andersson had things a bit easier when it came to setting up her room this year because she already has a stockpile of books, supplies and decorations. But every year she has something that she tweaks in her classroom, a different seating arrangement, a different room layout or different way of teaching something.
For example, she tried out using yoga and meditation in her classroom last year and plans to continue doing it this year because it worked so well.
Teachers really work on their rooms and lesson plans year-round, Andersson said. For example, she worked on a math book over the summer and took several professional development sessions as well. She also frequently checks websites and Pinterest for ideas. This year she will be working on a year-round professional development session in science and place-based learning.
“We do a lot of work from home,” she said.
A lot of thought goes into what teachers put on the walls, shelves and cabinets in their classrooms, Andersson and Fetsco said.
For Andersson, play is an important part of learning for her kindergartners, as well as educational materials.
“We want to give them the tools they’ll need for the rest of their lives,” she said. “We want them to be excited to come to school. You also have to work with who you are and how you teach.”
“We want to make it conducive to learning,” Fetsco said. “And what you want yourself and the students to accomplish.”
Teaching is also about finding ways to make learning and meeting state education standards fun and accessible, Fetsco said.
“You have to be creative -- you could easily meet the standards with a worksheet and pencil, but why?” she said.
Being creative allows students to not only to have fun, but to grasp a concept in a way that makes sense to them, she said.
Teaching today is less about rote memorization and more about understanding concepts or why something is the way it is, Andersson said. Like learning letter combinations to make certain sounds, instead of memorizing how a word is spelled.
“But you have to be clear with students, here is where we are and here is where we want to be by the end of the year. And you have to reassure them that they can do and you can believe they can do it,” she said.
Seeing their faces light up when they grasp a concept on their own and watching students grow throughout the year is what makes teaching so rewarding, Andersson and Fetsco said.