Teacher Feature: Mrs. Henry

Where and what do you teach?

I most recently taught at a private school in the West Village teaching Kindergarten. Previously, I was a Kindergarten teacher at Harlem Village Academy.

Favorite book:

The Red Tent

Favorite children’s book?

I don’t know how I could choose just one. That’s so hard. I really love Pecan Pie but I think I will have to go with a Leo Lionni book, probably Frederick. It's one of my favorites. But I seriously just can’t choose only one!

Doing educational and enriching things with children does not always need to cost money.

Why did you become a teacher?

I think that deep down I always wanted to be a teacher but didn’t realize it. When I was younger I can remember wanting to be a teacher but as I got older I developed a real passion for history and politics. I feel like these interests were encouraged. In college, during the summer before my senior year, I traveled to Zambia to work in medical clinic, do relief work in a community deeply affected by HIV/AIDS and collect first-hand data for my senior year thesis.  During my time in Zambia, I lived with nuns from the same order as my high school alma mater. The nuns suggested I volunteer to help an American woman they knew, who had moved to Zambia to start a school. She needed help so I started teaching with her in the afternoons after going to the clinic. It was there that I realized just how much I loved teaching. Then, almost a year later one of my high school teachers approached me about becoming a teacher’s assistant in a Kindergarten classroom. At the time, I didn’t really know I wanted to be a teacher but I also didn’t really know if I wanted to be a lawyer. In the end, what helped me discover that I did want to teach was my realization that I loved learning and I realized that teaching is a vocation that calls for continual learning and progress. To be a passionate and successful teacher you must be a life long learner. I never thought I’d work with such little ones. I love teaching Kindergarten but I would also love to try some upper elementary grades in the near future.

zambia classroom
zambia classroom

If you could tell parents any one thing, what would you say?

I would ask them to spend as much quality time with their children as they can! Anything from reading to their children to doing art projects or just hanging out outside and having fun. I think we are all so busy and it is very hard to fit in solid family time. Not only is this time important for families but it is also crucial for teaching children how to conduct themselves in a socially appropriate manner. To be really honest- don’t kill me parents- I would also ask them to put all electronics away for some time each day and just be with their kids. I realize that parents are incredibly busy but I think that if they want to get their children excited about learning then they have to keep them excited and engaged with life. A game on the iPad is not as “fun” for a child as trip to the Natural History Museum with mom or grandma.  Doing educational and enriching things with children does not always need to cost money. Even just reading the back of a cereal box that has fun facts about frogs, let’s say, can be a rewarding, educational and quality time experience for children. Also going to the library to find books on something your child has shown an interest in is a great activity.

What is your secret weapon in the classroom?

I think I can engage or refocus my class through a silly and entertaining read-aloud where they watch a book come alive, almost as if it were a play. I love creating character voices and moving around as I read!  I try to make a book or any topic come alive by the way I speak and express emotion. Children can get so involved in listening to a book when they feel that they are acting it out with me. Particularly in elementary school, if the students feel that are interacting with me and the book then they are more likely to take something from it.

 How do you integrate technology into the classroom?

I think it has a particular place in the classroom. I would never want to deprive my students of technology but I don’t think it should dominate learning time. For instance, in literacy centers, I love to incorporate apps on the iPad for sight word recognition. Apps are helpful for one-on-one tutoring and small groups but we should limit the time spent using screens. At the end of the day, I think kids should learn by acting as a member of a classroom and by doing something interactive with classmates or individually. I feel children take away more from any learning experience when they have been more engaged in their knowledge acquisition as oppose to just receiving it. I think the more time kids spend with technology the less likely they are to want to “get their hands dirty” and that’s where the real learning happens.

I love being an educator because I feel purposeful everyday. I don’t always feel accomplished or successful at the end of each day but I do always feel humbled and willed to work harder tomorrow.

How do you dress for school?

I really like dressing up for work because I think that I take myself more seriously when I feel dressed up. When kids see adults dressed formally, they notice and, I think, they tend to take more pride in their own appearance-tucking in their uniform, tying their shoes etc. etc. It’s important to teach professionalism in the classroom so that it translates to professionalism in the workplace. I wear slacks often so that I can be on the floor with the kids but I never wear jeans and I don’t let the students call me by my first name. I think some formality creates for a more respectful environment. I am happy for them to think of me as friend but above all they must know I am their guardian, while they are in school, and their teacher. My jobs are to protect and teach them!

Greatest teaching moment to date:

I had a challenging year last year. Towards the end of the year in June, we were completing a character development unit and reading a Kevin Henkes’ book, Chrysanthemum. At one point, so many kids were shouting out answers (which I usually do not love) but so many of them really seemed to understand that Chrysanthemum was being bullied and that was wrong! It was nice to see their emotional reaction to the story rather than just their “academic” reaction to the story, such as the sequence. My students realized that Victoria was feeling remorseful and regretful for having bullied Chrysanthemum. That was one of my favorite teaching moments because it showed me that the students were learning how to be kind and to better themselves as humans through the reflection of a fiction story. In graduate school, I read this book Black Ants and Buddhist by Mary Cowhey. One thing I took from the book was that everything we teach should also be teaching good citizenship and kindness. In other words, we need to find a way to incorporate the social emotional learning into the academic learning.

Any other thoughts on education or teaching?

I love being an educator because I feel purposeful everyday. I don’t always feel accomplished or successful at the end of each day but I do always feel humbled and willed to work harder tomorrow. I think many Americans understand that teaching is a challenging, rewarding and important profession.

However, often, I feel that as a profession teaching it is not respected enough. I have heard that in Japan it’s a very revered career. I think we need to reform teacher education in this country, making entry into teaching more purposeful and challenging. I think another important piece of our “education puzzle," is  school reform. I often fear our youngest and brightest graduates shy away from becoming teachers because of our school systems are salaries. Furthermore, schools and teachers have so many roles today- they are expected to be teachers, social workers, and guardians. In the end, I am hopeful that the dedicated teachers, school activists and reformers in this country will have a positive effect on the future of education in America.