Teach Wonder

How Do I Teach Each Child?

August 15, 2021 The Center for Excellence in STEM Education Season 1 Episode 3
Teach Wonder
How Do I Teach Each Child?
Show Notes Transcript

Listen to this interview with Kim June - fourth grade teacher. She shares valuable insights into how she's gotten her room to be a place of learning and curiosity for everyone. She brings humor and respect into every interaction. Kim's sees possibilities everywhere and her stories and advice are relevant for anyone who calls themselves an educator. 

Ashley O'Neil:

Okay, now we're recording.

Julie Cunningham:

So welcome to teach. Wonder.

Ashley O'Neil:

Yes, welcome to teach wonder

Julie Cunningham:

A podcast

Ashley O'Neil:

hosted by Ashley O'Neal

Julie Cunningham:

and Julie Cunningham.

Ashley O'Neil:

We're here from the Center for Excellence in STEM education with an interview. That's just too great to not share right away. So here we go. So I do an introduction?

Julie Cunningham:

Yes.

Ashley O'Neil:

All right.So our guest today, I'm going to introduce because I feel like I well, Julie and I have both worked with this individual, I maybe have worked with her just a tiny bit more. And I don't get to say that often. So I'm taking this introduction. I first had the pleasure of working with this individual when we did a PD together a science PD. And then we had some teaching experience together. And now I just have found myself unable to stay away. I she gets to come and do summer camps with us. I often asked her her teaching advice and expertise. And I'm delighted to share this interview with Kim June.

Kim June:

Thanks for having me. Well, quite delightful.

Ashley O'Neil:

Okay, I'm going to start by asking your question first, and it's pretty open ended? Can you just tell us a little bit about yourself degrade you taught? Just some general who you are?

Kim June:

Oh, yeah. Well, I was born back in 19. Six, no, I won't say it that far back. But teaching wise, I've been teaching now this will coming up on my 30th year. And I've taught anywhere from my service student teaching way back in first grade. So I want to down as low as first grade. And that in my first teaching job was at the middle school. So I did seventh and eighth grade. So I have taught everything in between so far that I've calculated except for third grade. So I've had every grade, I've taught anything from science, math, all subjects remediation gym, dance class, technology, class, health ed class. Back in the day, whatever is thrown at you kind of taught and we're told and good luck Have at it. And so

Ashley O'Neil:

that's why you won't her on your team because she has a story or a bit of expertise, regardless of what it is you're looking at.

Julie Cunningham:

And currently you are teaching....?

Kim June:

Currently, I am teaching fourth grade at pioneer middle schools and Alma, Michigan.

Ashley O'Neil:

And you've been in that particular grade for how long?

Kim June:

I want to say 16 years, but it could be wrong. Okay.

Ashley O'Neil:

Awhile.

Kim June:

It's been a while. Yes. So, yeah,

Ashley O'Neil:

and you've been in that same room. I say that because Kim transforms her classroom quite often,

Kim June:

I've been in the same room the whole time. And one thing about my career, that's kind of special and 30 years of teaching, I've only had one room with windows to the outside world. And so my room has kind of had to represent what I want to see when I look at something. So I've had to change it up each year.

Julie Cunningham:

To add to Ashley's introduction, I'm always just trying to get to work with Kim June more often. So. That's my mission every year is how can I have more time with Kim June or spend more time in her classroom? Kim, have you to describe your teaching practice or style? How would you describe it?

Kim June:

Um, teaching practices or style? I think I don't think there's a right answer here. I don't I don't think I can give you one answer. And I think that's probably the thing that I've learned in all my years of teaching is if you commit to one style, you're going to miss 90% of the kits. Because there's never a day, there's never a situation that is constantly requiring the exact same style every single time at every single moment. And so if you become an expert in just one area, you've left so much out there. And I think so my style has to be eclectic, it has to be you know, like the vagabond reflects everything in their house of boards at all. It's got to be with what works for the situation, the lesson and the style of student you're teaching because the same lesson can be taught 47 million different ways in different styles and different approaches, just depending on who's receiving it. And so I think for me to stay current and for me to become the best I can be in the classroom, I have to stay flexible, and what I'm doing and it might have to change on the fly. And I have to be okay with that. It's can't be a pre rehearsed kind of moment or show it has to really be focused on the learning.

Julie Cunningham:

One thing I have appreciated and I've been in your classroom in a couple years now but when I did spend time in new classroom is that your students? It seems to me that you like to get your students to a point where they need you less of a job. Right. So can you talk at all about like When you think about that going to the school, or maybe when you think about what those students come to you looking like and fall, do you have a idea in mind for where you want them to be in spring? And like, are you purposeful about..?

Kim June:

academically, we all have ideas of where we'd like them to be, emotionally, I think is probably more the focus is when you're looking with elementary kids content, content content, can be dished out at any time. But the ability to learn and grow and be mature is key. If you can create a person who loves learning, and who is independent, then they can learn anything really you have to offer. And anytime there's enough with the YouTube and the Internet, and, you know, let's even admit books with covers that they could find the information if they needed it. So when they come to me, probably the things that I'm really working, working on the most is, how do I teach each child to be, as you said, independent enough to learn on their own? What management systems do, I have to put in place, what routines schedules format expectations of behavior, and that's probably what it comes down to? Do, I need to demonstrate and model and layer and layer and layer to make sure that no matter what I throw at them at any time of the year, they'll be okay to take it and learn. And I think a lot of that came when I first started teaching, we had to do a book study, and I say had to at that time, because it was I had to when you're younger in your career, you have to go to these things. And it's not what you want at the time, cuz you don't know what you want. And here's one. And I will tell you that because there's always time is life. And but everybody here is nodding their heads, because they all know, we've been walking and ice and the 101st days of school, and just the practices aren't going to be all yours. And they can't be all yours, because it's not you. But helping kids no expectations of the room, how to manipulate the room, how to manipulate when they need something from me how to do that in a way that's going to get them what they want. And practicing those over and over again, just sets everything up to go well, I think when those aren't in place, I think that's when teachers struggle, you find a meal running with their hair pulled out and at the end of the day, just exhausted and overwhelmed and not wanting to go back and and it shouldn't be like that. And so you want to make it so that each day it's like, okay, that part didn't work. How do I fix that one part versus the whole system. So-

Ashley O'Neil:

That makes a lot of sense. I did have that honor pleasure teaching in the same camp. We didn't teach the same grade, I was in the resource room, and she was in her fourth grade classroom. But I think when you say that when I think of that an action, I think about when you have fourth graders are new to the building and Kim's junior school. So it's their first time they being in that physical space. I think Kim's approach was saying I want you to take ownership and take pride. And this is your school home. And this is your classroom. And you could see that in students, right? Like there was a measure of pride, like I'm in a student's room. And this is my space. And this is my locker and they were happy to tell you about their projects, because I think your approach was to say, Hey, here's your home welcome, rather than like laying laying the order of law. So you talk about those procedures. And you talk about setting that up. But I think you still did it in a way that was so personable, and made kids feel like it was awesome. Their switch was cool.

Kim June:

Yeah, I find myself- like the idea of rules and regulations. Every year, I get docked on my evaluation kind of time because they say you didn't have your rules and regulations posted 30 years, I've never posted rules or regulations. Because in an ecosystem that works for everybody has a part and say either it's working or it's not. And then you stop and change it. It's not a rule. It can't be a one rule fits all kind of situation, because it's not a one kid fits all. And so I think the idea of rule posting and things like that outside of you know, we respect each other, we learn that's what we do here. That's our jobs.

Ashley O'Neil:

And your kids know. Right, like they they knew in your space and your expectations were that was super clear. And it didn't require-

Kim June:

Yeah, and if someone went outside expectations, which let's admit they do in all times, then you just go through the expectations again, you know, say why didn't you think this work this way? What How did you think it was gonna work? And, and so you can sit back and say, okay, obviously, I wasn't very clear, and my thinking wasn't matching their thinking and then you reevaluate and go at it again.

Ashley O'Neil:

So I feellike I know where where you're going to head with us. But I'm gonna ask the question anyway. When you are preparing something new, because you are in my head, very innovative in your classroom, and you don't shy away from trying new things, starting new projects, starting with new technology, right? I think you're one of the only fourth grade teachers I know, for the first fourth grade teacher I knew who was actively using green screens and 3d printers, which might sound like fun tech frosting, but you did it in a really intentional way. So my point is you You've done a lot of new things in your classroom and you're adapting and changing all that. So when you start something new, what's your process? What do you start with? How do you think about it?

Kim June:

Well, even though my favorite person, Julie Andrews says, Let's start at the very beginning, that is not where you start. You got to figure out the end. That, you know, reminds me of those times when I was a kid, and my parents would go on Sunday drives did your parents constantly. And that meant you were just going to drive and you're going to go everywhere and look at scenery, and just drive and I, I will tell you, as a kid, I hated those. I hated those trips, I hated not knowing where we're going, it drove me crazy. Now, my grandparents would do the same thing, have a Sunday drive. But we always knew we were going to build driving for ice cream. We knew the destination, we knew where we're going to go, but somewhere we wanted to go. So the drive didn't seem so bad. So I think you have to look at everything through those lens, you got to know where you're going, or you're not going to get there, y'all. I mean, it's got to be a plan. And so start at the end, figure out in your mind, what's the perfect glory moment of the shining moment of what it's gonna look like? And then work backwards, how do I get there? What are all the million I repeat million steps that have to happen to get there. And you need to know that you're planning will never be perfect, your planning will never go as planned. And so then you're constantly planning. I kind of laughed a little bit to myself, when you ask, when you plan something new. Every day you plan something new, I think that's why in 30 years, I haven't slept. Because I'll nine, I'm waking up in the morning, because some didn't go right. And so you got to plan something new, it's not just a new curriculum, a new goal, a new outcome. You know, each night I'm thinking, Okay, I gotta do this new, this has to be this has to be different, in different is new, different is scary. And you've got to know that new or old, that's gonna fail at one time, it's got to be you know, and so once you get past the fact that failure is the end of the road, and really, it's just a detour, then new is just a day of life-

Ashley O'Neil:

Then you're just constantly you expect to have to tweak. And so then that's just par for the course rather than how did this lesson? course it did.

Kim June:

and you can take away the personal aspect of this field today. I'm a failure. Woe is me, boohoo. You can't get over that soon in your career. Because otherwise, every day is a bad day of teaching. Because every day something doesn't go right.

Julie Cunningham:

So when you when you when you think about planning, do you think about building like a plan a and a plan B and Plan C, then

Kim June:

Plan Z and plan Triple F and a plan Triple G? Oh, absolutely. You plan if they got it? What's my extension gonna be? Because if they get on the first try, holy cats mewo, which some of them are gonna get, you got to have something to move them forward. And now what do you get about the kid who gets it on the 14th? Try? Okay, how do you make sure that their deficit for those that have moved on the last 13 tries is not so great that they can't continue on with the process. And then you got, you know, two students who were on vacation, and that student who was sick, and, and the and the and the and the hearing test that came up and two kids had to leave every two seconds to go to the hearing test. So contingency plans. You, you have a million.

Ashley O'Neil:

Can I ask you a really practical question for maybe an early teacher because I know this was on the forefront of my mind. And I know that your buildin did at one point, maybe still that require lesson plans to be turned in. What do your physical lesson plans, like? Because what you're talking about is really fluid, and really in tune with your students, which isn't probably written down. So what do your lesson plans look like?

Kim June:

I have multiple varieties of lesson plans, you have a lesson plan that you do turn in and after 30 years, yeah, I'm still asked to turn in lesson plans. I have lesson plans I write down in case I have a sub which entail 15 to 16 pages of documentation because someone deserves a chance to be successful. And then there's a lesson plan that happens in your mind that stack. So the lesson plan I turn in each week are very goal objective oriented, because I think as administrators, that's what they're looking for, they want to be able to document and check their box that says I have teachers who are teaching to an outcome. And they're meeting the state mandated curriculum that my school set, it would be very outcome driven based, very clean cut. I don't think any administrator live could sit down and read 24 to 50 different lesson plans that truly are the intent that goes into your mind and you're planning yourself. If I think if people really knew the amount of planning that the average teacher does outside of what they write down on it, those little boxes or those little squares. I mean, they realize that's a whole nother profession itself.

Julie Cunningham:

So when you look for new ideas when you're searching for new ideas, I imagine sometimes you do it really intentionally like I need a new way to teach fractions or I need a new way to or whatever. But when when you don't want it's more maybe for pleasure, or maybe because you want to try something new. What kinds of things do you look for? What kind of things do you have in mind?

Kim June:

That's a weird opening question. Because I usually do this at three or four in the morning, when I wake up, and something's on my mind. I look for things that are new and attention grabbing sometimes. Because just like the culture of life moves, the kids culture moves three times that fast. And so one moment there SpongeBob Square Pants, you know, the next one with their Minecraft. And so I might look toward fattori, annotate things, just to see who's been thinking, how this bad, can grab a kid's attention, lock them in yet come with some substance? or How could I take that fad and put some substance to it? I often find a lot of fads for kids that are out there that are drawing their attention and their brain brain power could be tweaked so little and make them so beneficial to the learning process. And so I'll find myself looking for things like that. Other times, it's my personal interest sometimes, because I think, for me, I do my best teaching moments when I find myself it just intrigued by the topic is this, you're both laughing because you both do the same thing we all do. It's human nature to want to learn. And so if you can keep that in mind when you're teaching kids, it's human nature to want to do new stuff. So give them a chance to have new stuff. So I can't find how I look or why I look or when I looked. I think that's a great answer. Because it's really honest. And it also I think, for me, the the tie in women is that you think about it's okay to say alright, my kids are really into Tik Tok right now, what about this TikToker, that they're all talking about is captivating, and then how can I add some substance to it? And, and use that force for good in my classroom? And I think sometimes we shy away from that. We're like, okay, we're not gonna use YouTube. We're not gonna use this. We're not gonna use that. But you're like, no, that's interesting to nine year old. Let's see why. Let's see why they think that so funny to watch that same guy do the same thing every day? (laughtger) Yes.

Ashley O'Neil:

Do you think Have you always approached teaching this way? Or has your practice changed over time? I would say it's always been this way. I never planned to be a teacher. When I started Central, which was a whole debacle in itself, I was never accepted to Central. I came to Central driving a friend here who had been accepted and stay the weekend with her. And next thing I knew I was taking the math placement test because I hadn't applied and they said, Well, you got to do this to a plan, like, Well, okay, why not? Let's try it. And so the next thing I knew I was at Central, but I was pretty mad. And that was my ambition all along to be a doctor. And things changed my junior senior year, here nor there. But I landed in education. And so I really was still going to be a teacher, even though I had that degree. And I went and did all that practice and did everything I was supposed to. That was not my plan. And I was working at camp and I can remember the moment I'm up on a rock at Grand ledge rock climbing. And I remember that that was the day that I had to say yes or no to this interview for the school. And I'm like, you guys, get me down, belay me down, belay me down here. I'm screaming to the people down below. Because I had to get into town to the local laundromat, to use the payphone to call this public schools to tell him if I was going to come to this interview. And so needless to say, I said yes, obviously. And then I had the job. And so and now my here I am ever since. So my teaching kind of thoughts were always I've been put in this position, because I have some great skills that work pretty good in this position. And they thought so enough to hire me. Fast forward 30 years later. So I think my my ideas of what I was, as a teacher, were never, I'm going to change the world, I'm going to be all I can be I'm going to go in there. I'm going to motivate kids, I'm going to make them do everything. It was more like I'm going to go in there and have some fun, learn some things. And I think that's always been my theory all along. And along the way. I think because of my placement in that role, I think I have helped some kids. And I think those things that, you know people longed for in their lives I've been able to do, but never planned to do. So I never knew that about. So little twist. But yeah, it's not typical.

Julie Cunningham:

That we're and I think I don't know how to convey this over the podcast, but something magical about being in your room is not only Well, you're always sharing things you're interested in right and getting kids excited to learn but you also give them a lot of autonomy to pursue ideas. And maybe that comes from we don't have this hard and fast rule where you can do this. You can't do that right? Where you, you have some flexibility in your learning? And yes, you can try that. And sure, why don't you see what those materials do? And so how do you set that up? Or how do you perpetuate that from year to year? Or what kind of resources or planning Do you do so that kids feel like they have ownership over their learning, and they feel like they're problem solvers. And they feel like, they can try these things with a certain amount of adult permission, or whatever, because I don't want to give the impression that it's a free for all either. Some days it might be a free for all, I'll tell you what, I think I think most teachers will, will have some kind of outcome that they do want to do. And I will be straight up with the kids the beginning, you know, today, this is the one thing that we got to learn, you got to prove to me that you can do this skill, you know, above and beyond that, they know that, you know, on the word, it looks like there's about an hour of time chunked out for this, if they can show and demonstrate that skill in 10 minutes, they know that they have the resources that I've made available to them to then continue their learning. And so at the beginning of the year, I kind of set up and I slowly add more as time goes on, things that they can do, you know, the Legos are always one of the first things out, because they're great just coming in their third graders, and the building station and being able to build something and to keep it you know, in a space where they don't have to tear it down every time they can work on it at their own speed. And, you know, and focusing their building on, what could you build it with help the world, you know, you might just have a topic of this station, and off they go. And then when they have something built, they get to share it, we're gonna stop class. And we're going to hear what you just built, because it's that important because it might change the world. So we want to be a part of it and say, we knew you're wet. And so letting kids know that, in that free time or learning expiration time, there's a little bit of accountability back to your classmates still. And there is importance in what you're doing. You know, so I start with a Legos and then I'll add on the 3d printer, which they see sitting there and they see it go once in a while. And they're wondering what it's doing, and how to do that, and how to use tinkercad. And how to do that. And then I'll add on the Cricut and how to design some things, you know, and then I'll add on, you know, some computerized coding games and then we'll and then we'll and so they kind of keep a running pool in their mind of things that I could do once I've demonstrated the skill for the day. And then I get I have kind of choice in those. But I know that she's going to ask me and so it was a class Hey, what do you code today? What do you do today? How did you do that? Sir. So I think setting up quote unquote, activity stations, a lot of you know, I see it the younger elementaries they have little stations. Stations is an okay word, I think learning opportunities is a better word, because it can happen anywhere, it doesn't have to be the station, I think it gives kids a reason to focus on being able to produce the outcome that you asked them for it to do, because there's something always more that they want to learn about. So I set those up at the beginning, one at a time, and we practice each one. So when I set up the 3d printer, we all get on tinkercad. And we all learn tinkercad. And we learn how to do it, and we print something off. And they know that you're on time that if that's an activity can choose, they can print off what they made. And 24 hours later, or however long it takes to print depending on what they felt. You kind of do that. And I think when you set up stations, if they're really worth the learning time, then they need to be taught. You teach the kids Okay, like what can we do with Legos? Why would these be so important? And and what could you know, what can we do with them? But this over here in the snap circuit stations, What kinds of things do you think would be coming? Let's try and do it. Let's all try it. Let's see how it worked. Let's see if you like it. And you've got to let them know that the whole room is is a learning experience. Everything in life is a learning experience, when they can see that everything can be learning and it's all part of school than they own it because it is who they are. And that's what you want. You want that fabric woven together so tightly that it's not I got to go to school, I get to leave school learning stops. No, I went to school and I did this. I'm gonna go home tonight and research a little bit more about this. So that tomorrow I can, you know, share with my student in the class, what's going on what I learned. And So if you if someone else was thinking of someone else IS listening, right? (laughter) Someone else is listening. So if I'm thinking as a newer teacher I hear by Kim June she's got it all together. Right? And she is pretty impressive. Like when you think about challenges associated with the way that you teach? What kind of challenges come to your mind? And then what would like sort of what advice would you give a younger Kim June or somebody else who is thinking about

Kim June:

Some of these questions I was told ahead of time, and I will tell you the answer right now is not gonna be the answer that I thought I was gonna get so heated. So here goes, let's see how it goes. Challenges usually is not in the instructional delivery, because I think most new teachers, including myself, that's what you practice at school, your practices delivery stance, your practice, having a catching moment, then, you know group time and then independent time that follow up checkout time you practice that. I think the thing that as a new teacher, is you've got to decide what the day to day is going to look like in your class, the management of the people. And when I say the people, I mean all the people, I mean, the people in your classroom students, I mean, the pair of pros that come into your classroom, I mean, the principal that comes your classroom, the teacher down the hallway, in the classroom, the bus driver, because they're going to be in your business, the parents, the community, you are now responsible to all these people, you've got to manage these systems, you need to have, what does it need to look like in my classroom and share with the kids, this is what I think it should look like in here. Not you will sit near tears, you will raise your hand and you will talk you will have a pencil when you're ready. That's not what you want it to look like, you know, that's not what you want to look like. But somehow in your mind you've equated rules will create structure. rules do not rules create chaos is what they do, because someone breaks the rules. And then what do you do, now you got another thing to manage. And then your stress goes up and your tension goes up. And now you've got to deal with this behavior that all came because you told the kid they had to have a pencil and, and you're overwhelmed. And the moment of education is lost in your loss for the next 20 minutes. Because you've allowed that stress to move that frontal lobe and it's over. So when I say set up your classroom the way you want it to really manage and look for students, when someone else is talking, I want you to listen. And why would I want that and talk through them and, and get them to realize that because you're talking when I'm talking doesn't mean you're not automatically disrespectful, because you might be talking about what i'm talking to your neighbor. And that was really important too. But there's a timing for it. Getting that taken care of when people can talk and how we listen is number one, I think number two, if your needs aren't met, how do you respond? And you know, I always go back to that quote that, you know, everybody's doing the best they can on that day. But when you learn something, the next day, I expect it to be better. Okay, you know, the famous quote from Maya Angelou do the best you can today, but when you learn better, do better. And I said, when you were kidding, you had your needs not met you cry and wail on the floor, you know how to ask for your needs better than that now. Okay, what do you know? Now? How would you get something that if you don't understand the question, Well, how do you know to get the answer? How do you know to get out? Kids don't know. And they don't know that maybe I could raise my hand, maybe I could ask the teacher, maybe I could ask a friend. Because maybe they told if you ask your friend, that's cheating. Maybe they know that the best way to get my needs met, just put my head down. And so now, the no one cares about me, my need is met, I'm good to go. Maybe they think it's have a rage, you know. So getting those management of how we're going to learn in place will save you how to get I don't care if it takes six months to do that. Keep in mind, everybody really is doing the best they can 99.9% of students and people are not trying to be naughty or mean. They're just doing what they think is the best for that situation. learning management skills is the key

Ashley O'Neil:

I'm learning management.

Kim June:

are you managing right now? (laughter)

Ashley O'Neil:

you articulated a lot of the things you entered. Yeah, you just said all that barely, really nicely. And in a way that I think both says, I care about you, I value you as a person. And also I want to help you hold yourself to some high expectations. So you're not just like laying down these expectations. And I can figure out how to get here. I said be quiet. Be quiet as now you're like, nope, this is the why and this is the how we can do this. And this is taking their their coping strategies or their communication strategies, which may be physical or maybe, maybe environmental, environmental, right? Yeah. And you're saying, Okay, let's learn from those. And let me give you some powerful alternatives, which helps them be on fourth grade and beyond Kim June's classroom and beyond the six hour school day,

Kim June:

yeah. Someday they're going to be adults. And I want my world taken care of by people who have respect for others and I can respect

Julie Cunningham:

to you and I'm imagining the answers. When you fail with the students in the classroom, do you share that those failures just as much as do I share them? When you you know, if you say, well, this didn't work, the way I thought it would.

Kim June:

There are days I say, Okay, this is not working. We're stopping now because it's just silly to keep going because y'all are getting it right now "No, Miss June, We're not getting it" Okay, so let's a opt this plan of attack. We're g nna try it tomorrow. Let's see what's next on the list an we move

Ashley O'Neil:

I like that flexibility. Because I, remember when I was in th classroom, but I didn't giv myself that permission, right Like, the schedule says, I'll b doing phonics until 11am when we go to lunch. So I have to k ep on this road. And I like th t you give everybody permissio . And yeah, to let them kno this isn't working. I know it s not working. That's everybod stop and re

Kim June:

The adult in front of you is always perfect, then they don't believe it's okay to fail. They don't believe it's okay to come up with a new idea. They don't believe that. So I can't look stupid, fail too

Julie Cunningham:

And it's true. And I just want to say thank you because sometimes it's hard to pin Kim June down to share her wisdom. So thank you for

Ashley O'Neil:

We've been trying really hard to capture t e magic that we see that happens in this classroom and hopefully, you got to hear some of the ma y reasons that