INTERVIEW WITH TEACHER JENNIE FITZKEE!
Please help me welcome teacher Jennie Fitzkee to Jemsbooks.blog Interview Segment. Jennie is the first teacher that I have had the pleasure to interview. Jennie is a lovely lady and an exceptional teacher of preschool. I happened upon her fabulous blog and have enjoyed reading about her classroom, students and what she has accomplished with these young children. She is utterly amazing.
Thanks so much, Janice.
My pleasure, Jennie. The stage is all yours.
1. What does a teacher need to do to be successful?
Pay attention to children. The lesson being taught by you will only be meaningful if children are engaged and interested. Does that mean the child is more important than the lesson? Yes, it does. Let me give you a few examples: A high school history teacher in upstate New York was beginning to teach about the Civil War. He decided to grow his beard, and when it was at different lengths, he would ask, “Who am I? Grant? Lee? Sherman?” The students were enthralled and therefore eager to do the research. And the teacher paid attention to the students, took their interests, and expanded on his teaching. Win-win!
For young children, the lessons often do not go as planned. Children can quickly become disinterested or disruptive. What to do? Stop! Throw that lesson out the window. Then sing, pull out a puppet, make a silly face, dance… and then you move on. This is not easy, especially for new teachers. And what if something happens when a teacher is in the middle of a story or a game? What if there are tears or fighting, or if a spider is discovered? What if a child is ‘lost’ or withdrawn? Every one of those situations is an opportunity to connect with children. And once you connect, the world of learning opens wide. Wide!
There’s a term for this: Emergent curriculum.
jjspina: There were many times in a classroom that I wished the teacher would change things up a little like that. Lessons became boring and no one listened. You are a remarkable teacher, Jennie.
2. What is your favorite subject to teach?
Reading and reading aloud! I read picture books twice a day, and that doesn’t count spontaneous reading when a child asks, “Jennie, can you read me a book?” Those are the best words I hear every day. I also chapter read, right before rest time. Yes, I chapter read to preschoolers, and they love it. The best part is all the questions children ask. Sometimes the questions and discussion takes longer than the chapter reading. Every year I begin with reading Charlotte’s Web. We learn together about making friends, worry about Wilbur, laugh at the geese… and all the important social and emotional things that happen in the book. Children need a strong foundation in developing social and emotional skills. Reading aloud does just that!
jjspina: I agree about reading aloud. I like to create stories aloud for my four-year-old grandson. He listens carefully and when I give him a problem in the story to solve he tackles it. Expect more of your children and they will unknowingly and willingly give it.
3. What is the most challenging thing you have found in teaching?
The paper work. Oh, the paper work! Unfortunately, that’s a sign of the times. Interestingly, thirty years ago I might have said ‘the parents’. That is often the hard part for a new teacher, communicating and developing a relationship with parents. And then my Director said to staff, “When you write newsletters to families, include a short paragraph about why you do what you do. Educate parents.” And I did. And that grew, as you know. The paper work is still my challenge, like doing laundry or cleaning the kitchen.
jjspina: I was in a school system for 25 years in two different positions and that is all I heard from the teachers – I hate all this paper work! Ha!
4. Have you ever wanted to do something else besides teaching?
No, I haven’t. But remember, back in the day (that’s waaay back) the only options for women were being a teacher, a secretary, or a nurse. Really! Unless you were a total brain (as in Einstein brilliant), and that was a rough and rocky road for those few.
jjspina: I remember those days before Women’s Lib. Women were limited in their choices. Now it’s quite a different story, thank goodness.
5. What are your hobbies?
My ‘vacation home’ is my backyard. We have a small home and a big yard and a pool, in a country area in New England. I love watching the sun and clouds on the rolling hills, as we sit at the pool – adorned with fish. I think we have over forty fish. It takes us two days to open and decorate the pool every year. I feel like the luckiest person. I love visiting museums and exploring antique shops. I love driving back roads in Vermont. I love artisan stores. I grow flowers. I’m a music lover, big time!
Jjspina: Wow, I would love to see that pool with the fish. I love fish of all kinds. We have two tanks in our home, one salt water and the other fresh. They are fascinating and calming to watch. Your hobbies spawn creativity – that is why you are so creative.
6. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I love history, architecture, and art. Traveling to England, France, Ireland, and Italy has been the thrill of a lifetime. I want to return so I can really see.
jjspina: Wonderful countries to visit – the Old World. I hope one day you travel to all these places.
7. What is the most memorable teaching experience you have had?
There have been two. The first was early on in teaching. I had not yet connected with a little boy, Andrew. It was rest time, and all the children had fallen asleep. All except Andrew. I was across the room, rubbing the back of the last child who had fallen asleep. Andrew and I looked at each other at the same time and smiled. It was just us, nobody else. That smile changed the world for me, and for Andrew.
The second most memorable teaching experience was having Jim Trelease, author of the million-copy bestseller The Read-Aloud Handbook, visit my classroom. Wow! I had his book since the 80’s when my children were little. And then I heard him speak at a teacher conference. I wrote him a letter to tell him that I do what he professes to be the most important thing for children- reading aloud. I knew this was the best thing for children. And so Jim Trelease spent a day at my school, following me and taking notes, interviewing staff and parents, and watching me read. I am featured in the latest edition of his book.
Jjspina: How sweet that was to share a precious smile with Andrew. That must have been exciting for you to have Jim Trelease in your classroom and then to be featured in his latest book.
8. What is your favorite part of being a teacher?
Being ‘one’ with a child. That typically happens late in October. Hugs and smiles are genuine. So are tears. We trust each other, listen to each other, and really care. When we click, teaching takes off. It is the best!
Jjspina: What lucky children they all are to have had a year with you, Jennie. Especially in preschool, this is the beginning of learning outside the home for children.
I have been teaching preschool in Massachusetts for over thirty years. I’m the book guru and the reader-aloud. And, I’m the writer. The Eric Carle Museum often posts my writings and reviews. Teaching children is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It’s the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That’s what I write about. I am highlighted in the new edition of Jim Trelease’s bestselling book, The Read-Aloud Handbook because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital. Our latest quilt is currently hanging at the Massachusetts State House in Boston. In 2016 I was one of seven teachers in Massachusetts to receive the Teacher of the Year Award.
My website is www.jenniefitzkee.com
My latest blog post is http://jenniefitzkee.com/2018/08/22/an-open-letter-to-teachers/
Thank you, Jennie, for coming today. It was a sincere pleasure to learn more about you and your classroom. I wish you much continued success with your students. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that you are Teacher of the Year once again.
Thank you, Jennie, for giving so much of yourself to children thus enabling them to love learning. May God bless you for all that you do to make a meaningful difference in the lives of young children.
I wish I had a teacher like Jennie when I was in school. We need more dedicated professionals like her to teach our children, to open up their minds and hearts to learning, and give them the opportunities to succeed in this world at whatever they choose to be.
Since this is the first time I have had a teacher on my interview segment of Jemsbooks.blog, I would like to add. Please support the teachers in your schools for they hold your children’s education in their hands.
Thank you, readers, for stopping by to read about this fabulous teacher. Please go to her latest blog post link above to read her fascinating blog and visit her lovely website. You will be as enchanted by her as I am.
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