Meet Montclair Elementary School’s Teacher of the Year 2012, Ms. LaTris Sykes. Her love for educating children began as a substitute teacher, where she connected with a kindergarten teacher who was retiring. That seasoned teacher said to Ms. Sykes, “I’m going to pack up all of my stuff and give it to you when I retire; it will have your name on it!” Now in her 6th year teaching Ms. Sykes has “settled into” her kindergarten classroom and has become that “seasoned teacher” who shares that mentor’s stuff and more with new teachers. In a recent visit one of these new teachers offered, “She has given me so much stuff for my classroom! She has shared ideas for working with some of the kids who she worked with last year… I would have never made it this year if it wasn’t for her.”
Last week I had an opportunity to hang out with Ms. Sykes and her students on two different afternoons. The readings for the week focused on contributions from Dr. Seuss in celebration of his March 2 birthday. The entire Kindergarten and First Grade wing was Seuss – photos of kids with Cat in the Hat hats and mustaches from The Lorax covered doors and hallway boards, teachers and students enjoyed marshmallows to celebrate (all) The Sneetches, and green eggs and ham were served! Enjoy a video of Ms. Sykes reading Are You My Mother? with her kindergarten students.
Check out how engaged her students are during Are You My Mother? and all of the learning opportunities that Ms. Sykes creates during the story beginning with the description of “the title page.” The learning did not stop there. At the conclusion of the story we (yes, me too!) completed a matching and coloring project that had us matching baby animals with their mothers and coloring by numbers. Thanks to my table partner De’Andre for assistance!
As I left the classroom that first day all the kids thanked me for visiting with them and invited me back as did Ms. Sykes. It was evident that the kids wanted to share their learning environment, that they cared to show how smart they are, and that they liked to demonstrate what they are learning. I returned later that week… for Green Eggs and Ham!
A final thought grounded in the class reading of Green Eggs and Ham summing up my classroom experience with Teacher of the Year, Ms. Sykes, and her kids. As a former high school mathematics teacher and college professor my choices for observation are usually in the upper grades, as I told Ms. Sykes, “I always try to stay away from [the K-1] wing” at her school. “Try them, try them, try them…” I finally did! “Thank You, thank you, thank you…Ms. Sykes and students. I would come visit here or there, I would come visit your classroom anywhere!” Join me in celebrating the great teaching of Ms. Sykes and the great learning achievements of her students by thanking a teacher you know and encouraging kids to “kiss [their] smart brain.”
“Kiss your smart brain” is a recognition from Montclair’s Physical Education Teacher Rebecca Rood who has kids “Kiss [their] smart brain” to help them recognize they are smart and worth it.
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