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Episode 34: Kitchens Turned Classrooms with ‘Teacher of the Year’ Rachelle Smith

What is it like for a teacher working from home during school dismissal with possibly a kitchen turned classroom? On this episode of the Supercast, we hear from Jordan School District Teacher of the Year, Rachelle Smith, about teaching during these troubled times and how she makes learning fun and is finding success.

Then, Superintendent Godfrey actually has a virtual visit with Ms. Smith’s 6th grade class. Hear what some very bright and animated students have to say about the school year and learning from home.


Audio Transcription

Superintendent:
Welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. What is it like for a teacher working from home during the school dismissal in what might be a kitchen turned into a classroom today? We hear from Jordan School District Teacher of the Year, Rachelle Smith, about teaching during these difficult times and how she is finding success in making learning fun. I also stopped by her virtual classroom and talk to some very bright and animated sixth grade students about their at-home learning experience. We are here with Rachelle Smith, the current reigning Teacher of the Year in Jordan School District. She and I have met a number of times and she's a delightful person, a wonderful teacher who is wildly popular among her students and faculty. So I'm really excited to have the chance to talk with her. Just before we started, we were both talking about how nice it is to connect with someone outside of our homes in this very strange time. I love to do the interviews in person, but the Zoom interviews at least give us a chance to continue with the Supercast. So Rachelle welcome. It's great to have you.

Rachelle:
Thank you. I'm really excited. Like I said earlier, before we were recording, this is me going out, so it's good to connect with people and to see other faces. It's awesome.

Superintendent:
You miss your kids, I have no doubt.

Rachelle:
It's been rough. We see each other as much as we can.

Superintendent:
Yeah. I'm absolutely sure that they're missing you desperately as well. You're teaching sixth grade this year. Tell me what you love about being a sixth grade teacher.

Rachelle:
You know, I was a little bit worried. I taught first grade for 11 years and decided to make that jump to sixth grade this year. I was just a little bit worried because my heart was really in first grade, but I knew that I had a calling to do something else as well. So really they surprised me. The kids are awesome. They laugh at my jokes.

First of all, I am the smartest funniest person in that room and they really make you feel loved. So they're not much different in that way. I feel like first graders come in and they already love you. You're their teacher, but you have to work a little bit harder with sixth graders. And I feel like I won them over. And then this happened, so I feel like we're incomplete, but we're still working on it, you know, with our Zoom classes and everything like that.

Superintendent:
You're incomplete. That's a really good way of putting it.

Rachelle:
There's a real cycle to the year. Each month feels different. And going through the year you grow together. They get to know every outfit you own. You get to know everything about them, and that is missing. That's a big missing piece and I'd almost rather have a chunk in the middle of the year and get the beginning and end than to have the year end and not be able to connect.

I remember the day so vividly. It seems like it was forever ago, but it was just six weeks ago one of my students said to me before we were leaving for that day, "Hey, Mrs. Smith. I probably won't see you for a long time. And I thought, what are you talking about? I will see you on Monday. We have another week before we go off track. And he said, "No, I'm pretty sure we won't be in school". And lo and behold, two hours later, Governor Herbert said we would be doing online school. So he was right. He predicted the future. I've got to shout that out for him.

But that end of the year is really special in a lot of ways. I was excited to experience it in sixth grade for the first time. They're going to middle school, it's a big transition year. But I think the most important thing is that we're just making it work and they all sort of understand that. I mean, this is going to be epic in their whole lifespan. So we're going to do what we can to make it as memorable as color.

Superintendent:
I think that's well said. It's a unifying event. We don't have many of those and it's one where everyone will remember how old they were and what they went through and what their particular experience was. And I am very impressed that he predicted that because after all this happened, I looked back and I thought, what were we thinking? Why didn't we say goodbye? Didn't have some sense that any moment this could be happening and it's very interesting. It's poignant.

Rachelle:
I sort of got a little annoyed with him though. So I had to apologize later because I had a student teacher as well. And so he said, "Goodbye, I'll never see you again, Miss Balls" saying goodbye to our student teacher. And I thought, you are going to make her sad. You're going to see her on Monday. And so I sort of got annoyed, but I have since then apologized.

Superintendent:
Well, I would be interested in knowing what stocks he thinks are going to go up and if there are any in particular that I opt to invest in. He's a great kid with the school dismissal and parents having to fill in for teachers in many ways and manage learning at home. What advice do you have for parents who find themselves in that circumstance?

Rachelle:
That's a great question. I think being flexible teachers are very flexible. Parents are very flexible. They already know how to do this. You know, it's all about giving yourself a little bit of grace and knowing that you're not going to follow a rigid schedule, you're not going to even get everything finished. It's about that relationship that you have with your child. That's the utmost importance. Even when I have parents reach out to me and say, my child doesn't  want to do their homework. What do I do? They're crying. They don't want to do this. And my advice is always, your relationship comes first. So make sure that you are nurturing that relationship and their mental health before anything else. And then as always, you might need a little bit of a schedule, especially for the sixth graders. They need a little bit of schedule. They sort of thrive on it. They cringe when they have to come back after a holiday, but they always love it because they're like, thank you. You got me out of bed. I'm dressed, I'm ready for the day. So I think a little bit of a schedule, but not being too rigid is advice that I would give parents in this situation right now.

Superintendent:
I am interested in more of the comparison between first graders and sixth graders. It really does make sense. The first graders love you simply because you're their teacher. Sixth graders take a little more converting. I taught eighth graders and juniors, and there's no less connection as they get older, but there is more of a warming up period.

Rachelle:
Yeah, I think any teacher knows that relationships matter over everything. Beyond what you teach, beyond what you do, the relationships that you have with those kids are really what matters. And sixth graders are still kids. And I had to learn that really as I was teaching it, they still love the things that first graders love. I mean, they love stickers and they love high fives and they love hugs and all those sorts of things, they love with them. They also have this very mature side where they are starting to go through some real-world problems that they might need help navigating. Not that first graders don't go through that, but their life experiences kind of catch up with them. And so I think that just relationship building is more in depth than it is on in a first grade level. My sixth graders would tell me things that they might not feel comfortable telling someone else. And so I felt that connection with them I didn't really feel with first graders.

Superintendent:
Yeah. I liked the way you described that and I'm really impressed that you wanted to take on the challenge, that you decided there's something more for me. I need to try what's next rather than staying where you were comfortable. What are some things that you've learned about yourself and teaching by taking this leap and teaching kids that are much older?

Rachelle:
The first thing I learned was that I was not the smartest person in the classroom, and there are many students in my class that are smarter than me and knew more than me. I learned a lot every day. And really the biggest thing was just taking it a day at a time. I couldn't learn all of that curriculum. It had been so long since I've ever even looked at something like that. And so I really just took it a day at a time and leaned on my teammates and the students as well. And I was not ever afraid of saying, Hey guys, I don't know the answer to that. I was okay making mistakes. And I think that's important as a teacher. You don't have to always be the boss or the queen as sometimes I get called. But admit your faults. I took it one day at a time and still I'm learning every day.

Superintendent:
I think that is interesting. You say that they're smarter than you. I remember when I was a student teacher, the principal of the school where we were working came in to talk with us and he said, "Just remember, some of these kids are smarter than you. You may have more life experience, but they're smarter than you. Treat them that way, treat them with respect." And that stayed with me. And it's obvious that's what you do.

Rachelle:
I also went and got my master's because maybe I thought I would go into some sort of administrative position. And my former principal told me before he retired, "If you go into administration, just know that your faculty is very smart and they're such good assets to the community." And he said, "You can take that to the community and to the school, you can take that in your sixth grade classroom and utilize that as well." So I have that mentality. I don't always have to be giving the information. The students can teach as well. Let made me think that if I ever do become an administrator, that's such a good skill. I never felt below. When he was talking to me, he always wanted to know what my opinion was. And so that transferred over into my classroom.

Superintendent:
Well, it's impressive when you are open and ready to learn from people of any age. In any level of experience, it's a great way to approach things. Now, I know that besides being a great teacher, you also do some things on the side that help share with others. Some of the things that you've learned. Can you tell me some of the things that you're doing and that you've done to share your experience and your expertise?

Rachelle:
Yes, I think I just figured that I really like to be a teacher. I couldn't even come up with a hobby that didn't involve teaching. So I started a teaching blog nine years ago, just to share my teaching ideas out there with other teachers who might be in a similar situation as me. I was sort of a new teacher, wanted ideas out there online, and that was a big deal. There were a lot of teaching ideas online. And so I started that with a friend of mine and it kind of molded into me creating lessons and ideas, activities that other teachers could use in their classroom. And then it snowballed into me presenting at conferences and sharing those ideas person to person in national conferences around the United States. So I've had a really great opportunity, not just teaching students, but teaching teachers, which also impacts students. It's been eye-opening. I've learned a lot in this, and that's sort of what I've taken away from my whole experience as a teacher, social media blogger. I'm a lifelong learner and I've learned through the process as well. I haven't just taught teachers and I haven't just taught students.

Superintendent:
If someone wanted to access your blog, where would they find you?

Rachelle:
whattheteacherwants.blog.com

Anthony Godfrey:
whattheteacherwants.blog.com and where did that name come from?

Rachelle:
It was what this teacher wanted. It was sort of what people always say. You love your spouse, how you want to be loved. So I was putting out the information that I wanted to put out there and that I wanted to soak in. And so I started writing this blog and creating these ideas, but also searching out other blogs and getting ideas from those teachers as well. So it's just what the teacher wants.

Superintendent:
That's a long time to keep that up. I can't wait to check it out. That's awesome. What was it that made you want to become a teacher?

Rachelle:
I had a first grade teacher that I really loved and it was that I was the student in class. That was the child that wherever you moved them, they talked to whoever you moved them by. That was me. So I have many of those students in my class currently. They are me and I am them. So, she just embraced that about me. All of my other teachers kind of tried to stifle that and shush me. And she was like, "You know, you're a great student, you know?" And she would talk to my mom and just lift me up instead of trying to quiet me down. And I just thought, I want to be that type of teacher who would always say, warm fuzzies. I want to be that type of teacher that gives me warm fuzzies.

Superintendent:
So she lifted you up instead of quieting you down. That is such a perfect way of explaining what great teachers do and what you do. You find the best in people. You draw that out and you make the most of that and you help emphasize that. And it sounds like you're equally skilled at doing that for adults as well as kids.

Rachelle:
I try. I try. I thank you.

Superintendent:
So what's next for you? Are you teaching sixth grade next year?

Rachelle:
I am teaching sixth grade next year. My husband and I are expecting our first baby, but I'm still planning on coming back, teaching full-time and being a mom.

Superintendent:
Well, congratulations. That's fantastic. Well, we're very lucky to have you at Black Ridge. Your students are very lucky to have you, and I'm really glad that you're in Jordan School District.

Rachelle:
Thank you, Dr. Godfrey. I love it here. I tell everyone to come here. I try to grab every student teacher I ever get to work at Jordan District.

Superintendent
It's the best. Stay with us. We're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, a virtual visit with Ms. Smith's sixth grade class.

Break:
I'm Steven Hall, Director of Jordan Education Foundation. In today's challenging and uncertain times, it is more important than ever before to support one another. Here at the Jordan Education Foundation, we invite you to join us in making sure children are not going hungry. Your $10 donation to the Foundation will help us feed one student for a weekend. When food and meals may be very scarce for some, with food and hygiene supplies in the Principal's Pantries at Jordan School District being depleted and in higher demand than ever before. Every financial contribution made will help us to keep the pantries filled for students who would otherwise go without. The Jordan Education Foundation exists due to the generosity of people who care about kids. If you would like to donate to help children from going hungry, please visit http://www.jordaneducationfoundation.org, or contact the Foundation at (801) 567-8125. Thank you. Together, we can make a difference.

Superintendent:
Welcome back. We're now visiting Ms. Smith's virtual sixth grade class. Tell me, tell me how things changed for you once you had to learn from home and what you think of it.

Student:
I'm just really sad because end of the year is always the when the good stuff is. I mean online learning, it isn't too bad because I can go at my own pace, but I'm just really sad about the stuff that I'm not going to get to do at the end of the year.

Superintendent:
Yeah. We're, we're all sad for everybody who is missing out on those important end of year activities. Kayla, what are your thoughts about learning from home now?

Student:
I really don't like it because I don't get to see any of my classmates. I don't get to see them. I don't get a handshake at the beginning or anything.

Superintendent:
You miss all of that?

Student:
Yeah. We were all missing that.

Student:
I like online school is just a little more than regular, but yeah.

Superintendent:
What do you like about online school, Luke?

Student:
You just, you pretty much have like the whole day, if you finish it fast.

Superintendent:
So you can work at your own pace.

Student:
I'm sort of liking online school a bit because you don't have to like look good, you know?  Who is the one wearing the same color pants for the past two weeks? Me.

Superintendent:
All right. Thank you for saying what we're all thinking is about. That makes a lot of sense. Okay. How do you feel about the fact that the next time you go to school you'll be in seventh grade?

Student:
A little spooked.I think that's probably true.

Superintendent:
I think that's probably true. I don't have the best memories.

Student:
It is going to be hard because I have to remember my locker combination.

Superintendent:
You know, I was a middle school principal and remembering locker combinations is one of the main stresses of being in middle school. But I have confidence. You can do it. Just write it down.

Student:
It's kinda like scary. I don't know if I'm really ready to have all those classes and remember where they are and remember my locker combination.

Superintendent:
Well, the cool thing about middle school is they have the pizza line in the cafeteria every day.

Student:
Yum.

Superintendent:
So there's that other, other question? The pizza's really good.

Student:
Okay. I'm honestly kind of excited because I never get to do many plays and I'm going to do a ton of plays and I really love acting.

Superintendent:
There will be some good opportunities going forward. What's it like to be in Ms. Smith's class?

Student:
It's pretty fun. And sometimes she does stuff you don't expect. Like when you ask her to do something, sometimes she'll actually say yes, when you don't expect it.

Superintendent:
Like, what have you asked her to do that she did?

Student:
Like one time we asked you if we could pull another Kerplunk and she said, yes.

Superintendent:
Another Kerplunk. What's a Kerplunk?

Student:
This thing of marbles, and when you pull a thing, the marbles fall, and when we get all the marbles, we get a party. Can we just pull another one just because, and they were expecting, absolutely not. And I just did just because.

Superintendent:
So she's full of surprises. Is that fair to say? Isabelle, you didn't raise your hand, but tell me, what's it like in Ms. Smith's class?

Student:
Very laid back. She's not too strict when we have to get our science done and it's a little bit late, it's not the end of the world.

Superintendent:
So it's more about learning than it is about timing. Okay. Awesome. Who else wants to tell me a little bit about Ms. Smith's class?

Student:
Sometimes we'll like have the theme for the day. One time there was a day where it was like bootcamp and we like did challenges to like earn dog tags and stuff.

Superintendent:
So what were some of the challenges?

Student:
Well, we like did assignments and like we did pushups and jumping jacks.

Superintendent:
Well, Connor has his dog tags right there.

Student:
I don't remember the assignment necessarily, but they do remember the bootcamp. So I guess it was grammar. We did grammar bootcamp.

Superintendent:
I love grammar. If you were going to tell a fifth grade student who knew they were coming into Ms. Smith's class next year, what would you tell them?

Student:
Be prepared for some fun.

Superintendent:
Thank you, Tyler. Be honest. Why is that correct?

Student:
That's really all he cares about.

Student:
Don't expect  anything because it's always the opposite of what you would expect.

Superintendent:
So I guess she has your attention. Is that fair to say?  I see lots of heads nodding. How do you think Ms. Smith feels about you?

Student:
Probably thinks we're crazy, but also awesome.

Superintendent:
Crazy, but also awesome. I would agree. Malia, what do you think she thinks about you guys?

Student:
Well, hopefully she misses us. When we leave to middle school, maybe in a video or two she'll say, I miss you.

Superintendent:
What will you remember most about being in Ms Smith's class this year? And it can be before closure or after closure.

Student:
Halloween will never be the same because she has to make Halloween the best and we just had a really fun year. Oh, and we'll remember how good of a teacher you were.

Student:
Ms. Smith made reading fun. Remember just vibing in Ms. Smith's class in the mornings and then after lunch all day. School got closed this year and we just did a bunch of like random and totally unexpected things that  you don't forget this thing and ........ are you there? Yeah. Sorry. My brother just stormed in and asked me to print a coloring page. So what I'll probably remember most is when we've got to pull up Kerplunk, we would plug, we would drum roll and it was like calling, it would call right back to us kids in the other classes with drummer roll right back.

Superintendent:
Oh, so when you drum roll, the other classes would hear it and join.

Student:
You always thought there was like some sort of earthquake.

Superintendent:
Thank you so much. This was great. I could talk to you all day, but I will not take up your day. Can you guys care to give a shout out for Ms. Smith? Give me a nice applause for Ms. Smith because she's awesome.

Thanks to Ms. Smith at her sixth grade students for taking time to visit with me and share their thoughts on this school year. I applaud all teachers and students for the hard work and dedication that has gone into at-home learning. I appreciate all the parents are doing as well.

Thank you for joining us on the Supercast. Stay safe, stay well. And remember, education is the most important thing you will do today. We'll see you out there.

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