The Rewards and Challenges of Teaching Elementary School: A Teacher Interview
by Sarah Stevenson
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Former 3rd grade teacher for Colton Joint Unified School District;
Substitute teacher for San Bernardino City School District, CA
3rd grade bilingual teacher, Pajaro Valley Unified School District, Watsonville, CA
Rewards and Challenges
Teaching is often referred to as a “calling.” In other words, despite its many challenges, teaching offers rewards that go far beyond the benefits conferred by a day-to-day job. People often enter the profession of teaching elementary school with the dream of inspiring children as they grow into young adulthood, and giving something back to the community.
Of course, there are challenges inherent in elementary school teaching, too, from problem students to difficult parents to malfunctioning classroom technology. But if you talk to elementary school teachers, they’ll be quick to tell you that a love of children and an enjoyment of teaching keeps them going even when the going gets tough. Our recent conversation with two teachers revealed some of their difficult classroom moments, as well as some of the most fulfilling and inspirational.
What is your favorite part of teaching elementary school?
Molly Heng: My favorite part of teaching is the daily interactions with the children—seeing them make progress.
Julie Vallens: I really love teaching 2nd and 3rd graders because they’re transitioning from being the babies of the school to understanding more about working together and setting goals for themselves. It’s really fun to teach certain concepts such as regrouping (carrying/borrowing) or multiplication because they see it as ‘big kid math’ and when they realize they can do it, they get so excited!
Who was your toughest student?
Molly Heng: My hardest student was one with a severe behavior problem. He was diagnosed with ADHD. He could not sit still for very long due to short attention span. He was also very loud and disruptive to the entire class. The school counselor and I had to write him an individualized behavior contract….The behavior contract was a success because his mom was very supportive and reinforced it at home as well.
Julie Vallens: A few years ago, I had a cohort of boys with a wide range of very challenging behaviors—I thought I was going to have to quit. It was a relief to pass them onto the next grade level but some of them still visit from time to time and I feel a very unique sense of love for them—they really pushed me to my limits and I survived.
What is your biggest success story as a teacher?
Molly Heng: My biggest success story is knowing that my some of my struggling third grade students, who are now in college, are doing well. They still communicate with me through emails about their success in college, and to ask for career and academic advice.
Julie Vallens: Whenever students come back and say they still remember being in 2nd or 3rd grade and how much they loved it or anything like that, I feel successful. If something happened in my class that made them feel successful enough to look back with fondness on their time in my class, then I feel successful. The year-to-year successes I really enjoy are when shy or timid or insecure students start coming out of their shells.
What was the most fulfilling moment in your elementary school teaching career?
Molly Heng: My most fulfilling moment is when students come back to my class after they have moved on to thank me for being their teacher.
Julie Vallens: I love being a part of celebrating students’ successes. I had a student for two years, when I moved from 2nd to 3rd, and when he was in 5th grade he was named ‘Student of the Week’ from our school as a district-wide recognition program. We presented him to the school board and it was fun to describe what a motivated, amazing student he is to a room full of people. When you get to know a student and his family very well, it’s fulfilling to be part of celebrating their successes.
One thing that both Ms. Vallens and Ms. Heng agreed on: if you love kids and teaching, and enter your career well prepared not only for your lessons but for any challenges that might come up, you’ll be able to reap the tangible and intangible rewards of teaching elementary school—and so will your students.
Sources: Lewis, Beth; “Top Seven Reasons to Become a Teacher.”