Teacher of the Year: Catherine Jones | TheUnion.com
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Teacher of the Year: Catherine Jones

Editor’s note: Each school district in western Nevada County has selected a Teacher of the Year. The Union is running the essays by the winning teachers.

Just imagine the anticipation, excitement, and sometimes trepidation students (and teachers) feel as they prepare to enter their second grade classroom for the first day.

For the fifth year, I’m privileged to job-share with a former Nevada County Teacher of the Year, Patti Swindling. We work side-by-side the first two weeks of the school year so the students see us as one.



We are now known as Mrs. Swindling-Jones, a name befitting both of us, because our teaching styles and ways of meeting the emotional needs of our students merge as one.

On many of my nonteaching days, I can be found substituting for our special education class or for my other colleagues, so many students already know me.




In my classroom, students enter into the imaginary world of folklore, fairy tales and fantasy complete with a castle and dragons – and their teacher dressed as the main character.

Drama, an avocation I took up after retirement in 1992, having performed on stages in Lake Wildwood, Penn Valley and Grass Valley, is my way of bringing different genre to life.

Reading the same folktales from different countries broadens students’ understanding and, through differentiated instruction, gives them the opportunity to sequence, compare, contrast, role-play, evaluate and re-write literature.

While students learn to work independently, I individually interview them as to their interests at home and school, what they did over vacation, animals they have and what they think is the best thing about themselves.

These interviews and further conversations with references to their interests start our relationships on a firm, positive foundation that increases their self-esteem.

Names of classmates are learned or reviewed with totally engaging “Education through Music” songs that acknowledge and affirm each child as they become centered individually and collectively, eventually building class unity.

Reading and math instruction in our class encourages students to be active participants in their own learning. We use “Power Teaching” techniques, where students use hand motions and words to explain concepts to each other.

The excitement and joy of learning expressed by the children was something I was able to share with my colleagues during a district in-service last year. Students feel much more competent about their understanding, which facilitates the ease with which they complete their independent work.

Our magical castle is extremely inviting as students eagerly dive into their AR reading books and wait for a turn to read in the castle.

Students in my class love to work collaboratively in a variety of groupings, especially as “numbered heads together” or the “tea party” to check for understanding and correct misinformation.

Self-monitoring their learning and setting goals are so empowering to them in their learning. Explicitly teaching school norms is essential in today’s classrooms.

Again, I use my experience with drama allowing students to model the behavior or role-play the correct and (this part is the most fun) the incorrect way.

Role-play used in this way has a lasting effect on the students’ memory. Students in my class feel validated, appreciated, inspired, safe, and enthusiastic about school.

Making teachable moments out of challenging times always brings out the best in me. I suppose it is my “light bulb” moment that, if done correctly, changes the course for that content area forever.

One such moment occurred in my second job-share this year. It was the second-to-last week of school. Students were ready for summer, the weather was warm, and fortunately, we were studying about pirates.

After researching pirate’s lives on land and sea, students were categorizing items used for warfare, life at sea and other purposes. The students were having a difficult time conceptualizing the sundial and how it was used for telling time.

Words were not adequate at this point, so I got some chalk for each student and took them outside. In partners, each student drew a line the length of their shadow, indicated the time and wrote their initials.

At lunch time, before lining up, students observed their shadows. How excited they were to see that their shadows were much shorter.

Again, at last recess, they marked their shadows, which were now getting longer and in a different direction. Students were clambering to share what they had observed.

Collectively, they determined the cause. The next day they expectantly checked their shadows to confirm their conclusions.

I can’t wait to spiral this teachable moment into our math and science curricula next year.

‘Creative juices’

This year, we had a special education student who was determined he could not and would not read; plus, he wanted to learn in our room; not the Learning Center.

His comprehension was good on his AR books that were read to him, but he would shut down if we tried any of the traditional ways to teach reading.

I did get him to point to each word as I read to develop 1-1 word recognition. My experience has proven that some children with reading issues can read a list of words more easily than words in a sentence.

Again the creative juices started flowing in my brain, so without his realizing it, I would stop at each word he knew and ask him to say the word. I had to come through the backdoor of his psyche to get him to see that he actually could read.

Now, the job is to get him to believe it.

This same student couldn’t read or write numbers, especially those he considered too big, so I showed him with number cubes, tens columns, hundreds blocks and thousands cubes how to write scroll math.

I modeled, he copied.

Once he started, he was hooked. He understood the concept of converting ones to tens. Grinning proudly at open house, he wrote in the thousands for his family.

Seeing baby steps in learning or “light bulb” moments keep me thinking “out of the box” to create a path that will access knowledge for all students.

I am blessed to be working in a field about which I am so passionate!


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