Editor’s note: As part of our celebration of National Teacher Appreciation Week, we are highlighting a few outstanding educators from classrooms across the state. We thank all teachers for their dedicated work with Iowa’s students this past year.

This Q&A session spotlight features Cedar Rapids Community School District teacher Corinne Schalk. Schalk has taught for 22 years and currently teaches kindergarten at Maple Grove Elementary School.

Who was your favorite teacher and why?
My favorite teacher was my kindergarten teacher named Mrs. Baird.  Mrs. Baird was the kind of teacher who greeted each student with excitement and love every day. Mrs. Baird got to know each and every one of us and knew all of our strengths. She built positive and trusting relationships with all of her students. She transformed her classroom into a village where we were able to play and learn about the world around us. She taught us how to have a growth mindset and to try our best to do hard things. Mrs. Baird used so many different voices and puppets that she would use during read-alouds and I could not wait to sit by her rocking chair to hear what the new story would be. She gave me her smelly markers that she used to write our daily journal with at the end of the school year. She told me that one day I would use the same markers to teach my students. I still use many strategies and ideas from her in my kindergarten classroom today.

Why are you passionate about teaching? What things do you love about working with students?

There are many reasons that I am so passionate about teaching. Teaching celebrates what is good in every student. I grew up with my mom’s students visiting our house throughout the year and I saw what a positive impact that she was making on them. I love how teaching makes each student’s day bright and filled with love during the hours that we have together. I believe that teaching students how to interact through play is valuable time each day and helps develop good citizens. As teachers, we have the privilege to find out the strengths of every learner. By adapting our classrooms and learning environment, all children can succeed in using their talents and skills. Finally, we have the opportunity to show each child how they belong in our class and school, and show that they are appreciated and important. I love seeing students learn to read and grow in independence throughout the year.

What do you think are the keys to a student’s success and how do you help foster that?

Teachers use observation every day to see how students learn, work through problems and interact and get along with peers. By having conversations with students, you find out what their experiences and interests are. It is so important that you build relationships and get to know your students. The key to each student’s success is to ensure that their strengths are recognized and built upon. When teachers know students’ strengths and interests, they can use their skills to build upon engagement. When learners are engaged, they are vested in their education. By assessing the strengths of every learner, you can give them different methods of demonstrating their learning. Children need to be taught in ways that they learn best. When you have students learning about things that interest them, in the way that they learn best, every learner can successfully learn in a place where they feel safe to take on new challenges.

Over the years, how have you grown as an educator? What opportunities do you see in the next few years in education?

I get to learn from my students every day. Through the years I have learned many strategies from the different learning styles of my students. I have learned from so many wonderful educators in the buildings that I have worked in by asking questions and observing. I have learned that the value of building relationships with students is the most important thing I can do. After having my children, I have found I try to be the teacher that I would like my children to have. I want to give each child the best learning opportunity that they can have. The opportunities that I would like to see in my next few years of teaching would focus on modifying my environment and classroom so that every child has the opportunity and support to learn at high levels. I want to learn more about Universal Design for Learning guidelines and how to give every student the support that they need in my classroom by removing barriers. I want to continue to learn how to collaborate with peers in professional learning communities to provide the best education for all students.

What advice would you give to a new teacher starting out in the field?

I would like to let all new teachers know that teaching is not something you can do on your own. You must reach out and make connections. You can learn so much from your colleagues and administration to help you get started. It takes a village to educate children and the more professionals in your building, district and community that you can lean on and work together with, the better. By making these important connections you are weaving strands of support for you and your students. Teaching is hard, but there are joyous moments everyday. You will learn so much from your students. You will create learning communities where all students will love to come to school. You have the opportunity to celebrate learning with students everyday. You will make positive impacts in the lives of students that you work with. Make sure to savor every moment and treasure the memories that you and the students make. A year will go by so fast, but you will always be there for the students who you have taught. Enjoy the journey!

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