At the end of the school day at Franklin Elementary in East Oakland, second grade teacher Darissa Phipps is trying out new techniques with her class to keep them engaged. Ms. Phipps sits at the head of the class with some handouts, waiting to get the students’ attention.
“I find the kids charming and entertaining most of the time – and it’s really exciting to see them learn and grow and how they change over the year from the beginning to the end,” says Phipps.
The students seem excited and genuinely interested as Ms. Phipps calls for their attention. They shush each other and turn towards the front. She then explains their assignment to them: a science project that will teach them about the physics of gravity.
The kids break off into groups and spread out around the room with a piece of cardboard and two clothespins. They’re building a ramp. Then they take two plastic discs with a straw to make a wheel and axle system: they’re going to roll it down the ramp.
The students are engaged, and enjoy helping each other, while Ms. Phipps makes sure the kids are actively learning.
“I do a lot of hands on activities like what you saw in science; we’re not just reading about rolling, we’re actually making things that roll and trying to talk about things that roll and trying to use science vocabulary to describe things that roll,” Phipps says.
Phipps believes it’s good for the students to have an image or object they can attach a new idea or word to.
Phipps has had a lot of training in her seven years of teaching. Recently, she attended a seminar called the Teachers College Reading Project at Columbia University. At the seminar, she learned several methods for helping students of every type of background –including students who may not speak English as a first language – learn to read.
“They have little post-it notes. So as they’re reading, when they have a question about a word or they’re thinking of another story that this reminds them of or they notice something about the characters, they write it down so they have little…these little brilliant notes stuck all over their children’s literature books, and then it gives you some insight into their thinking as they’re reading,” says Phipps.
Phipps is completely devoted to her job as an educator and wants her students to leave her classroom each day excited to come back.
“I really hope that they walk away with a joy for learning new things, and an enthusiasm for learning new things,” Phipps says. “And it’s expecting a lot of second graders, but I expect it.”
Phipps admits that teachers aren’t always going to hear the right answer right away, but that’s not always what it is a about.
“There’s this experience of learning new things and trying new things, and sometimes not succeeding at first, but persevering and not giving up, because I think those are skills they’re going to need, ultimately that I think will be helpful for them in being successful farther down the line. So that’s my sort of long range vision,” says Phipps.
Thinking in long-range terms is also good for kids. A University of Pittsburgh study shows that positive teacher support plays a crucial role in the success of students. The Center for Community College Student Engagement found that good teaching is at the heart of student success.
Natalie Meier is a student reporter at Mills College in Oakland. Did you have a powerful teacher when you were school? Tell us your favorite memory on our tip line – just leave us a message at (415) 264-7106.