Denise Nolan is a kindergarten teacher at Kensington Road School.
What do you do to engage your students? What makes your learning environment unique?
I try my best to engage my students through providing lots of opportunities for hands-on experiences both through play and interaction with one another. I think what makes my teaching and learning environment unique is that it is not a quiet environment where we are all doing the same thing at the same time. Our lessons and activities vary throughout the day and we are forever changing activities to accommodate our need to move and be active learners. I try to meet kids wherever they are as learners and adjust the activities to best suit each learner’s abilities and strengths. For example, in a Read/ Write The Room activity you might find some children who are looking for and matching words or letters to their papers by tracing them, some kids will be taking those letters/words and they will write them on their own, and some kids may be able to write a sentence using a word they found. All are engaged in the activity, they are moving about the room thus physically engaging with their environment, but all are getting what they need.
Why do you think it’s important to teach the way you do?
I think it’s so important to teach this way, it’s not really an option for me to do it any other way. Kids are learning so many things at once. No two kids are exactly alike and they have such varied abilities and interests, especially at the kindergarten level. I get kids who come in not knowing more than 1 or 2 letters to some who come in already reading. If you don’t modify activities the kids get restless or frustrated and this can lead to behavior challenges. I also believe in the fun factor associated with learning. Play is so vital to young kids. It helps them learn about self-regulation, builds problem solving skills, and has been proven to improve executive functioning. If kids are having fun while they learn its much more likely to stick with them.
What do you feel is the most exciting thing about teaching?
The most exciting aspect of teaching is the connections you are building. It always leaves me awestruck, especially this time of year when you can look back and see just how far these kids have come and how much growth they’ve experienced. To know I was a huge part of that is very humbling. The ability to reach and connect with a child and his/her family is so rewarding. For many of our youngest learners, kindergarten is such a foundational year in so many ways academically, socially, and emotionally. It is for the families too. I enjoy sharing the triumphs and progress that the kids make, and cheerleading the parents to become involved and to show them how to best do that. Hearing years later from those same parents about how the kids are doing now and seeing the kids themselves when they pop in now and then to say hi is a great feeling!
Describe your best lesson ever.
The best lesson ever—that’s a tough one. Hard to say as it differs depending on the class and the interests in a given topic. It’s easier to describe my favorite lesson. I recently did one this year about diversity. We looked at two very different eggs and described them in detail to one another. We talked about what makes them so unique and which they felt was better and why? We then predicted what it might look like inside the egg once we cracked it open. Would they look different too? We then cracked both eggs open and they were surprised to see they looked exactly the same on the inside. They both cracked just as easily. One was not harder than the other. The end result being they were the same on the inside. We then connected that to people and how we all might look very different on the outside. That didn’t make us better or stronger just different. But on the inside we are all made the same and bleed the same color. Just because one of the eggs looked different did not make it better or worse than the other. So we need to think about how we treat one another because while we look different on the outside, we feel the same things inside and we all hurt the same way. So its important that we act in ways that make each other feel good about themselves. The kids really connected well to the lesson and made great pictures to show how to treat all people with kindness.
My favorite unit to teach is Holidays Around the World. I love showing the kids about different cultures in different parts of the world and it’s so much fun to teach the kids how to compare and contrast how our celebrations and traditions in December compare to other holidays enjoyed elsewhere in the world.
Tell us a little more about yourself.
I went to Saratoga Springs High School, class of 1987. I graduated from the College of Saint Rose in 1991 and got my Masters in Early Childhood from SUNY Plattsburgh in 1995. I then went on to receive my National Board Certification as an Early Childhood Generalist in 2003, and renewed in 2013.
I have been teaching for 26 years in PreK-2nd Grade. 25 of those years have been here in Glens Falls City Schools. I am married to my husband Eric for 12 years and have two grown children of my own. A son, 19, who attends The University of Tampa, a daughter, 24, who is attending FMCC, and a 2-year-old granddaughter.