Mary Lea Raymond is a sixth-grade teacher at Glens Falls Middle School.
What do you do to engage your students? What makes your learning environment unique?
The best way to engage my students is to make personal connections, as they are walking into the classroom or any other time during the day. Learning about their interests outside of school works well for me. We talk about skiing, hiking, running, lacrosse, field hockey, soccer, ice hockey, and football. Hearing about our their talents in singing, acting, dancing, and playing musical instruments is rewarding. Most of all, I love to make the kids laugh and to kid around with them. I make fun of myself in front of them and they especially like hearing stories about my family in silly situations.
Why do you think it’s important to teach the way you do?
In sixth grade, we teach in dyads. Dave Moynihan and I share two classes for homeroom, ELA, math, science, social studies, and study lab. The most important values in our classrooms are trust, honesty, kindness, and respect. Our students know that we have the same expectations that are consistent in both classrooms. Holding these values strong is very helpful when our students are working in partners and learning from each other. It’s encouraging to know that if our kids are experiencing any troubles, have concerns, or worries, they will approach Mr. Moynihan or me to help. When all of these pieces are in place, we can count on the students to feel comfortable and safe in school and be in a position to learn.
What do you feel is the most exciting thing about teaching?
It is exciting when the kids in the middle school start taking initiative in their educational process. It’s rewarding to have a student work very hard on a particular reading or writing skill and recognize that improvement. The students gain confidence and start advocating for themselves more by asking questions, clarifying concepts, and keeping track of their own progress. I think it’s fantastic when kids start emailing their teachers with their questions.
It’s gratifying for a child to learn about a concept in school, read more about it independently at home, and then bring in evidence of that learning to share with the class completely on his/her own.
Describe your best lesson ever.
Science is my favorite subject to teach; it’s my passion. I love earth science. My best lessons:
- Are based on inquiry; students use hands-on materials in the classroom to learn about atmospheric phenomena such as land and water temperatures, winds, storms, and world-wide weather patterns; or experiment in class to learn about geological events such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis
- When the students are involved in lessons that cross disciplines For example, in ELA we were reading the historical fiction novel, “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle,” and the protagonist, Charlotte, was faced with the dangers and turmoil of being aboard a ship crossing the Atlantic during a hurricane; having just learned about hurricanes in science it was much easier for our kids to relate to it.
- When students are able to learn from each other in partnerships with paired reading and writing activities
- When kids can make connections from activities earlier in the school year. For example, in science the kids have been learning about the fossils that I collected last summer at a geology workshop in western New York. They appreciated seeing fossils of trilobites, brachiopods, crinoids, and cephalopods. A few months ago, the students learned about the formation of fossils in sedimentary rocks in our plate tectonics unit. This concept carried over into learning that fossil fuels are a source of energy. As they were learning about climate change, students understood the importance of using alternative sources of energy that are renewable, such as solar energy, wind, hydropower, thermal energy, tidal energy, and biomass. In late May we have a field trip planned to Thacher State Park along the Helderberg Escarpment in which students will be able to practice identifying similar fossils. The goal of this trip is for our students to become more geologically aware of these amazing fossil rock formations so close to home.
Tell us a little more about yourself.
I am a graduate of Queensbury High School, SUNY Cortland, and the College of St. Rose. I have been teaching 28 years in GFMS: Special Educator, 9 years; 6th grade teacher, 12 years; 5th grade teacher, 5 years; and now back in 6th grade, 2 years.