Glens Falls City School District recognizes national Teacher Appreciation Week by highlighting committed and enthusiastic teachers from every one of our schools each day of the week! Read on for an inside interview with Amanda Matthews—one of the most dynamic teachers around our district.
Amanda Matthews graduated from Fort Ann High School, Pratt Institute, and SUNY New Paltz with her Bachelor’s degree, and Boston University with her Master’s degree. This school year is her 11th teaching, her second in GF Nation, and her second as a Computer Science teacher. Before working here she taught Art for 9 years at Abraham Wing. The juxtaposition of those two jobs has given her an awesome and rare opportunity as a teacher – this is her ninth consecutive year teaching our eighth graders who started at Abe Wing. Mrs. Matthews says, “It’s awesome to be able to genuinely say I’ve seen that group grow up, and it was nice to see some familiar faces as we all moved to GFMS together.”
What makes your teaching and learning environment unique?
I try to approach each day and each lesson with genuine enthusiasm. If I’m not showing that I’m ready and happy to teach what I’m teaching, I can’t expect my students to want to learn it. My antics may elicit the occasional good-humored eye roll from middle school students, but that’s a small price to pay. I strive for a mixture of lesson types to engage different types of learners. Some days we’re working independently on coding games on our Chromebooks, solving puzzles with robots, engaging in class discussions, or creating app ideas in Google Slides. I love when my students walk in eagerly asking “What are we doing today?” and I love even more taunting them that we won’t know until we all show that we’re ready.
My classroom layout lends itself well to learning, and I’m fortunate to have inherited furniture that is flexible enough to accommodate the needs of four different grade levels and the different activities they each complete. It’s a space in which I can orchestrate a lesson, and immerse myself with the students as they navigate their own learning.
What’s the best thing about GF Nation?
This one is easy. The best thing about GF Nation is the people. My students keep me laughing and fill me with stories to share with my family at dinner each night. I feel supported both by my colleagues and my administration when I approach anyone with a question that makes me feel silly. GF Nation feels like home, and I’m so happy to be here. It’s also very close to my actual home – I get to walk to and from school, often with my daughter, and that’s a major perk.
Describe your best lesson ever, or one you and students really enjoy.
Well, if you ask the students they’ll likely say the best lesson is any that involves taking the robots or drones out. I sincerely love to watch them engage in interactive learning and problem solving while they code and adjust their thinking in small groups too. However, my favorite lessons are the ones that make students who are just beginning to use social media and digital media think about the choices they make with their devices. We live in a society where misinformation and hurtful words can travel fast, and if I can slow that down with any one of my students, I feel I’m making a positive impact in their lives.
My favorite unit to teach varies by grade level, but one I always enjoy is teaching encryption to my sixth graders – they make their own Ceaser Cipher and decode a riddle, then encode a secret message to share with a friend. It can make our brains hurt at first, but eventually we get the hang of it and have a good time together.
Why do you think it’s important to teach the way you do?
I’ve always believed that trust and understanding between my students and me need to come before any learning can authentically take place. As I teach in six week cycles, it’s important to me to make these connections quickly. I look for opportunities both inside and outside of my classroom to connect with students, whether that is in the hallways, when I’m helping out in another classroom, or at arrival in the morning. I challenge myself to address students by name in the hallway (all ~600 of them). The simplest way I create these connections with students is asking questions, and making a point to remember their interests/activities so I can comment on or ask about them again later. I also share about my own life and my family with my classes. It’s my goal to make my students feel safe and welcomed as they are in my classroom, and it’s my belief that if they feel this way, they will be able to learn more while they are with me.