Teacher Appreciation: Jacqueline Smith and Jessica Elder, Jackson Heights Inclusion

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 Jessica Elder and Jacqueline Smith—they teach a kindergarten inclusive class at Jackson Heights.

two teachers in classroom smiling with teacher appreciation graphics

Jessica Elder is from Staten Island, NY and attended Staten Island Technical High School.  She received her undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering at Manhattan College before making a big career change and getting her masters in Elementary Education at SUNY Plattsburgh.  Everyone always asks her what she was thinking, moving from building bridges to teaching kindergarten, but this is definitely where she is meant to be!

Jacqueline Smith grew up locally and attended South Glens Falls High School. She received her Bachelor’s from the College of Saint Rose and her Master’s from Purdue University.

What is the best thing about inclusion and consultant team teaching? How does this “work” in your classroom?

student and teacher playing with blocke smiling
Jessica Elder at Jackson Heights

Jessica: The best thing about teaching an inclusive class is seeing acceptance firsthand. Kindergarteners are so genuine and will make friends with anyone so it is really wonderful to see all of our students playing together. I get to share this experience with Jacqueline, who I now consider a close friend, and she is an amazing teacher. I learn from her everyday and the students get to see our friendship and working relationship as an example.

Jacqueline: The best part of consultant teaching is getting to collaborate with other educators. Jessica and I use station teaching so students are receiving their instruction in small groups that rotate through each teacher’s station. I believe that learning differently requires teaching differently. By using the station teaching model we can differentiate our lessons to meet the needs of all learners.

How did you make the “transition” from your previous style?

students with teacher at desks in clasasroom
Jacqueline Smith at Jackson Heights

Jessica: I started at Jackson Heights in 2020 and it was only my second year teaching so I wouldn’t say I even had a style yet. That being said, they don’t teach you how to co-teach in teacher school! There is a lot of trust and letting go involved but Jacqueline and I found our groove very quickly. We fully share responsibilities and both of us teach all students. We teach everything in stations that the students rotate through in groups so we can reach every student where they are at.

Jacqueline: It has been wonderful teaching with Jessica, and I believe our strong partnership has made the transition so smooth. Prior to last school year, Jessica and I decided to share teaching responsibilities from the beginning. We have attended professional development opportunities and meetings together and are continuously learning and growing together as a team. We collaborate on all aspects of the job. It truly is a pleasure working with Jessica!

Describe your favorite lesson or unit from this year … and what did the students think of it?
teacher and student playing flower shop in the kindergarten classroomJessica: As a former engineer, I love teaching anything STEM related. One of my favorite lessons is having the students build Elf Traps around the holidays. We read “How to Catch an Elf” by Adam Wallace. Then we let the students use their imagination and all the recycled material we can find to build their own traps. The kids have so much fun and are so creative coming up with their plans. The best part is seeing their reactions to what the elves get up to overnight when we leave the traps around.

Jacqueline: My favorite lesson from this year was one that incorporated engineering into reading. After finishing the reading unit We are Readers, Jessica and I had the students recreate their favorite storybook characters using recycled materials. The students were very creative and came up with their own ways to design their characters. At the end of the lesson, the students shared with their classmates the characters they chose and described how they designed their characters. All students were engaged and had a lot of fun!

How was pandemic teaching for you? How are you doing now?
Jessica: I think every teacher could write a novel about the past two years. Kindergarten is so hands-on and we really want them to learn to work together. A global pandemic puts a damper on that so we have definitely had to get creative! Overall, our kids have been very resilient. One of the best days this year was the first day of no masks. Seeing their smiles as they came in is something I won’t forget.

Jacqueline: The pandemic has taught me about different ways to incorporate technology into my teaching style. Jessica and I have a Google Classroom that we use to post resources to our students and their families. I have always used songs and movement as a way to practice snap words. Now I record my songs and post them to our Google Classroom.