Q&A: D.C. Teacher of the Year
Perea Blackmon talks to Instructor Magazine
about keeping kids excited, giving parents grades,
and some very unusual class pets.
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
Perea Brown-Blackmon’s Tips for Classroom Success ✔ Know your students.
“Get to know their parents and background. If you understand a kid’s home environment, you can better understand how to teach him or her.”
✔ Keep them engaged.
“If students are actively participating nonstop, they’re not going to get bored. When kids are not challenged, they become bored—and that’s when you
see behavior problems.”
✔ Treat kids like citizens.
“You can’t constantly tell them, ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that.’ You have to help the child understand why they shouldn’t be doing this or that. Talk them through things like ‘What would happen if you…?’ ‘How could you do it better next time?’”
✔ Let them know that everyone makes mistakes.
“It’s what you do after the mistake that matters. I tell my students that there is no such thing as a perfect child. I tell them that erasers are on pencils for a reason. Mistakes are going to be made; the eraser is there for you to clean up the mistake.”
Perea Blackmon, a 20-year veteran in the classroom, has racked up some impressive teaching awards. The Montessori specialist for a combined third- and fourth-grade class at the District of Columbia’s Langdon Education Campus was the school’s Teacher of the Year in 2008—three years later, she was awarded a citywide Rubenstein Award for Highly Effective Teaching. She’s just topped it off by being named Washington, D.C.’s 2012 Teacher of the Year. She's also the spokesperson for Hilton Honors Teacher Treks, a travel grant competition for teachers.
In addition to her work in the classroom, Brown-Blackmon has been a cheerleading coach, step-team adviser, and choir director at her school. She’s also the mother of nine.
How does being a parent of nine children enhance your skills in the classroom?
Perea Blackmon: I am harder on my students because I’m a parent. I push them and challenge them as I would want someone to push my kids. I raise the bar higher than others and always teach a curriculum that extends beyond the fourth-grade mastery.
At the same time, I understand how hard it is for working parents to come home from a long day and have to sit and help with hours of homework. So I try to keep the homework short but meaningful.
What are some of the benefits and challenges of a multigrade classroom?
PB: I’ve had up to three grades at a time in one room. It’s easy for me because I group students according to abilities and they work collaboratively. A child who is deficient in one area may get peer support from another student who is proficient in this area, and vice versa. The multiage environment allows each child to develop independence and a sense of social responsibility.
How do you get your students excited about learning?
PB: Reading about things in books is just not enough for students; you have to bring whatever you’re studying to life for them. I’m fortunate to be able to teach in D.C. because it’s a wonderful place to explore. We take at least 10 field trips a year.
We also have some kind of project-based learning going on all the time. I’ve learned that you have to get students engaged from the very beginning—I call it “catching them in the beginning.” To do that, you have to weave the curriculum standards into interesting projects and integrate technology.
Any examples of project-based learning?
PB: I have weird creatures in my room, like hissing cockroaches and an iguana, plus a gecko, a rabbit, and a hamster. Our school uses a STEM curriculum, and I use our classroom pets to support the curriculum. Think about measurements: The iguana has grown since we’ve gotten him, so we’ve used him as a measuring lesson. How long did it take for his tail to get as long as it is? When his tail breaks off, how long do we think it will take for it to grow back?
I’ve also used the animals to support writing skills. One of my students’ assignments was to write a persuasive letter to their parents to adopt a cockroach for the summer. They had to be very convincing—to have a parent actually say, “Yeah, we’ll babysit a roach for the summer,” requires a lot of persuasion!
How do you design lesson plans that are engaging but still incorporate curriculum standards?
PB: Lesson plans are kind of a tricky thing. You can write up a lesson plan that hits every component of what you’re trying to do, but as you actively engage the students, their questions start to arrive and your lesson plan can go to the left or to the right.
The main thing is to make sure that you give your students an objective. You have to let the kids know what it is you expect out of them. At the beginning of every one of my lessons, I give my students some type of visual presentation or hands-on activity that shows how we apply that concept in our daily lives.
What tips do you have for getting parents involved in the educational process?
PB: I communicate with my students’ parents daily. In each student’s home folder, I have an attendance sheet; the students actually get a grade from me every day and I include a comment. Parents have to sign this attendance sheet and send it back with the kids the next day. They also have to sign quizzes and tests.
So the parents are up-to-date on everything we are doing as we’re doing it. If questions arise, parents
can contact me immediately. They all have my cell phone number, and I let them know that they can call or text me anytime.
Plus, when my students get report cards, their parents also get report cards. They’re graded on whether or not they checked homework, whether or not they’ve come to conferences, whether or not they’ve chaperoned on field trips. At the end of the year, I recognize my parents with a small reward, just like I give my students award certificates.