Hello! I’m Genia Connell, and I am so happy to be opening up my classroom to you this school year. I was one of Scholastic’s very first online teacher advisors, and I’m thrilled to be back sharing some of the ideas, tips, and resources I now use in my classroom to make my teaching easier and my students' learning more meaningful.
I teach 3rd grade in Troy, Michigan, a suburban area about half an hour north of Detroit. The Troy School District is proudly one of the most culturally diverse school districts in the country. In my classroom alone last year, I had 27 students who spoke 16 different languages in addition to English! Diversity isn’t what separates us in our classroom; it’s what brings us together.
While I always loved school, I actually had zero intention of becoming a teacher when I went to college. One of my classes required us to volunteer in the community, and I chose to help out at a local preschool for the sole reason that it was directly across the street from where I lived — pure convenience! Once inside the school, watching young children excitedly soaking in all the wonders of the world around them, I quickly realized what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I earned my degree in elementary education from the University of Michigan and went on to get my Master’s in Reading with a Reading Specialist Certification. I also have an Education Specialist Degree in Curriculum and Administration. To this day I still love watching students’ eyes widen as they make a new discovery, and I still spend countless hours seeking ways to improve and adapt my teaching. And yes, I still love convenience!
I have dedicated myself to make a difference in the lives of children so they can make a difference in the world. My teaching philosophy is simple. I believe all of my students are gifted, and no matter their circumstances, they can and must succeed in school. Being gifted takes many different forms and cannot always be measured in IQ points. It is my job to discover and nurture each student’s special talents to help them go as far as they can go academically. I then nudge them just a little bit further than anyone — including them — thought possible. Success isn’t always a percentile ranking: I also measure it by the painfully shy child who gains the confidence to speak in front of the class, by the struggling reader who finishes her very first chapter book, and by the beaming smile of a non-English-speaking student who nervously arrives at my door to find a welcoming classroom community with abundant friendship, respect, and kindness.
After 24 years of teaching, I feel fortunate to say that I love my job more than ever. I tell my parents that I treat their children the same way I treat my own three children, which helps create a family atmosphere in our room. The kids also understand that when the “mom” tone comes out in my voice, I mean business! My teaching style involves a lot of encouragement, modeling, high expectations, and laughter, all in an environment where no one is afraid to try. I offer as many interactive, real-life experiences as possible to help make learning authentic and meaningful. While no one will remember a worksheet they did in the 3rd grade, it’s my hope that visiting the pond to examine life cycles, setting up our own assembly line to learn about mass production, or traveling back in time to discover history as it happened will have a lasting impact. A favorite compliment came from a 3rd grader who said, “You make everything we do seem fun, even though we know it really isn’t.” If you can make a child believe school is fun, you’ve most likely succeeded in fostering a lifelong love of learning in them, which is the greatest thing any teacher can do.