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Greetings From Top Teaching Advisor Andrea

By Andrea J. Spillett on September 2, 2011

I am thrilled to be back blogging for Scholastic. For those of you who have followed my blog regarding kindergarten ideas and English Language Development strategies, I now have the privilege to share ideas targeted for 1st and 2nd graders about a topic that is near and dear to all of our hearts: literacy. Teaching students how to read and write is incredibly rewarding. There are so many aspects of teaching that I find inspiring, but when a child reads for the first time, now that is monumental. In the past you might have known me as Andrea Spillett. I have since married and will be blogging under my new name, Andrea Maurer. I look forward to collaborating, troubleshooting, and yes, at times commiserating about the trials and tribulations of our wonderful profession.

As I begin my 18th year of teaching, I can’t help but reflect upon the beginning of my career. I landed my first teaching job in California at a random job fair. Two weeks after attending the fair I found myself squeezing all of my worldly possessions and some teaching materials (gifted to me from my master teacher) in my Chevrolet Nova. Not only was I embarking on a new career, I was moving from my childhood home outside of Detroit, Michigan to set up a place of my own in San Bernardino, California.

I am always fascinated by what calls people to the teaching profession. Those who know early that they are destined to teach are lucky. That was not the case for me. After graduating from Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan with a history degree I did what every young adventurous college graduate does and backpacked through Europe. Spending three months visiting the museums and historical sites I had spent the previous years studying was incredible. Upon arriving back in the States and in need of a way to pay the bills, a friend suggested that I substitute teach. Little did I know this was going to change my life.

I was subbing for a middle school class that had just finished reading The Diary of Anne Frank.  The Anne Frank annex in Amsterdam had been one of my favorite stops in Europe and I was excited to have the opportunity to share my experience with the class. I decided to plot and survey the classroom to show the actual size of the annex that housed Anne Frank, her family, the Van Pels family, and Fritz Pheffer. The students' faces reflected a mixture of shock and sadness when they realized just how small the living quarters were. Reading the book had told Anne Frank's story, but recreating the annex had let them feel her story.    

Seeing how the students were so engaged in the activity was exciting. Sharing and teaching something that had affected me so deeply was exhilarating. Teaching felt like a place where I could make a difference in the world; and that was my aha! moment. That day everything was clearly spelled out for me. I guess you could say, that is the day I heard the calling to the profession of teaching. I returned to school immediately and earned a master’s degree in elementary education from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan with the goal of creating even more memorable experiences for children from which to learn.  

During my 18 years of teaching, I have taught in three supportive districts, mentored my peers, instructed ELD classes at the university level, and facilitated teaching strategy workshops. I have experienced the joy of teaching students that ages have ranged from 4 to 60 and just recently I began presenting about school readiness to the preschools in my community. Now I feel like the lucky one because teaching still excites and inspires me today in the same way as it did with those middle school students. I currently teach at Mariposa Elementary School in the Brea Olinda Unified School District in Orange County, California. The city of Brea has a small town charm amidst its city surroundings. The community is beautifully multi-cultural and socio-economically diverse. I feel fortunate to teach in a district that recognizes the value of the integration of a fine arts curriculum, emphasizes the importance of goal setting and the commitment to helping each and every student attain their goals.

My educational philosophy reflects the ancient Chinese proverb I hear… I forget, I see… I remember, I do… I understand. With this in mind, I embrace the challenge of creating lessons that are hands-on, fun, standards-based, and meaningful for my students. In my class I emphasize celebrating uniqueness, expanding imaginations, creating independent learners and problem solvers. If you could take a peek into my class on any given day you may find students who are engaged in role-playing their favorite fairy-tale character, investigating their hypothesis by leading a science experiment, diligently measuring ingredients for a recipe, creatively writing and illustrating their own stories, or even just plopped on a pillow reading a book with a classmate. Above all, as my students move on to the next grade I want them to be confident, have empathy toward their classmates, and be empowered by their learning so in return someday they will have their own dreams of making our world a better place.

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