Julissa Blanchard ’13, Fourth Grade Teacher at Neighborhood House Charter School

Julissa Blanchard

My career path has enabled me to know about curriculum development and design in the area of mathematical content for primarily elementary grades with a focus on fourth grade in particular. I grew up in both public and private schools in NY/NJ as well as in California. When I arrived at Wellesley, I started a part-time job at one of the daycares on campus and I loved it! I decided to pursue education as a career. Originally, I thought I would get into politics or become an interpreter but I ended up liking my education classes much more.

While I knew I didn’t want to work with middle schoolers or high school students, narrowing down my choice to elementary education actually wasn’t as narrow as I thought. I wish that as a student I would have known to spend those required observation hours through my coursework in varied grades with varied content. Teaching 1st grade is very different from teaching 5th grade and you would need to spend some time in varied grades to know what that “sweet spot” is for you. After nearly four years of teaching fourth grade math at charter schools, I have discovered that I prefer teaching younger children. The more comfortable you feel in the different grades, the easier it will be to find the fit that is right for you, especially as you search for jobs.

As a 4th grade math and science teacher, unit planning usually occurs in school with my content partners and curriculum directors. My lesson planning takes place over a few days for the following week. My Saturdays will occasionally include a trip to the hardware store for any science materials or I might have some assessments to grade. Monday mornings are spent copying all of the materials for the week. My one-hour prep every day is typically taken up by lesson planning or checking homework, but it can also include meetings with other staff members of my school to review a behavior plan for a student, debrief an observation with my supervisor, or touch base with the other 4th grade teacher about upcoming field trips or family concerns. I’ll have a 20 min. lunch and then get right back into teaching. I usually end up wrapping things up for the end of the day around 4pm after dismissing the kids. At which point, I will log any behavior notes and make a few parent phone calls. Before leaving to go home I will make sure all the materials are prepped for the next day and that the classroom is tidy before collecting a couple assignments that I’ll grade for 1-2 hours at home until 8pm.

It is incredibly important to know that you really want to be an educator! Teaching is the most difficult job out there but it is also one of the most rewarding if you are fully committed. You have to be prepared to be criticized at every turn either by parents, supervisors, or even the students sometimes, especially as you are just starting out.

One of the great things about teaching is that there is always a way to make a lesson more interesting or meaningful but this also means that your work is never over because there’s always room to improve. This means you must know when to shut off your computer, put down your grading pen, and take some time for yourself! At the same time, preparation is incredibly important! Know your content well by digging deep into standards, observing others, reading resources from other schools, reviewing assessments, watching videos, and putting yourself in the shoes of the children you teach to imagine how they would like to learn!

My preparation comes from varied sources and when developing curriculum, it’s important to see how others have done it but also fit your instruction and activities to your population. I always start with the Common Core standards and examine what students are being asked to do. I look at exemplars and revisit how I’ve taught it in previous years. Then, I look at what other schools have done who make their curriculum available online such as Engageny, Edward Brooke, etc. I also consider the Standards for Mathematical Practice and engagement strategies like Responsive Classroom when planning the activities and classwork. It’s important, especially in the unit planning stage, to consider what assessing these learning objectives would look like in the current grade as well as where they’re coming from and where this knowledge will lead them to in the next grade. Lastly, I also like to check video sites and websites like Khan Academy, YouTube, and Illustrative Mathematics. I sometimes even look at my old education textbooks for good ideas!