Education

Toby Clark: Kindergarten Teacher at Bridgeport Elementary School

Photo provided by Toby Clark

How did you get into the teaching profession?
I went to college at the University of Kansas for communication studies, where I also took some education classes. This, along
with working as a teacher assistant, helped me become a certified teacher. I obtained my master’s in early childhood education and
have been teaching for 11 years. I’ve taught kindergarten, first and second grade.

Bridgeport Elementary is very big into the reading program PARP (Pick a Reading Partner). Can you tell us about it?
PARP is a PTA (Parent Teacher Association) sponsored program that lasts three weeks. We set a goal of a number of books to be read by the school by the end of the three weeks. Our goal this year was 3,000 books. Each year, we pick a different theme to create excitement for the students. We pick it in the spring, so we have time to start creating it. This year, our theme is Candy Land, like the board game, so we decorated the school with homemade props. Some things we do to reach our goal and encourage PARP are daily silent reading time, we bring in community readers, we have a family fun night and we send home reading logs so we can track students’ reading. We also have spirit day, where we have an opening and closing assembly. Staff members dress in costumes and do dance numbers. It’s fun! By the art room, there’s a big mural wall where we created a little outdoor café with awnings and called it Cupcake Commons. Each day during silent reading, one student from each classroom is invited to go read there. We go big out here and we do a lot in those three weeks to create excitement and engagement with reading.

What advice would you give new teachers?
If seeking employment, build relationships in interested districts by substitute teaching. For new teachers, I would say just breathe.
Find a good work-life balance, because you can be really consumed with your work those first couple of years by getting your routines in order and setting up your classroom environment. That can be very overwhelming. Also, if there’s a mentoring program, use your mentor. If there isn’t, seek someone out that you can ask questions to and even observe in their classroom. I utilize skills that I learned by observing teachers during my work as a teacher’s assistant.

Know an educator who deserves a mention? E-mail CourtneyK@familytimescny.com

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