While many teachers are feeling frustrated over the increase of state and federal regulations on education, Beth Pereira has been developing creative new ways to get her students engaged. One example of Pereira’s innovation was when she partnered with Our Town to have her P.S. 6 first grade student’s op-ed letters published.
After starting a new opinion-writing unit for her class, she realized that their letters were just being filed away into their folders. “I was the only one reading their opinions, and I needed to give their writing a reason and a purpose. I was teaching them that you can’t just put it in a drawer, you have to get it out in the world.” she said.
Pereira uses the same kind of mature, realistic approach in all of her lessons. The increase of testing and curriculum difficulty can become overwhelming for her students. “The curriculum is very rigorous, but I always keep in the back of my mind I am teaching 6 and 7 year olds. I want to make sure that whatever we do across the curriculum, I bring some kind of joy to it,” she said.
Making her students feel comfortable is extremely important, she is constantly telling them that being wrong is an important part of learning. She compared a recent vocabulary lesson to her own memories of school, explaining their excitement to learn new words. In her own experience, she would have felt embarrassed admitting things she didn’t know to her friends or teachers.
Pereira has worked at P.S. 6 for the past 14 years, feeling at home there the minute she walked through the halls for the first time in 1999. “I landed exactly in the right place,” she shared. “Kids are the number one priority here. We are constantly trying to elevate the level of learning.”
Explaining the point of her curriculum is an important part of how she approaches each lesson. Meaning is important, and she is constantly focused on telling her students why they need to know the things she is teaching them. “I think that if we’re going to be rigorous, and make them do the hard work, we should explain to them why,” she said.
A major focus for Pereira is creating memories for her students, and finding time to do activities that don’t require a grade. Her students planned a “fancy dance” to celebrate her engagement. All the students got dressed up, and Pereira spent her Friday night teaching them how to do the box step.
Everything she does is rooted in her goal to improve the minds of her students; this means spending a large amount of her free time making sure each family feels supported. “There is love here, that’s the important thing about P.S. 6,” Pereira said. “It’s about the moments, and that’s what I try to focus on. My students aren’t going to remember the fact that I taught them how to read; they will remember things like getting published in the newspaper. I try to create those special moments for them each year.”
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