Talented in Any Language

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Toll’s skills create community in her Spanish-English classroom

By Mirva Lempiainen

When students’ eyes light up and get that “aha!” expression, that’s when Randi Toll realizes how much she loves her job.

“These are the moments I enjoy the most,” she said.

Luckily for Toll, who teaches 1st grade at P.S. 163, “it happens a fair amount.”

Dual-language teacher Randi Toll became fluent in Spanish while working as a nanny in Chiapas, Mexico.

“First grade is really a year when the kids make a huge jump in reading and writing,” she said, adding that literacy is her favorite subject to teach.

A former nanny and product of the New York City Teaching Fellows program, Toll has been teaching for seven years now, three years at P.S. 163 and four at P.S. 153.

“I always wanted to work with kids,” she said.

As a nanny, Toll spent six months in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, which helped her become fluent in Spanish. She now uses those skills in her dual-language classroom, where students study in English on Mondays and Wednesdays, and in Spanish the other days. Some students are Spanish-dominant, some are English-dominant and some are fully bilingual.

“It’s a challenge. We have kids from all different backgrounds,” she said. “They are a very cohesive group so it ends up working well.”

Franziska Castillo, the parent of one of Toll’s students, thinks Toll is a big part of that equation.

“Ms. Toll is so kind and loving that she knows how to help all the children in the class become a unit,” she said. “At home, my daughter notices fractions around the house, and uses vocabulary that surprises her aunts and uncles. It’s all because of Ms. Toll.”

Ellen Schorr, another parent, thinks Toll is everything a 1st-grade teacher should be: smart, creative and fun-loving. Schorr likes that Toll brings creativity into lessons, like making buildings out of marshmallows and using cooking to learn how to measure. But a sense of order always pervades.

“While very warm and affectionate toward the children, she is no pushover,” Schorr said. “She has perfect command over her classroom without ever yelling, threatening, or belittling.”

Toll believes her respectful attitude toward children has something to do with her success in the classroom.

“I connect pretty well with the kids,” she said. “I like to try and talk to them like they are people, not kids.”

Parents also appreciate Toll’s enthusiasm for literature.

“Her love of reading and books rubs off on the kids,” said Carrie Reynolds, a parent. “My daughter is now an avid reader who first learned to read in Spanish before she learned to read in English.”

Reynolds appreciates that Toll celebrates each student’s birthday in class, and even signed the children up for yoga in the classroom.

“Everybody loves her,” Reynolds said.

Toll, too, feels like she is in the right field and cherishes being a teacher.

“There are never any moments when I feel like I should be doing something else,” she said.


Randi Toll
1st grade, P.S. 163

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