Teacher Spotlight: Rebekah Host at New Branches Charter Academy

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Rebekah Host is a 4th grade teacher at New Branches Charter Academy.

Since the school year began, Rebekah has been creating a family-like atmosphere within her classroom. She finds ways to show her students the importance of learning, all while building a love for learning.

What keeps your students aiming for success in the classroom?

High expectations. My students know the expectations that I have for them, as these become the same expectations they have for themselves. I do not let them fail. I do not let them give up. They work incredibly hard to become the best versions of themselves that they can be each day. We have constant, if not daily, conversations about why I have these expectations for them.

“High expectations. My students know the expectations that I have for them, as these become the same expectations they have for themselves. I do not let them fail. I do not let them give up.”

How do you remind your students of the expectations you have?

I don’t. My students created a social contract at the beginning of the year, with very little help from me. They all agreed to the rules in the contract and felt that they were fair expectations. Each student signed the contract as well as their parents. After long breaks or when a new trimester begins, we review the contract again. There’s also a copy of the contract posted in our room, in a fun print, that can be referred to at any time by the students and myself.

Your students seem to take an active part in the classroom. In what ways are they active in their learning?

Students create goals each trimester. THEY are responsible for choosing the goals that they need to work on, and for providing themselves with ways to achieve their goal. I facilitate the goal process, but the students create the goals themselves. Students then check-in with the goals they’ve created periodically to see if they’ve completed the goal, or if they need to keep working on it.

With such independent students, how do you incorporate teamwork into your classroom?

Well, team building is incredibly important. We’ve discussed the fact that we spend more time with our classmates than our family members during the school week. Therefore, we refer to each other as family in our room. We work together as teams for both academics and personal growth. In our classroom, it’s okay to take risks as well. In fact, it’s encouraged. If you’re not trying to answer a question, it’s a let-down to the class. My students know it’s okay to get a question wrong. What’s not okay, is not trying. That being said, students are encouraged to work together, do their best, try their hardest and not give up. Even when I make a mistake as a teacher, the students pick me up quickly!

I also have students work together in their table groups called “pit crews.” We call it “pit crew points” because a pit crew cannot function at its fullest without the support of each of its members. The students then get points if they are the first group to follow directions correctly or work the best as a team. After about three weeks, the group with the most points has the opportunity to eat lunch with me. They absolutely love this reward, and find it to be such a treat eating in the classroom. It’s nice to be able to engage in a fun conversation with students as well. It’s also a great way to build relationships with the students, and encourage on-task behaviors at the same time.

In what ways do you build a family-like atmosphere in your classroom?

Three days a week, students have the opportunity to share responses to a variety of questions from what is going on in their lives, to their favorite music, to what they’d bring with them if stranded on a desert island. As a teacher, I participate in this as well. This helps us all to get to know one another as a person… not just a teacher or a classmate. We also show respect to each other by making eye contact and actively listening. We retell others in the class what we just learned about our peers. It’s an activity that gets everyone involved with creating this classroom family

What’s the secret ingredient?

Humor, fun and humility! Sitting in a classroom for eight hours a day without any fun would be more than unbearable! Humor is incorporated into the majority of our lessons – planned or unplanned. Sometimes we even take five-second breaks to do something incredibly silly to get us back on track. That being said, students have seen me do some hilarious things such as: awkward faces, dances, cartwheels… I wouldn’t be caught dead doing them in front of colleagues. However, if doing these silly actions gets my students excited about the next math problem, and allowing them to see me as a real person, so be it.

How do you keep your students interested in learning?

We’ve recently been compiling a list of ideas or concepts that the students want to learn about that may or may not be a part of our Common Core standards. I work to find ways to incorporate the students’ wants into the state-mandated topics we cover. Students are always excited to add to our list of what they want to learn about. It’s also an additional way for them to truly take responsibility for their own learn. The students also took interest inventories at the beginning of the year, in which I take into account when creating many of the lessons. The students are asked to hold me accountable in reaching all the interests as well – which they do!

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