Non-Profit Organization - Teacher's Corner

Interview with Karen Vanderveen

"...I have extremely high expectations for my students' behavior, for their engagement and learning, and for what they produce as a result of their learning."

Why did you become a teacher?
I am a teacher because I want to do meaningful, challenging work; I want to make a positive difference in the lives of children. I choose to teach in an area where my students face incredible academic, socioeconomic and linguistic challenges, for I believe that I can truly make an impact on their lives and help them grow to achieve much success.

What are significant challenges you face in the classroom?
Consistent, rigorous and high quality instruction is the most important thing that I can give to my students, and I try to focus on improving my practice on a daily basis. However, one challenge I face is teaching my students' parents how to be integral parts of their children's education even when they don't know the language or cannot read, for I believe that this reinforcement from home is vital to the success of everything that I teach in the classroom. Additionally, with limited resources, teaching some lessons can be quite challenging and I do what I can to supplement the classroom but it usually is not enough.

How has Jones New York In The Classroom impacted you and your students?
Jones New York In The Classroom has had a tremendous impact on my students and my teaching because part of the prize was a $500 gift to my classroom through the Adopt-A-Classroom program. I was able to buy supplies and some equipment that I had been wanting to purchase to make my everyday life and my instruction easier, better, and more powerful. I was able to buy many things that make displaying student work more easy and attractive, and I bought books and tapes for my listening center that were sorely needed. I also purchased smaller items that help with involving parents in what they can do: I bought a number of high quality staplers, for example, so that I could send papers home for parents to assemble. This is one of the small changes I have been able to make thanks to JNY in the Classroom, but it has had a wide-reaching and powerful impact on the overall involvement of parents in my classroom.

What inspires you and how is it integrated into your curriculum?
I am inspired by people (children and adults) who survive and thrive in the face of great adversity, as well as by those who, in light of great loss, somehow find a way to continue living and giving even though they have suffered much. Most of the students I have taught in my 20-year teaching career have faced tremendous challenges in their lives, and I am continually inspired by them to reach deeper into myself for strength, for creativity, for more effective ways of teaching and reaching my students. I want a better life for my students. I want them to be respected in society, to have power in society, to be self-confident and to be contributors to a better society as well. Because of this, I have extremely high expectations for my students' behavior, for their engagement and learning, and for what they produce as a result of their learning.

Any advice for new teachers?
Remember that students are other people's children; that teaching is a great gift as well as a great responsibility; that a good teacher continues to develop professionally and is a life-long learner as are her students; that teaching new skills takes time and positive reinforcement; that taking care of yourself is important if you want to keep doing your job well; that your colleagues are valuable companions and resources; that children don't just need your instruction - they need YOU. They need you to be present to their whole person, not just their intellect.