Monday, January 30, 2017

Teacher stories 6: A classroom full of color

Today, I am sharing Diane Lipp's story. She teaches third grade at Huth Road Elementary School in Grand Island, New York. This is the sixth story in my series of stories about teachers, their work, the things that they share with their students, and the things that bring them joy.

Tell me your journey to becoming a teacher.
My undergrad degree was in food and nutrition. I worked for 15 years as a diet technician at Millard Fillmore Hospital in Gates Circle, Buffalo. (Note: After 140 years as a hospital, Millard Fillmore at Gates Circle was closed in 2012. Its services were moved to Millard Fillmore Vascular Center and Buffalo General Hospital in Buffalo’s Medical Corridor. The vacated building was imploded in 2015.)

 I had been working full time and my kids were in school. The hospital cut my hours back from full time to two days a week. At the same time, the Grand Island school district was looking for substitute teachers. I started subbing a lot at Sidway. I loved subbing at Sidway. I started thinking, hmm, I really like this. I was an adult learner. I quit my job. I went to Canisius full time and did my master’s in elementary education. I completed the program in three semesters, plus student teaching. I was one of the lucky ones. Just as I was graduating, we had a lot of teachers retire. I taught kindergarten and then I looped with that class to first grade. So at the end of that second year, the census went down at Sidway, and they didn’t need as many teachers.

I was moved to Huth Road Elementary School. I was devastated because I loved Sidway and wanted to stay there. I love teaching at Huth Road now and can’t imagine not being here. There is something special about this school. This was my elementary school. The room that I teach in was my kindergarten classroom. This was my kids’ elementary school. This was my son’s kindergarten classroom. My daughter was in the first group that went to Sidway for kindergarten. That was 1993. There are a lot of people whom I know who were students here. It is just an extra connection.

The first time I walked in here, I remembered the smell of the classroom. My sisters and I talk about it all of the time. I have three sisters, including a twin sister, and a brother. We all went to school here. When the school was kindergarten through fifth grade, all five of us were here at one time. We are all within four years of each other.

How long have you taught at Huth Road Elementary School?
I have been here since since 2003. I started at Sidway in 2001. This is my fourteenth year here at Huth Road.

This chair is called the pizza chair and it was painted by students in 2008.

Have you always taught third grade at Huth Road School or have you taught different grades?
I have always taught third grade here. Third grade is perfect for me because the kids are old enough that you can teach them really hard things, like hard writing skills. They have a lot of stamina to read and write for a long time but they are not too old. They’re not too wise yet. They are still very into school. They are just the perfect age, very competent and capable but not to the point where school is not something they want to do. I hope that I can stay with third grade. For right now, it’s a good place to be.

As a teacher, what brings you joy?
When kids don’t understand something and then they work hard to master something and then they master it. They master it in such a way that they can teach it to someone else. That is the greatest thing ever. If you can teach someone something, then you have truly learned it. I love when that happens. In this curriculum, I am teaching them a lot of things that they don’t know, especially in reading, where they are learning new strategies, and in math. We don’t do much of the rote stuff anymore. The kids can really learn, even something that you don’t expect that they are able to do. I’ll even say, “I’m going to ask you a really hard question right now.” And they get it, and I say, “Good for you!” It’s really exciting when that happens.

I see that your room looks bright and cheery and that you have a set of hand painted chairs. Tell me about these chairs.
I like color in my classroom. These were plain brown chairs. The pizza chair was painted by students in 2008. The others, I did one at a time. We have different names for them. It’s fun for the kids. I’m all about keeping it fresh.  We are here for a long day, and I like to have it looking nice. I like to have things for the kids to remember and to look at.  Jeanne Percival (another third grade teacher at Huth Road School) and I are very similar teachers. We always do a project for the windows. It gives the kids ownership in the classroom. I like them to see their work. Every month, they put up something. It is a neat way to see how they progress over the school year.  One kid started the year not using punctuation. She can do that now.

Tell me more about how you teach writing.
To build stamina, you have to write about what you know. That’s my premise. I always look for new projects to keep kids interested in writing. We do several research projects. Third graders are very good researchers. We researched polar animals, and we’ve done rainforest animals. Kids pick the animals. We will research a president next week: the president’s early life, his years in office, and the years after they were done being a president. That will be harder because there is a lot of hard vocabulary. They do a decent job. They do research first, and then we evolve that into a project of some kind. We’ve done fact posters about the animals that they did.

Tell me about your after school clubs.
I do the third grade writers club, and I have three groups. Kids join for different reasons. Some kids just I really like to write, and they want more. We do different projects. I only have them for six sessions. I may teach them a new skill. Tomorrow, we are doing persuasive writing. I either teach them a new style or a new strategy. Most of the kids who come are kids who really want to be here, which is nice. This is my third year of doing this. They used to have a newspaper club. I said that I didn’t want to do newspaper, but I wanted to do a writers club. If they take back one idea to their classroom, then it is worthwhile to be here.

And you take care of the gardens at school?
Yes. I plant them and I take care of them over the summer. I water them. I like visual things. I like taking a plain piece of nothing and get color into that. I am trying to get perennials near the playground.

Tell me about awards that you have won as a teacher.
Jen Walowitz (PTA president from 2014 through 2016) nominated me through (former State Assembly member) John Ceretto’s office for the 2016 Women of Distinction award. It was very nice and very unexpected. 2016 Women of Distinction. I had Jen’s daughter in third grade. Jen had to write this big thing up. I was really surprised.

What do you like to do when you’re not teaching?
I’m  a very busy girl. During the school, I love to shop. I love to travel. I have this new love of hiking. My college roommate just moved to Salt Lake City. I went twice. We went to several of the national parks, which was fabulous. I went to Bryce Canyon, Zion, and the Grand Canyon. It’s so beautiful out there. It is so different from here. I love to go to new places. I will never turn down an opportunity to go somewhere that I’ve never been. I will always say yes. I’ve loved Charleston, SC, and was there with several girlfriends. I’ve visited Philadelphia and Boston. I like trips that reek of the history that happened in those cities. I also totally enjoy a beach vacation, where I get to sit on a beach chair under an umbrella, drinking beverages with little umbrellas. I like to listen to the waves. I like to see what’s going on.

How can parents best support and encourage their kids?
Take them on trips. Give them experiences. Read with them. Have them do chores. Have them do things that are hard for them. Don’t always make it easy for them. Encourage them to be outside and to try new things. 

5 comments: said...

I loved reading this- and was pleased that she recovered from her trauma at being reassigned schools. I know many teachers who never have.
And, I am certainly with her recommendations for parents.

Kelliann Carney said...

Mrs. Lipp is an outstanding teacher! I completed the majority of my observation hours in her classroom while I was in college to earn my own degree. I am now a teacher in Virginia. I believe I am the teacher I am today because of watching teachers like Mrs. Lipp throughout the years!

LadyInRead said...

just a great post;; my children have had good teachers too always and some definitely wonderful teachers who i know will inspire such posts (maybe i should follow your lead!)
you are one blog i will be returning to after UBC..

Caroline Poser said...

Great post! Good teachers are so important! I've enjoyed volunteering in all my kids' classrooms during elementary school. Those days are over because they don't want me in middle or high school (but I did get one of my high schoolers to volunteer in his brother's middle school class...). I found the part about looping from K to 1st interesting. Two of my kids had the chance to was in a multiage class so the teacher taught 1st and 2nd. The other was with the same teacher for two years. Then we had two teachers that had my older two two years in a row (1st and 4th). I miss those oldest is starting to look at colleges now!

Jane Biskup said...

How beautiful, Lil Di, as she once was called by her many college buddies. I had no idea you were teaching. This is a lovely story. I miss your smiling face and hearty laugh. Job well done. Please keep in touch. Love, Miss Jane. Still teaching...33 years��