Melissa Childs is a first grade teacher at Lamar Reese Magnet School of the Arts.
When she’s not jet-setting across the country with her husband and young daughter, Melissa Childs is shaping the minds of young first graders at Lamar Reese Magnet School.
Childs, the 2013 Teacher of the Year for the Dougherty County School System, recently sat down with J.D. Sumner to talk about her job and her strategy for winning over students in the classroom.
Q: What was your first job?
A: My first job was the Bodyshop, which is now Body Central in the mall. I was a cashier.
NAME: Melissa Childs
JOB: First grade teacher, Lamar Reese Magnet School of the Arts.
EXPERIENCE: Six years.
PERSONAL: She is married with a two-year-old daughter.
Q: What did you buy with your first paycheck?
A: I don’t have a clue, but I’m sure I blew it on something.
Q: What’s your teaching strategy?
A: We do a lot of small groups and centers. The kids I teach know more about technology than I knew when I graduated high school and so they get on the computer and do education games. I let them get on my iPad. We work in small groups the majority of the day because I can see their individual needs and meet them where they are versus trying to teach 25 kids when you have 25 different learning styles and needs. So we do a lot of centers. We rotate a lot. I feel that the more we move around the room, the less bored they’ll get and the less behavior problems I have.
Q: Who have been some of your role models?
A: As I’ve said several times through this process of getting Teacher of the Year, my second grade teacher and my sixth grade teacher are just two that stand out as just my best teachers ever. My second grade teacher, I can’t remember what she taught me, but I can remember how she made me feel. And so I try to remember that. These kids might leave me and, in 20 years, they may not remember that I stressed nouns and verbs but hopefully they’ll remember that I was loving and caring. And, my sixth grade teacher, just the way she related to us. Sixth grade is a weird year anyway for kids so those are two. And then, like I said, this is the only school I’ve worked at, but we have some awesome teachers that have helped me or found different ways to teach something that has made my job easier.
Q: As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A: The first job I thought I wanted was to be a lawyer. I don’t know what made me think that I wanted to be a lawyer, but then something just clicked and probably in the second grade teaching is all I’ve ever thought about.
Q: What three items would you like to have if you were stranded on an island?
A: My cell phone; my iPhone, if there were the ability to search the web or whatever. Chapstick and lotion. I’m OCD about it. I freak out if my lips or my hands get dry so I’m constantly putting on chapstick and lotion.
Q: If you could have lunch with anyone living or dead, real or imaginary, who would it be?
A: Can I say Justin Timberlake? Just because.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges facing teachers today?
A: I think, like I said, the technology issue. You have parents that let kids do what they want to do at home and watch TV all day long and then they come to school and it’s hard for them to realize that we’re not going to sit here and watch TV all day long; that we’re going to learn. So that’s where I try to pull in some of that technology stuff that they are used to but that is helping them get the concept across to so that’s one thing. There’s always paperwork. You have to document everything these days. When I went to school it seemed different; a lot more laid back. I mean the teacher taught but what one class was doing could be completely different from what another class was doing and now we have to follow county and state stuff so the challenge is trying to teach that but finding fun ways to do it.
Q: What is the best thing about teaching?
A: It’s just seeing where the kids come in in August and where they leave in May and how much growth they’ve shown. Every year you’re going to see children grow, but for me, I feel like in first grade; yeah, some of them are reading, but when they leave my class and they’re reading on third and fourth-grade levels or the kids that came in and weren’t reading and struggled and now they’re reading on level, that’s probably the joy I find in it.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: I love spending time with my husband and our two-year-old daughter. Wherever you see one of us, you probably see all three of us. And we like to travel. We just recently got back from New York and we have a bucket list of places to travel.
Q: What advice would you have for a young person who is on the cusp of entering your field?
A: Well if it was someone who was in college I would tell them to go visit classrooms as much as possible because a textbook will not prepare you; a professor will not prepare you for what really is your everyday teaching environment. So the more you can get into a classroom and see how a classroom really works, it would really help prepare them. And for new teachers, just don’t be afraid to ask for advice. I remember my first-year teacher. The grade-level teacher at the time is no longer here, but I felt like I ran to her every single day. If I had a question, I was running. So don’t just sit back and, if you have a question, expect someone to come to you. Seek advice or find a way to make your job easier.
Q: What office gadget is most important in your classroom?
A: Computers. Just for me as a teacher because that’s how I put grades in and I communicate with parents through e-mail and whatever but for the kids we do Fast Math, for instance so it gets the kids exactly where they are on their addition and subtraction facts and it takes them as they learn them so all 25 of my kids are on 25 different levels.
Q: At the end of your career, how do you want your students and colleagues to remember you?
A: I would like for them to be able to say that I made learning fun, but that I loved on them and nurtured them almost like a second mama. Because I see them more than their moms. I am firm with them, but I also love them at the same time. I don’t want them to say that she was boring or too strict.