November 2015 Teacher Feature: Kerry Black
“I don’t do anything special. I just love what I do!”
From the moment you walk into 4C (Mrs. Black’s Pre-K classroom), you get the feeling you’ve stepped into a special place. Books and supplies are neatly organized, walls are filled with colorful projects, and there is a warmth in the room that reflects the philosophy of the teacher. When I reach my hand out to introduce myself formally and thank her for allowing me to spend the morning in her room, she coyly replies, “I don’t do anything special, I just love what I do.” After spending the morning with Mrs. Black, I realize that is exactly what makes her so special.
Kerry approaches her day with a focus on “creating wonderful individuals.” She and her partner, Ms. Marianne, create lessons each day that might seem daunting (considering the time restraints of a preschool day) or even impossible (due to the fact that they are teaching 4 year olds). Yet, with proper preparation, support from each other and the will to do the impossible, they find a way to execute even the most demanding lessons… And then they clean up and do it again! Kerry admits that without Ms. Marianne, the prepping, executing and sharing in the joy of accomplishment wouldn’t be possible. Having support is the key to success in learning, and life in general.
Kerry’s ability to infuse learning with play promotes a love for learning in her young students. For example, to teach students how to form letters, they create “Mat Man.” Students construct a figure using lines and curves (all of the shapes we use to form letters). Of course, the students are so interested in creating their figure; they don’t realize that they’re learning. As Kerry explains, “They’re just having fun; they don’t realize I’m teaching them.”
It’s an ideal environment for preschoolers. Students learn academics and real-world skills through play. Kerry explains, “I try to create a warm, caring environment. We’re a family here in 4C. We love and take care of each other.”
Warm and Fuzzies are Contagious!
As the focus of Kindergarten becomes more academic, students often struggle socially as they enter the early elementary grades. They don’t always get the opportunity to practice the skill of working as a group or team, something children typically learn through play. Kerry emphasizes the importance of being kind and taking care of each other. In her class, students receive a “warm and fuzzy” (a colorful, soft pom pom ball) when they demonstrate positive, nurturing behavior. It’s fascinating to see how hard students will work for this reward. There are no toys or small trinkets, just the acknowledgement that you are taking care of and helping a classmate.
Clearly, it is working. Kerry tells the story of a little boy who was out sick one day. During morning circle and after they prayed for the boy who was out for the day, two classmates asked if they can make cards for him. When the absent child received the cards, he asked Mrs. Black if his classmates can receive a warm and fuzzy for making him feel better!
Character and Community Development begin in Pre-K
The children of 4C also embrace the practice of being “bucket fillers.” It is a concept popularized by Carol McCloud’s book, Have You Filled a Bucket Today? Children are encouraged to examine their actions toward others. Are you helping someone, are you filling their bucket? They realize through practice that by helping someone else, they end up feeling better about themselves.
These practices serve to enhance Kerry’s behavior management style. Kerry explains, “I’m not interested in controlling their behavior.” There is no chart, there is no public acknowledgment of which student is making good or bad choices. “I simply reward good behavior and help them to make good choices.”
Kerry is an educator first and foremost. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and a Master’s Degree in Reading. She worked for eight years as a reading specialist in secondary education and saw firsthand how difficult it can be to remediate students. She felt compelled to reach these students before remediation was their only hope. That’s when she turned to early childhood education. Kerry believes she has more influence on character development and forming good habits if she can reach students in the early stages of development.
“Teaching preschool is my escape…”
When Kerry was called to teach at Good Beginnings Preschool, she had young children and wasn’t looking to jump back into a professional role so soon. Kerry’s faith in God and His plan helped guide her to accept the position and she has since never looked back. Kerry tells me, “This is now my passion, my happy place, my escape.” If “escape” isn’t the word that comes to your mind while in a room full of excited 4-5 year olds, you’re probably not alone. But for Kerry, designing rigorous lesson plans for this age is her passion.
Academia + Creativity + Fun = Learning
Kerry’s rigorous academic background, attention to detail, and high expectations set the stage for a preschool class that focuses on learning objectives and performance outcome. However, meeting performance objectives is not what drives her teaching practices. Yes, the students are held to a high standard. Yes, she peppers in advanced vocabulary. And yes, they do a LOT of hands on projects each day. But, it’s more important at this stage for the kids to love school, take care of each other and demonstrate good choices through play. Kerry realizes that when kids are having fun, there’s almost no limit to what they can learn.
Kerry designed a lesson on the human body that gives her students hands-on learning in a fun and impressionable way. In her human body lesson, students create a “body” from a large paper shopping bag, with holes cut out for their head and arms. Next, they attach balloons and straws to represent the lungs (that actually expand when the kids blow into the straws)! There’s even a “piece of food” that travels down the esophagus through the intestine and into the stomach! Bones (macaroni) are glued onto the back to represent the spine. Kerry doesn’t shy away from using medical terms like esophagus and vertebrae when teaching her students. This lesson is an excellent example of Mrs. Black’s ability to plan and execute an advanced concept lesson that 4 year olds (and their parents) will remember for years to come!
Thank you, Kerry Black, for being an amazing inspiration to our children, their parents, your community and now teachers worldwide! The Teacher’s Academy proudly supports and congratulates your creativity, work ethic and genuine passion for developing character and a love of learning in our youth. Congratulations on being The Teacher’s Academy November, 2015 Teacher Feature!