Laurie West teaches English/Reading, Creative Writing, Speech, Theater and Talented & Gifted. She has over 30 years experience — and she’s one of the Teachers We Love in 2021. You can learn more about her in the interview below, and at The Teacher Marketplace.
Why did you become a teacher?
I became a teacher at the suggestion of my favorite teacher in high school. As a theater teacher, they saw that I would thrive in the classroom environment of being on stage and engaging with people all day, every day. I love making students feel empowered and important, that they can conquer anything.
What is the funniest moment you’ve experienced a teacher?
I have had so many it’s hard to choose! I’m known for my laugh and for the laughter in my classroom, actually.
After polling my former students for help with this, I decided this was the best: I almost had a baby during warm-ups before a musical. I was directing a musical, VERY pregnant, just eighteen days from my due date. I proceeded to get the kids warmed up like I always did, leading them in some jumping jacks, when the vocal director and the kids said, “Noooo, the baby will fall out!”
And, yes, the baby “fell out” the next day causing me to miss the second night of the production!
How has the last year affected your students and your teaching approach?
The last 18 months affected students in both positive and negative ways. Some of the students I taught virtually said they liked the virtual classroom better because there were fewer student behaviors to contend with and that they were more focused.
I find it easier to engage kids virtually since no one is sitting in the back row. Teachers and administrators have been forced to figure out what’s most important and focus on that.
Of course, the negative is that lack of human contact. We missed seeing people in person, the ease of group discussions when in person, and hugs/high-fives.
What’s a creative solution you use to keep kids engaged or motivated during COVID?
I develop lessons from a student perspective. I ask myself if I would want to be in my classroom learning the lesson. I also think about the students who don’t love my content (English and Speech Communication) and design lessons based on lots of creative participation.
For example, students can demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of ways and be rewarded for the effort. I gave out our own unique $100 bills for good behavior and participation and created a token economy so that students could buy extra credit, snacks, special seating, whatever was motivating to them.
What resources do you like to use in the classroom or in teaching remotely?
Online games like Kahoot!, Blooket, and Quizziz are great for engaging kids remotely. I also like showing short YouTube videos on content that could be explained better than I could, or better than reading could do. For example, my students and I watched a really interesting video about pterosaurs produced by National Geographic that explained the pterosaurs’ means of flight much better than the infographic in the textbook.
What is your experience with bullying in the classroom?
Because I teach speech communication, I make it very clear from day one that no one would make fun of another student when [they are] speaking in front of class. I conduct relationship-building activities with students and teach about interpersonal communication. I have no tolerance for bullying and encourage students to let me know if it is occurring and that there are consequences.
How do you gauge if your students are succeeding?
Students who are attentive, participating, and improving daily are succeeding. I’m not a big fan of teacher-assigned grades (A through F) because they don’t always measure effectively. Low grades are frustrating for students. I would rather give a “not yet” or “making progress” grade for students who show effort but struggle. Students who are eager to learn and participate are succeeding.
What’s a fun thing students don’t know about you?
When I was in high school, I worked for a Sing-a-Gram type of messenger service called The Mad Hatter Messenger Service, started by my neighbor. When she and her partner got too busy they hired me and my best friend. We would dress in costume, she as the Mad Hatter and me as whatever costume the client wanted: gorilla, chicken, pink elephant, etc. She would read a poem, we would sing, and I would dance around the birthday guy or gal. And, of course, we would laugh and laugh!
What’s the one book you wish all students would read?
There isn’t one book that all students should read because we all have different tastes in authors. My wish is that kids find something they enjoy reading so they read every day.
What is your primary educational goal, and what are you most proud of as a teacher?
My primary goal and what I’m most proud of is the relationships I have built with students. I love when my kids come back to see me or contact me via email, letter, or social media and tell me about their successes and struggles. It fills my heart to overflowing.
Meet More Teachers We Love in 2021
“Teachers We Love” in 2021 is a co-production between Parentology and The Teacher Marketplace. To meet more amazing teachers, visit the Teachers We Love section.
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