MaryAnn Wilkey teaches English & Reading with expertise in literacy and has been teaching for over 30 years. You can learn more about her in the Teachers We Love 2021 interview below, and at The Teacher Marketplace.
Why did you become a teacher?
My wise dad’s functional illiteracy was the impetus for my choice of teaching.
My family relocated from the rural south to New York where he sought better work opportunities. For the better part of his life, as a sharecropper’s son, he picked cotton — missing out on any formal education. He worked as a day laborer and washed cars fully supporting my mom, three sisters, and me. I remember to this day, the evenings he’d come home with ice-cold fingers having been outside, at the carwash, in below-freezing temperatures.
I didn’t realize he was illiterate until — as a preteen — noticing he signed a mortgage document with an x. I vowed to attend college, and become a reading teacher. That’s just what I did.
I love teaching struggling readers. I love seeing their faces light up when they start to understand the reading process. They flounder at first, like baby birds attempting an initial flight. Each student’s journey is different, but all have the same destination — literacy! I love seeing former tentative learners now confidently reading, and it’s even more delightful to see them fall in love with books!
What is the funniest moment you’ve experienced as an educator?
My funniest moment is actually bittersweet. I tutored an autistic child at my local library for two years. Towards the end of the second year, he’d progressed nicely, and was reading on grade level independently. One day, he came in sulking , clearly unhappy to be there. I looked at his mom before asking him to explain the sad face. Very adamantly, he proclaimed, “I can read, I don’t need you anymore !”
That bruised and stroked my ego simultaneously!
How has the last year affected your students and your teaching approach?
I have always been a compassionate, patient teacher due to my father’s situation. However, this past year has caused me to be more even more intentional about my levels of patience, compassion and understanding that the parent is, in fact, a child’s first teacher. I’ve reached out to and included parents more, especially in my online lessons, and they have been most supportive. I have purposely shared easy-to-implement, parent-friendly resources and websites with parents, grandparents, and even older siblings. I am determined to strengthen each student’s network of family support by scaffolding their loved ones.
What’s a creative solution you use to keep kids engaged or motivated during COVID?
I’m retired so all the tutoring I do is either online or at the local library. I use manipulatives, and easy-to-find hands-on materials to promote engagement. For example, beyond simply teaching sight words and having students read them in books or on the whiteboard, I request that parents purchase a set of magnetic letters. In this way, the child can “make and break” a challenging sight word several times, which increases memory as they must place and replace letters in the correct sequence. The physical, repetitive movement of letters supports gross motor development and strengthens memory trace.
What resources do you like to use in the classroom or in teaching remotely?
I use magnetic letters, phonics games (Amazon), puzzles (Oriental Trading) and wipe-off cards. Readinga-z.com has been invaluable, providing a plethora of learner-centered (by grade) comprehension graphics, phonics games and skill sheets.
What is your experience with bullying in the classroom?
I never had any direct experience with bullying in all my years of classroom teaching (30+). In my years as a classroom teacher, I began the first day of the school year with ground rules, which always included mutual respect, fair play, actively listening, and caring for one another. I believe in zero tolerance and immediately calling a bully out in a way that makes him/her think about their behavior.
How do you gauge if your students are succeeding?
I conduct a running record in all my lessons to gauge if a student is learning strategies I’ve taught. I also review a previous skill before moving to a new skill. When introducing a new skill, I use a three-step approach to ensure students are understanding, which ultimately leads to success. I model the skill as students watch me, I then have the students carry out the skill with my support, co-learning with me. If unsure, I repeat step one, then move again to step two. I do not ask a student to independently use the skill until step two has been executed successfully.
Depending upon the sophistication of the skill, steps one and two may be repeated over several lessons. For example, in my experience, the comprehension skill of sequencing is easily learned by most students. However, the skill of cause and effect tends to be challenging for the best of readers, and may take several lessons for students to show success independently without any help from me.
What’s a fun thing students don’t know about you?
I love dancing and music, all types — smooth jazz, gospel, party favorites, Reggae, Motown Zumba, line dancing, Cha-cha, Mambo, Waltz, and others as seen on Dancing with the Stars.
What’s the one book you wish all students would read?
A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar (for my older students) and Dr. Seuss’ All the Places You Can Go (for younger students).
What is your primary educational goal, and what are you most proud of as a teacher?
My primary goal is to empower students so they desire excellence in all they do. Even if they miss the mark, in the effort they became better at what they were attempting. Good teachers instruct but great teachers inspire students to reach their God-given potential as capable, compassionate citizens. Dr. King said it well (and I’m paraphrasing), when one’s head and heart are engaged, he/she is unstoppable.
Meet More Teachers We Love in 2021
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