SCHOOLS | May 2, 2022
“My son is excelling in class and loves going to school in the morning,” writes one parent. “My daughter is getting the best of several worlds; she has two extra mothers, friends, coaches, cheerleaders, protectors and the list goes on,” another parent shares. “The teachers go above and beyond to educate kids beyond the standard curriculum and place equal importance on teaching inclusivity, belonging, and respect,” notes a third parent.
The teachers behind these heartfelt sentiments are Ms. Anne Calhoun and Ms. Jennie Escobedo, who work together to teach a class of about 20 kindergarten students at New Field Primary School in Rogers Park. Ms. Calhoun is the general education teacher, and Ms. Escobedo is the special education teacher. However, the two of them collaborate across every aspect of their classroom. They explain that they became close friends before becoming co-teachers and are quick to point out how they complement each other perfectly.
“Ms. Calhoun’s curriculum is based on things that she has picked up and created across her entire teaching career, and she differentiates it beautifully, not just for guided math and reading, but for homework as well,” said Ms. Escobedo. “She makes conscientious decisions based on knowing where her students are, and her content knowledge and delivery are just the best.”
“More than anything, Ms. Escobedo is great at understanding what motivates a child. She can meet with them and know what motivates them, what they need, and how she can provide it,” said Ms. Calhoun. “She’s also really great at building community and is like my social-emotional guide, which has been especially important this year.”
To help students feel loved and supported throughout the school year, Ms. Calhoun and Ms. Escobedo have been extremely deliberate in prioritizing building relationships with both students and their parents. For example, when welcoming a new student into their classroom, the entire class wrote welcome cards that were then delivered to the student’s home. Additionally, they met with the student’s mom before school for several weeks to create a schedule and determine other ways to make the transition as smooth as possible. Now, this student is thriving.
Creating a welcoming classroom culture is a central piece of both teachers’ goal of being a culturally responsive classroom. New Field is one of the District’s most diverse schools, with more than 40 languages being spoken and students representing countries from all over the world. To reach their goal, they’ve coupled the sense of community they’ve created with a curriculum that reflects their students’ identities and touches on topics such as racial equality, diversity, and equity.
“We’ve tried to be thoughtful about our communication with families to hear from our parents about what we can do better to facilitate an inclusive and responsive classroom,” said Ms. Escobedo. “We haven’t been afraid to get rid of curriculum or internalize ways that we show bias.”
Being more proactive in reaching out to parents has also been an important part of the school year as students try to rebound from the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms. Calhoun and Ms. Escobedo have found that as they’ve strengthened their bonds with families, parents have started reaching out to them for support in accelerating their students’ social-emotional growth.
“One aspect of the pandemic, especially for younger students, was a decrease in independence. Since they were at home living with their parents, the parents might have done a lot of things for them that they wouldn’t otherwise do,” said Ms. Calhoun. “So, this has been a difficult year because many students are having more difficulty being independent and controlling their emotions. That’s why being in close contact with parents is so important.”
Earlier this year, the entire class participated in an activity called “Floor is Lava,” where they had to make it from one part of the classroom to another without touching the carpet—the metaphorical lava. As the teachers proudly observed their students using problem-solving skills and working together to reach this common goal, they realized that this activity summed up their entire classroom philosophy.
“We want our students to love school, to know that they’re accepted, to make good choices, and to know that if they make a bad choice, or if they fail, they can always get back on their feet,” said Ms. Escobedo. “When students feel loved for who they are, it shows in their academics, interpersonal skills, and basically everywhere. When you walk in our classroom, you feel love and you feel warmth.”
Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! Looking for ways to celebrate the teachers who have made a difference in your life? Check out some ideas at our Teacher Appreciation website.