Posts Tagged 'Colleen Ryan'

If I Could Start Over: Advice for a First-Year Teacher

By Colleen Ryan — If someone tells you that they were 100% prepared for their first year teaching, odds are they are not being truthful.  In fact, I don’t think there is such a thing as being 100% prepared as a teacher.   I spent part of my spring break reflecting on how this year could have gone better, and what areas of my teaching need to be improved.

I thought a lot about the advice I would give if I could start the year over and decided to share it for any new teachers out there.

  1. Organization:  Staying organized can save you a substantial amount of stress.  I feel as though no matter how much I organize there is always a “papers to go through” file in my desk. However, I am not only talking about organizing papers but also organizing your schedule, to do lists, deadlines, and your personal life.  I attended a professional development that introduced me to different strategies to help me organize all of the things I mentioned above, and it has been a lifesaver.  The most useful part was learning how to plan my prep period; it is very easy to let different things take over that special time I get, student misbehaviors, checking my email, doing random tasks, etc.  I wish I would have known from the beginning to have specific plans for any free time I have during the day, this makes getting my most important things done a lot easier.
  2. Relationships:  I always knew it was vital to build a relationship with each student, but never thought much of building relationships with my co-workers until I began the year.  I find myself very lucky because the faculty and staff at my school are so wonderful, it was easy to build relationships from the start and I am so thankful I did.  Being able to ask other teachers for help, advice, or suggestions has been so helpful to me in this first year.  I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten through the year without the support of some of my co-workers.
  3. Importance of songs, poems, and little tricks:  This may be because I teach kindergarten but I have found these are key to my students remembering important concepts.  I could tell my students the same thing ten times and find that some just cant remember, but the second I make it into a little song or even add some rhythm to a sentence it is as if it is in their head forever.  Not only does it make it easier to remember but it also makes it more fun! (for me and them!)
  4. Reflecting and remembering:  Going along with number 3, it is SO important to write these kind of things down.  I wish I would have written down all the tricks I used from the first half of the year because I know next year I will forget some that worked well.  I also have found it very useful to take ten to fifteen minutes after each day to write notes on my lesson plans of things that went well, and things that needed to be done differently.  This helps me reflect on my own teaching and remember things for next year.

Field Trips: Opening New Worlds

By Colleen Ryan — Driving down I-94, I watched each one of my students eyes light up as we approached the downtown area.

The buildings, the letters, the people, the lake, everything had them saying “ooo” and pointing out the windows.  It was this moment that made me realize how valuable out of classroom experiences are for my students.  We were on our way to the art museum to connect different pieces of art to our use of senses.  Before we got off the exit ramp my students had thousands of questions about downtown Milwaukee.

“Why are the buildings so tall?”
“Do people live in them?”
“How come there are so many different ones?”
“Is that an ocean?”

These were just some of the questions that spilled from the lips of my students.  Then we got to the art museum. We had practiced our “gallery hands” and our museum etiquette to help us prepare.  From the moment we walked in my students were in awe.  They had never seen anything like it before.  From armor, to paintings to sculptures, their eyes got bigger and bigger.  I got to see joy, excitement, and curiosity on each of my students faces again and again.

It made me pause to think about how valuable these simple experiences are for most of my students.  I thought about how some might never otherwise have the opportunity to go to a museum, or even see the downtown area.

This trip allowed my students to not only learn more about their senses, but opened their eyes to a whole different part of the world (even though it was just 20 minutes away).  I believe that well planned field trips are so important for young kinds to be a part of. It allows them to not only practice school content, but work on life skills as well.

Making School a More Intimate Place For Kindergarteners

By Colleen Ryan — Being a five year old in a school of 847 students can be somewhat overwhelming.  Some of my students still get nervous when the bell rings during a bathroom break, and 100 high/school middle school students are getting from class to class.  I do have many students with 4-5 older siblings who get excited because they get to see them in the halls, but my students who have no older siblings cannot help but feel overwhelmed.

Over the past semester, I’ve pondered how to make the school feel smaller to them.  I was talking with 3rd grade teacher, Stephanie Rappe, about how nice it would be to pair up our students and do an activity.  Right before Thanksgiving break, the third graders came to our room to help the kindergartners make a turkey craft and then read with.

At first my students were very shy, but the third graders were so caring, they soon warmed up to the idea.  Watching the third graders interact with their buddy was incredible, they were all kind and patient.  They would show them how to cut in different ways, they would encourage them when they struggled with a word, and they read to them talking about different things in the story. My kids instantly began to look up to their buddy.

For some of them, the halls started to feel a little smaller because they would have someone to look for in.  We decided to do another project before winter break and my students were counting down the days.

This time we went up to the third grade room and made gingerbread men.  They were shocked that we had to walk up so many stairs to get there, but they thought it was so fun.  Once again the pairs all worked so well together.  I even heard one third grader say to his buddy ‘remember what I showed you last time, if you cut like this first it will be a lot easier.’  It has been wonderful for both groups of kids.

The Culture of Family: What I Learned from Hmong Parents

By Colleen Ryan — As quarter two came to an end, we had parent teacher conferences.  Before my first conferences I was very nervous.  I knew I was prepared for each conference, but the unknown was keeping me up at night, as these were my first conferences.  As I went through each conference I found myself feeling more and more encouraged.  All of the parents were so kind and thankful for the hard work we put into teaching.

I also found myself learning even more about the Hmong Culture. Meeting my student’s parents opened my eyes to see the support and love they get at home.   It was interesting to see the difference between a parent who was a traditional Hmong, versus a parent who is an American Hmong.  The traditional Hmong parents were the ones that came from their home land; these are the parents I needed translators for.  The American Hmong parents were the ones who were born in America and spoke English very well.  The traditional Hmong parents spoke in such a humble and kind way.  These parents spent a good chunk of the conference thanking me for teaching their child.  They were thanking me for teaching them English, since they are not able to at home, and they were thanking me for being patient.  It was easy for me to tell what these parents want for their children, and the expectations they have for them.

One of the traditional Hmong parents told me that it is very important that her daughter learns as much as she can because she is the oldest and she will be the one expected to help the younger siblings.   The American Hmong parents were just as grateful.  These parents would ask about their child’s academics, where their child would be ranked in the class, if their child had friends, etc.  Although the differences in a way were subtle, I couldn’t help but think back on why the two were so different.  It made me think a lot about what the core values are for Americans versus Hmongs.

I feel really blessed to be working in a school such as this one, not only have I learned about my kids, but an entire new culture as well.  The Hmong culture is one of the most interesting and unique cultures I have ever had the pleasure of learning about.  It is so dense and full of love, joy, and hardship.

Grouped Centers: Key to Differentiation in the Classroom

October 19th already?  My goodness, where has time gone? The marking period ends in three weeks and I am feeling a mix of emotions.

It is exciting because the students have grown so much since the first day of school.  However, it is terrifying because not all of my students are where they need to be by the end of the first quarter.  I have spent the past two months trying to figure out ways to get my low kids to meet the standards while pushing my average and high students to exceed them to the best of their ability.  I have found grouped centers to be the most effective practice so far.

Centers have allowed my students to develop many different skills, educationally and socially.  Educationally, centers have been great way to differentiate content from my lowest student to my highest.  This gives me the ability to challenge each of my students on a daily basis.  My students have also adopted many social skills do to centers.  Each student has gained a sense of confidence by working with people at the same level as them.   They are not afraid to answer or afraid to get things wrongs because the students in their group make the same sort of mistakes.  Also, because in centers there is often one set of materials; my students get to work on sharing and cooperative learning each and every day.  Centers have also allowed me to form closer relationships with my students, and for my students to form relationships with each other.  I am looking forward to finding new techniques along the way.

Changing Gears: From 7th Grade to Kindergarten

By Colleen Ryan — So far this school year has been a complete 180 from last year.

After I graduated in December, I taught reading, writing, and math to the 7th graders. I enjoyed working with the older students because we got to have really in depth conversations day to day about what they were learning.  Moving from 7th grade to kindergarten has been a joyful but overwhelming change.

During the past 3 weeks I have been working on retraining my brain to think on the level of my students.  Often times during the day I have to remind myself that school is something that is new to them.  The little things that I didn’t have to teach my students last year are now practiced every day until they become natural habits; like walking in the halls, saying their name loud in the lunch line, how to share, etc.

One of the best parts of teaching kindergarten is the excitement the kids have in each activity.  From the first day of school my 5 year olds came in with huge smiles on their little faces ready to learn.  Its amazing how the littlest things makes them instantly excited and engaged in what is going on, whether its using a puppet to teach letters or counting “like a lion” it is very easy to get the student enthused about each activity.  I could tell from day one that these little people have huge hearts, they all want to learn and they all want please me in every way they can.

I have had the pleasure of working with a veteran kindergarten teacher, which has been beyond helpful.  It is amazing to see what come from years and years of experience, and exciting to bring new ideas to the table. In the past three weeks I have learned so much about how to teach to these younger students and I am looking forward to learning more and more each day.


Colleen Ryan ’10 graduated from Marquette with a degree in Elementary Education and Communication Studies.  For as long as she remembers she has always wanted to be a teacher because teachers have the ability to impact lives each and every day.  She will be starting her first year of teaching at the Hmong American Peace Academy teaching K5.  

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