I’m thrilled today to share my interview with Zoe Ardito, kindergarten teacher extraordinaire, who also happens to be one of my best friends in the world and former roommate! One of the coolest things about Zoe is that being a teacher just seems to make sense if you know her, like it was meant to be.
When I think about the ideal teacher, I think about Zoe’s character; she is kind above all things, extremely patient, understanding, soothing, nurturing, and she also gives the best hugs! I wish I was an 8-year-old in her class sometimes because simply talking or being around her makes you feel like the world will be alright and that you can accomplish anything! Luckily, I’ve had the great fortune to experience this as her friend, but I wanted to share her insights into her profession. We cover many things including her inspirations, the challenges, rewards, and misconceptions about being a teacher, and her advice to anyone aspiring to get into education. I hope readers come away with a greater respect and understanding of what teacher’s experience and the passion that innately comes with this career choice.
What inspired you to become a teacher?
I think I always knew I wanted to work with kids in some capacity. I spent my youth helping out in the nursery at my church, teaching Sunday School, and babysitting for as long as I can remember. But my true inspiration was when I spent time visiting a Special Education classroom in my early college years. I saw the profound and lasting impact an inspiring teacher can have. I knew I wanted to shape someone else’s life (and in turn have them shape me) that way!
Did you have a favorite teacher?
My third grade teacher, Mrs. Freed, was a true inspiration to me. She was vibrant, funny, and loved fiercely. It was evident she adored her job and her students. She once took me to see the American Girl Doll show after I was not accepted into the production as a budding young actress. She took a genuine interest in my life and that was exceptionally impactful as an 8-year-old girl!
What personality traits makes someone a successful teacher?
I think great teachers are compassionate, empathetic, flexible, and creative. There are a thousand factors in your day that are completely out of your control; you have to be able to roll with the punches!
How did you decide that the kindergarten level was best for you?
In college, I knew I wanted to teach young kids. I toyed with the idea of preschool or second grade, but then I completed some clinical hours in a kindergarten classroom. Those kids were amazing! Five year olds are tiny little sponges filled with love and excitement for life; I hoped I would find a position in a kindergarten classroom, and I thank my lucky stars I did.
What does a typical day in the life at work look like?
My day is scheduled down to the minute. Every activity or subject is broken up into 15-30 minute chunks of time. We start the day with a morning meeting to build community, exercise, and get the kids ready for the day. Our morning consists of Language Arts, Snack Time, Math, or a Specials Class (P.E, Music, Art, Drama, Library, or Spanish). The kids eat lunch, they rest, and then we squeeze in some more academic subjects and play time! Somewhere in there I eat lunch for about 25 minutes. Most days end and I feel like I was hit by a bus. Filled with love of course.
What are your favorite subjects or projects to teach and why?
I love teaching Language Arts! It is by far my favorite. Kindergarten is so special because we are preparing and teaching kids to read. Most of them can read low-level (think “Hop on Pop”) books by the end of the year. Some are even reading chapter books; it just depends on the child! Seeing a child’s world light up by literature is more gratifying then I could ever explain. I do love all subjects, and see the value in all of them, but that is a very magical part of this age.
What is something that the general public misunderstands about teachers?
I think the biggest misconception is that teachers have three months off to gallivant around the world and do nothing but lay on the beach all summer long. That could not be more wrong! I know you can attest to this after living with me for three years. Those months are spent preparing, planning, cleaning your classroom, attending professional development conferences, and worrying about your incoming class or how you will be a better teacher next year. I think when it boils down to it, there are maybe two weeks of general “off” time. Don’t get me wrong, this is AMAZING and so needed after giving so much of yourself to 24 tiny people for nine months out of the year. Also, we do not make enough money to do much gallivanting. We just need some peace!
What is the biggest challenge about being a teacher?
The most challenging thing about being a teacher for me is constantly feeling like you could be doing more. More differentiating, more communicating, more valuable hands-on projects, more patience, more assessment, more practice! The list goes on and on. It is hard to remember that if you show up every day and try your best, the kids will learn. We live in a changing world and constantly compare ourselves to others through a vast array of mediums. Children mostly just need you to show up, keep them safe, and love them. Striving to have the Pinterest-perfect classroom is likely unattainable, and probably not what is important.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being a teacher?
The most rewarding part of teaching is when you see your students apply what you have taught. It is amazing to watch a child learn to write, read, add, subtract, discover the world around them, and think critically. Even more when you see compassionate learners take care of one another in the classroom. That is all you can really hope for!
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in becoming a teacher or going into the education field?
The best advice I could give is to cut yourself some slack. Easier said than done, I know! You may walk away from receiving your teaching certificate ready to take on the world. You will learn everything your first year of teaching. You’ll spend the year simply trying to keep your head above water. But when you see a child read for the first time, or persevere on a challenging math problem, or when you watch that first group of kids walk out the door with the knowledge and love you provided them, it will all be worth it!
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