Rebecca Norman: ‘I learn new things about kids every single day’

Rebecca is a fourth-grade teacher in her third year at Paramount School of Excellence – Cottage Home.

As told to Shaina Cavazos

In my first year, it really stood out to me the emphasis Paramount put on making every minute count. From the moment the students walk in, the expectation is that they are learning. There’s very little time lost, and that’s how students develop stamina and can master the skills they need. It shows at the end of the year with our test results the time they have put into their academics. I have taught in public schools for my whole career, and this has been my first experience with a charter school. It’s been the best experience I’ve had in my whole career. With the systems Paramount has in place, it helped me focus on my instruction and connect to the kids academically, emotionally, and behaviorally. They set teachers up for success, and it’s really helped me become the teacher I want to be.

I’ve always been pretty intrigued by the development of children and their brain development. I just love talking to kids — questioning them, challenging them, and working with them in general. I learn new things about kids every single day, and the fact that they’re constantly evolving, constantly changing, helps me as a teacher to constantly evolve and change, too.

This year especially, I have learned that different students have different needs within that realm of developing confidence. I’m learning from my new students, taking into consideration past trauma, and giving them little bite-size pieces of encouragement. I’ve seen them grow, and I’ve seen them develop their character and open up to their classmates and to me and smile for the first time. That, to me, means everything.

The two biggest pieces of advice I would give to anybody, especially new teachers, would be that consistency is everything. Being consistent with your expectations, consistently carrying out all of your procedures on a daily basis, it’s huge for kids. They thrive on structure. The second piece of advice I would give, and it’s truly helped me become good at what I do, is showing kids that you care. A professor told me that if a student knows you care about them, they will do anything you ask them to. I have found that to be true.

From day one consistently until the last day of school, these kids know I love them and I care about them. I tell them these things, and just reinforce it with my behavior, and they respond really well even if they don’t want to work, and even if they’re upset. I’m able to have a brief conversation with the, center it with how I care about them, and afterward they can make the right choice to get back on task.

The amount of appreciation that teachers are now getting is very humbling because a lot of parents and families are having to do the teaching themselves or had to do it at some point during the quarantine. I think they got the perspective of what we have to do on a daily basis, just on a smaller scale. Teachers are usually the scapegoat, but I think we’re now being looked at a little differently, which is much needed.

We’re featuring each of the 11 Office of Education Innovation 2020 Teacher of the Year finalists. Look for new features throughout the summer and fall.