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Kindergarten Teacher, Selden's Landing Elementary School, VA
Matt needed to overcome many obstacles in his educational journey: “I was the first student to graduate from Messiah’s education department with a learning disability, and there were definitely times when those doubts of being the first person to do so were daunting.” But Matt stayed motivated by remembering all he had accomplished just to get to Messiah. “In elementary school, no one thought I should have been in the regular classroom, but I made it,” he begins. “Then in high school, I had to keep my grades up for basketball, and it was through basketball that I was noticed by Messiah.” Matt’s personal experience and his passion to help others fueled his determination: “I just always believed that if I got through college I could be a good teacher because I know what its like to struggle. I have a passion for it, and I felt like I could help kids persevere.” Matt values the support of Keith Drahn, director of disability services, and professor Sandra Holmes, as well as his family and roommates.
Although he gained confidence at Messiah, Matt still faced considerable self-doubt after he graduated: “My first year teaching was really tough. You look back on it and think, ‘What was I doing?’” Nevertheless, he asserts, “If you never ask yourself, ‘Am I doing the right thing?’, then you are not in the right place. Everyone should be constantly asking that question and constantly committed to finding the answer.”
The first five years after graduation were “very challenging, but ultimately very rewarding” for Matt. After a year of teaching second grade, Matt began teaching kindergarten and realized that he had found his niche. “As a kindergarten teacher, you are these kids’ first exposure to school – you can make it or break it for them,” he explains. Matt discovered that he felt particularly passionate about helping students in their first exposure to academics.
A Typical Day
In his third year at Selden’s Landing Elementary school in Loudon County, Virginia, Matt teaches two half-day kindergarten classes each day, utilizing any free hours for various committee meetings and parent-teacher conferences. Along with his standard teaching duties, Matt utilizes communication skills as he interacts with coworkers and parents on a daily basis. He also emphasizes the importance of practicing effective time and classroom management.
One of his major priorities in the classroom is “getting kids to love reading,” and he often dresses up like characters – such as the Cat in the Hat – and acts out scenes to make books more exciting. As another goal, Matt explains, “I make teaching character a high priority. To me that is more important than any math or reading skills.” He understands the importance of working with children and their parents to promote personal growth and the best possible learning experience for his students.
A “Why” Moment
“My ‘why’ moment happens every day when the kids come in smiling, when I get to be goofy, and I see their excitement and their willingness to try new things.” Matt relates one instance he particularly values, when he encouraged a student who did not speak throughout preschool to come out of her shell in kindergarten: “I thought, she feels comfortable in the environment I have created; she trusts me and these kids. That was very powerful.”
Parent conferences also provide Matt with encouragement. He describes “hearing from a parent, ‘My kid is excited to go to school; he jumps out of bed in the morning.’ Because I was a kid who never looked forward to school, that is just the most rewarding thing I could hear. That encourages me and leads to where I am now, completing my master’s degree with a 4.0 GPA. I didn’t think I would graduate from college, but I did that in four years and got a teaching job, and now I have my master’s. It really goes to show that if you put your mind to something, you can do it.”
As a public educator, Matt cannot explicitly use his vocation to minister, but he understands that using his life as a positive example is a testament to Christ. He wears a WWJD bracelet every day “as a way to share my beliefs without speaking,” and he feels that “for the kids and the parents to see it, it gives them a degree of comfort, especially if they are Christians.” He uses the symbol to establish fellowship with families in the community and to provide a means to talk about his faith if his students or others ask him about it.
Dreams Still Dreaming
While balancing the demands of full-time teaching and a new family, Matt recently completed a master’s degree in education as a reading specialist. He plans to look into becoming a reading specialist in the future, perhaps after a few more years in the kindergarten classroom. For the long term, he is considering becoming an education professor or getting involved in a teacher mentorship program: “I would really like to teach teachers, share the experiences I have had.”
Find out what paths other certified teachers are pursuing:
Profile by Tiffany DeRewal, January 2007