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First-year kindergarten teacher at John Adams says,'I have ... always known I was going to be a teacher'

Rick Wagner • Oct 10, 2009 at 12:00 AM

This is the first in an occasional series about a first-year kindergarten teacher at Kingsport’s new John Adams Elementary School. The Kingsport Times-News plans to interview Kate Pullen near the end of the nine-week terms of the school year about her experiences and reflections as a new teacher at a new school.

KINGSPORT — If a kindergarten student asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, what do you do?

If you’re first-year kindergarten teacher Kate Pullen, you turn it into a “teachable moment,” look up the answer with the students, and learn something yourself.

Pullen, a teacher at the city’s new John Adams Elementary School off Rock Springs Road, was interviewed in her classroom with a fellow teacher Sept. 30, shortly before the first nine weeks of school ended Oct. 2.

The two were first interviewed by the Times-News briefly before the grand opening of the school in August.

Since then, Pullen recalled, during a recent class time focusing on the calendar a student asked how to say some of the words in Spanish.

“That was an unexpected thing because I don’t know Spanish,” Pullen said.

But when an adult doesn’t know the answer right away, she said, most students seem to instinctively home in on an issue or question one of them raised.

They went over counting to 10 in Spanish, as well as some other calendar-related words.

“Moments like that do come up,” Pullen said. “You kind of turn them into teachable moments. If you don’t know it, you look it up and learn.”

Some questions, she helps the students answer by going to the Internet, while others are addressed by going to a book or dictionary.

“You can really have their attention, and they’re excited about learning,” Pullen said.

Pullen is excited about learning, too. The school has a mix of newer and more veteran teachers, which gives a mix of tried-and-true experience along with those who have the latest ideas and concepts and want to try new things. Two other teachers at the school are first-year teachers, while some, like 17-year veteran Debbie Valk, taught students who today are old enough to be teachers themselves.

The school has two teachers in the other grade levels but three in kindergarten. Pullen, Valk and Todd Wagner each teach about 15 kindergartners, but sometimes the three of them teach all 45.

“My student teaching was so good. I honesty felt prepared coming in here,” said Pullen, who while a student at East Tennessee State University was a student teacher for Valk at Roosevelt Elementary.

The two obviously admire one another. Pullen said Valk is a mentor; Valk said Pullen is simply an excellent teacher.

“She doesn’t get flustered. She does a great job,” Valk said. “The thing I like about this is three heads are better than one.”

Classrooms at the school, although dividable by partitions, are designed to be open with high ceilings and large windows, including some with smaller opening windows.

It’s what Valk called the kindergarten neighborhood. She said it’s not as much team teaching as in the upper grades, but that the 45 kindergartners come together during the day for music and other group activities.

“They look at all three of us as the teacher,” Pullen said.

Pullen and Valk said students love to watch the construction of a clubhouse for The Edinburgh residential community being built behind the school.

“They are loving the windows. It’s a good way to teach about the weather,” Pullen said. “And they’re impressed by the technology.”

SmartBoards, an interactive projection screen on which students can do writing, spelling and math problems as well as view the Internet, are in each classroom. In addition, the school has Wi-Fi, and laptops for the kindergartners are coming.

But the rooms still have traditional hands-on items folks from generations past would remember. Pullen said the full-sized gym and pottery-making facility are also popular among the mostly 5-year-old students.

Pullen, 22, is a graduate of Sullivan South High School and studied education abroad, in Norway, before graduating. She plans to get her master’s degree in literacy.

“From day one, it was so obvious she was so ready,” Valk said of Pullen’s time student teaching. “She just acted like she had been doing it all her life.”

“I have honestly just always known I was going to be a teacher,” Pullen said.

“My elementary school teachers knew I was going to be a teacher. My mom knew I was going to be a teacher,” Pullen said. “I’ve just always felt it and have a love for teaching.”

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