American Education Week: Teacher for a Day

Now it’s breakfast. The students begin eating pre-packaged mini-waffles with apple juice and milk. This is a new strategy for lower income schools are implementing to insure that students are ready to learn. Now schools know that no one is arriving at school hungry.

As Mrs. Nelson teaches, a stranger watches.

As Mrs. Nelson teaches, a stranger watches.

There’s a stranger in Mrs. Nelson’s 2nd grade classroom at College View Elementary in Denver. She’s taking notes and taking pictures, watching and writing, then watching again, but Mrs. Nelson doesn’t seem to mind. She’s focusing her students on the task at hand: leading her students in discussion about the children’s classic Little Red Riding Hood.

“Today we’re trying to sequence the story by beginning, middle and end, making sure we have the conflict,” Jennifer Nelson, a member of Denver Classroom Teachers Association, later described. “My students put characters, setting, resolution and lesson learned in order, so that it’s more the story being told instead of just a list of answers.”

During this activity, the stranger takes more notes and takes more pictures, which will later appear in her blog under the title, Be a Teacher for a Day…

What strikes me is how well these kids KNOW what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s quiet. They all on task. They are respectful of each other and Mrs. Nelson. This continues throughout the day, too and I know from experience that it doesn’t happen by accident.

Melissa Taylor, former teacher, blogs about education in Imagine Soup.

Melissa Taylor, former Denver teacher, writes about education and learning in her ‘Imagine Soup’ blog.

Turns out Melissa Taylor, freelance writer and blogger, is no stranger to the classroom. She used to be a teacher in Denver. Now she’s on an assignment, perhaps better described as a challenge, from the National Education Association. She and many other notable people across the country are shadowing an educator for a day during American Education Week (Nov. 18-22). According to the NEA, “this opportunity will empower an influential person to tell our story to the public about the challenges, rewards, and issues educators face on a daily basis.”

“I don’t think most people have a clue how hard it is,” Melissa says of the dismissive view some people have of the teaching profession. “I’m sure NEA wants to get out this more positive view of the hard work that teachers are doing day in and day out and the struggles they have.

“When people talk about test scores, they don’t even realize what that classroom looks like and the diversity of children in that classroom,” Melissa added. “I hope that people will open their eyes a little bit more instead of being so judgmental.”

I watch Mrs. Nelson’s next teamwork activity in awe… “I’m going to time you,” she tells them. “Ready, go!” The children rush from the perimeter of the carpet to the middle squares in Mrs. Nelson’s shape. “23 seconds!” The kids cheer.

“It brings me back. I love the energy of the kids,” Melissa said of her morning in school. “I don’t have the energy to do it full-time anymore, sadly, but it’s so much fun.”

Jennifer Nelson takes questions from her 2nd graders.

Jennifer Nelson takes questions from her 2nd graders.

Jennifer is just in her third year of teaching. She used to work in the family construction business, but says this job of “constructing citizens” has greater rewards.

“I love teaching because every day is like a puzzle, and trying to get all the pieces to fit for everybody. And so it’s a challenge, and I love that feeling when you see a student that finally gets it – aha!” Jennifer exclaims.

Calling Jennifer “a masterful teacher,” Melissa recognizes the effort that goes into getting such a diverse set of kids to learn instruction and stay on task together.

“Jennifer has kids reading at different levels and writing at different levels. She also has some kids that are still learning English – one kid who just moved here and doesn’t speak a word of English,” Melissa noted.

“It makes my job more colorful, for what they bring to the table,” Jennifer says of teaching her multi-cultural students, a large group of whom are Vietnamese. “I try to build relationships with the families to support them and I think that carries over in the class.”

Melissa observes Jennifer leading a small group discussion.

Melissa observes Jennifer leading a small group discussion.

Jennifer is a graduate of Denver Public Schools and feels “highly invested” in doing the best job she can to keep students first and provide a top quality education. She likes NEA’s idea to bring storytellers into schools because she doesn’t believe most people, even parents, really know what goes on in the classroom.

“Some districts meet you at the door so that you don’t get that opportunity to see it, and you trust that your child is in good hands getting the quality of education that you’re hoping for,” Jennifer said. “It’s nice to show a little window into the world that most parents, who may be working or doing something else, don’t really get an opportunity to see.”

"I love the energy of the kids," Melissa said of being Teacher for Day.

“I love the energy of the kids,” Melissa said of being Teacher for Day.

I’ve only been here for one hour. Already I’ve seen Mrs. Nelson in her many roles as restaurant server, communicator, facilitator, instructional leader, manager, and organizer — not to mention the roles I don’t see — researcher, planner, collaborator, learner, designer.

“I hope my readers get the challenge of trying to instruct students who are at a variety of different learning levels and language levels, and then manage the behavior alongside it,” Melissa said of capturing Jennifer’s typical day for her blog. “And the resources… there’s so much to teach every single day, and she’s working hard after hours trying to find the resources she needs for instruction to meet all those different levels. It’s a hard job.”

Read Melissa Taylor’s full blog post of her experience in Jennifer Nelson’s classroom at


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