The best teaching ideas come from CTA conferences, according to mother-daughter science teachers Rachel and Katie Wilson. The Visalia Unified Teachers Association (VUTA) members teach at Divisadero Middle School and say you can see the results of CTA’s professional development sessions all over their classrooms.
“At the beginning of the year, we get strategies from presenters like Teach Like a Pirate author Dave Burgess that we can use all year,” says Rachel. “It helps me put the wow into my lessons.”
And it helps them team-teach more efficiently. A weekly planner, for example, allows them to collaborate continually, not only with each other, but with their students and with another teaching partner, C.J. Williams.
“We team-teach in two separate rooms and now use Google Sheets to lesson-plan, something we learned about at CTA’s New Educator Weekend,” says Katie. “Students can see what we’re doing and where we’re going.”
“This has been the best thing we’ve learned at a conference, because it allows that continuous PLC (professional learning community) collaboration,” says Rachel.
Katie uses toys to serve as memory aids and illustrate scientific concepts. “When I’m talking about molecules, for example, I talk about Lolli the Lobster. When we’re cold, molecules are attracted to each other,” she says, hugging a stuffed red lobster to show how molecules cling together to form a liquid or a solid, like ice. Then she throws Lolli over her shoulder, like a molecule flying away from the others, and explains, “When Lolli gets hot, he is now a gas. Students look at Lolli and think, ‘Oh! Attraction! Molecules are attracted to each other.’”
Teaching partner Williams utilizes Mr. Whiskers, a stuffed cat, for his molecule lesson.
Rachel, on the other hand, eschews toys. “I have a skeleton in my classroom, and we’re attracted to each other,” says Rachel, demonstrating the lesson.
VUTA makes sure members have opportunities to attend CTA’s New Educator Weekend and Good Teaching Conference, especially new teachers. Some 40 percent of Visalia’s teachers have been in the district five years or less.
School administrators have attended CTA conferences, as well. This has resulted in bringing to Visalia specialists like Conscious Teaching consultant and author Grace Dearborn, and creating mini-conferences taught by VUTA members. “Katie and I demonstrated the chicken foot dissection, the prosthetic hand model building, and blueprinting and 3-D printing,” Rachel says.
The collaboration has enhanced the district’s mentoring program, something the union fully supports.
Lured away with a dishwasher
Rachel started teaching “because I really liked working in my children’s classrooms when they were in elementary school.” Katie came into teaching through an internship program, assigned to a class that had had multiple substitutes. Her mother was her mentor. “I came in midyear and couldn’t have done it without her. Her mentorship was invaluable, even though at that point she was at a different school.”
Rachel eventually moved to Katie’s school. “The principal said she’d provide a dishwasher,” says Rachel, “and as a science teacher, not having to wash dishes…” She pauses. “The dishwasher and Katie were incentives for me to change schools.”
Rachel appreciates having a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with my daughter.”
Both women are involved union activists. At 29, Katie co-chairs the VUTA bargaining team and is its youngest member. Rachel serves as a VUTA mentor.
“There are things I want changed, and the best way to make change is through the union,” Rachel says.