At 7:30 in the morning, Mustang Elementary's Teacher of the Year, Julie Williams, welcomes all of her kindergarten students by name and the day begins like a dance. Students step to the white board to move their name under their meal choice of the day. The names become a math lesson. The math lesson blends into an exercise in finding the consonant sounds. Her audience of "friends" sits mesmerized as Williams sings her way to a story with a lesson on time and schedules. It's the Mr. Rogers Neighborhood of elementary education.
For Williams, the school is as much a second home as it is a haven. She spent years as a stay-at-home mom and a few more as a paraprofessional in another district. After some traumatic life events, Williams had to provide for her own children alone. She fell back on the teaching certificate she already had.
"It's a whole beautiful life gift when God allowed me to come into the classroom," she said. "Teaching has helped me land on my feet through a lot of difficult life challenges, and I've found my joy in being in my classroom. I love to come here. I stay too late many nights a week."
Continued from front page of the website:
She said she and the children have an understanding.
"We speak the same language, if you will," she said. "They get me. I get them. I can get down on their level, eye to eye, and talk to them in a kind, singsongy voice and they'll do what I ask them to do. I love that in children in ages 3, 4, 5 and 6, if you show them and model what you want them to do, they’ll do it. They're people pleasers. They love their teachers."
She developed the ebb and flow of her lessons, where one leads seamlessly to the next, when she had students with challenging behaviors. Before she starts one activity, there are five more lessons ready and waiting.
"I could not have one minute of down time or there were crayons flying or someone turning a chair over," she said. "It was a hard year, but I'm thankful for what they taught me. They helped me be a better teacher."
The gifted ones do the same thing. Williams knows which students are struggling with letter identification and which can read on second grade level. She personalizes her lesson plans every day to be able to reach each student at their level. One kindergarten student this year already has a gift for writing.
"We are going to start an 'I wonder journal,' just she and I and write back and forth. I can't do that with all 23. They're not there yet; they don't need that. Not all my friends would enjoy that or have time for that. She inspires me to improve myself to be better."
At the end of every day, Williams puts on her Minnie Mouse ears so she can be "all ears" for "chat time." While the other students are packing up to go home or playing an educational game on the Smart Board, two children a day come to her desk individually. With her undivided attention, she gives them an opportunity to talk about anything, from something stressful going on at home to their favorite thing about school.
During an October share time, one student said she was going to dress up as Ms. Williams for Halloween. The picture from that night is still hanging on Williams' refrigerator.
"For this beautiful little quiet friend to want to dress up as her teacher, showing respect, was so humbling to me," she said. "They're watching me, what I'm saying, what I'm doing, my preparedness, being on time and on task. What an awesome responsibility I have."
There are Wonderful Wednesdays and Fun Fridays. They close their school day with something they learned and close their week by sharing anything they like. She makes it a point to make every child feel cherished and for each one to feel the exhilaration of success.
"For me to have them for their first year of elementary school and to mold their spirit for what school is like is a joy. I want them to have a great, amazing first year in elementary school. That's what I feel like with teaching kindergarten - I get to give them this gift that school is the best thing in the whole world."