Ms. Cady’s kindergarten classroom at Beacon Elementary in Montesano is busy making a mess.
Having just been introduced to a new letter in the alphabet, the students are pasting brown and green pieces of tissue onto an outline of the letter “T.” The end result will be a t-shaped tree with a brown trunk and green leaves. They don’t know it, but these kids are practicing newly acquired skills like cutting and pasting.
Some kids have mastered twisting the base on a glue stick so only a thin line of glue is available to smear on the paper. Others are still working on it and have large globs of purple glue on their papers. The kids chatter with each other, jumping from topic to topic. Even though they are hard at work, they are a wriggly, giggly bunch.
Teacher Jacelle Cady is not fazed in the slightest. While answering questions and giving permission to get drinks, use the bathroom and talking about the letter “t,” she quietly and easily shows a student how to use the glue stick and tells the child what a nice job he is doing.
Managing 19 little people with minds of their own takes practice and skill and Cady has eight years in as a kindergarten teacher, and nine years teaching altogether. Cady’s calm demeanor and lilting voice has a magical effect on the children — they listen to her.
But if somebody decides to lay on the floor or talk when they should be listening, Cady chooses to focus on the positive and will point out a student who is in “ready position.” Ready position means the children are focused on the teacher and engaged in learning.
“I have expectations for them,” Cady said. “But they are age-appropriate expectations. They are five.”
So much of kindergarten is learning how to be at school, Cady said. “The first month is the hardest because we are learning everything.”
Some students have had some practice through pre-school and others have never been in a classroom setting. Asking students to stand in line, the teacher must first show what a line is and why it is necessary to stand in one.
“We have to teach everything — how to stand in line, sit on the carpet, how to use a glue stick, how to unpack their backpack and it takes a lot of practice. It’s very structured, we practice it and there is a procedure for everything,” Cady said. “It’s amazing how quickly they learn how to act at school. And when it starts clicking, it’s great.”
Practicing to use the glue stick on a paper tissue tree is disguised as a fun artistic activity. It looks fun and the children seem to enjoy it. It’s pretty sneaky of Cady to teach this way and she does it throughout the day. Despite the smiles on the students’ faces, they are learning some serious skills. And Cady’s tranquil appearance belies a mind that is whirring constantly.
“One of the challenges of being a kindergarten teacher is thinking about everything all at once. My mind is on reaching each child — well, this one learns better like this and I don’t want this one to get bored or this child to get behind — and I’ve got to be ten steps ahead if they finish a project,” Cady said. “I’m always thinking and I’ve got to be flexible and plan ahead.”
Cady strategizes her day in the few quiet moments when the students are at recess, lunch or in other classrooms for computers or other activities. She has some help with paraeducators and a high school student assists for one class period each day. She and her helpers prepare for each activity and have everything ready to go for the children. As an example, Cady cited having the tissue paper cut up for the tree activity and having all the materials set out before the students began.
Cady said the class had not yet gotten into the curriculum but would be doing so shortly. All the kindergarten classes at Beacon Elementary have been learning a letter a day and getting into the swing of a daily class routine.
“It’s a slow start, but we do different activities — blend sounds and maybe do a little reading — and we build on what we’ve learned,” Cady said. “I love when they get excited about school, about learning a new letter. I love that about this age group.”