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My most salient memory

My most salient memory of my twenty years as a teacher at Price Laboratory School is of the people: the children, their parents, my co-teachers, the student teachers and university students, and the many visitors who came from near and far to watch us teach and talk with us about best practices in education. Our colleagues “on the hill” who brought their classes to interact with the children were especially appreciated and afforded us an opportunity to share expertise with them and enhance the learning experience for their students as well as ours.

Our focus as professors, and we truly were professors, was to offer a unique contribution to the teacher education program as we bridged the real world of working with young children and the philosophy and content taught in the other departments in the College of Education and the University at large. We were proud of the role we played as members of the Department of Teaching.

What was best for the children we taught was the driving force for all that we did. We valued and loved them as individuals and truly enjoyed coming to work with them each day, well to be realistic, most days. The bad days were not caused by the children, but by some of the constraints put on us by outside forces every now and then. It is so rewarding now to hear from former students all grown up and living productive lives. The kinds of things they remember about their days in Nursery/Kindergarten and First Grade are a joy to revisit.

Working with the Price Lab Parents brings another host of fond memories. We were always a team trying to help each child grow and develop their unique talents and believe me, every one of those children was talented in her or her own way. We welcomed our diverse student population. Special fond memories are of the first days of Nursery Kindergarten when everything was new for all of us. Then later at the end of first grade seeing the growth in children’s literacy and math skills as well as watching them become “good citizens” who took pride in their ability to follow school rules and help each other in positive ways. Without the cooperation of the parents who were so supportive of the kind of program we were presenting, this could not have happened.

We also were committed to each other as professionals. In the 1970’s we organized ourselves into Units and teams in the primary grades based on the traditional grade demarcations. Unit I was Nursery/Kindergarten; Unit II first grade; Unit III second and third grades. This demanded that we constantly work on curriculum which we eagerly did. We developed our own units based on topics we felt were pertinent to the lives of children living in Cedar Falls, Iowa and which also met all the various curriculum guidelines sent to us by the Department of Education. We never let outside standards and tests dictate what we taught and how we worked with the children. We celebrated their accomplishments and worked with the parents, guidance counselors, speech therapists and others to help each child grow and succeed.

Our emphasis on the whole child permeated the school from the Nursery/Kindergarten through twelfth grade. The recognition in 2010 by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development as the first school to receive their “Whole Child” award was a crowning achievement in this area.

Part of this recognition was based on our devotion to a well-rounded curriculum. From the beginning, the Laboratory School was influenced by John Dewey’s principles of education. The children had physical education every day; art/industrial technology; music; foreign language starting in first grade; library time; and the services of a full time guidance counselor. We classroom teachers worked in conjunction with these teachers. We were all part of a team who shared a common goal: that of providing the best school experience for all of our children.

The administrators were in full support of us as we developed new ways of teaching children and delivering content. They often came to the classrooms and participated in many of the activities we engaged in especially as we completed a unit of study.

Some of my most fond memories are of the wonderful celebrations we had working with our Spanish teacher, Argelia Hawley. She had been trained as a Home Economics teacher and helped the students and their parents prepare authentic Spanish foods on many occasions. Everyone came to these feasts: parents, grandparents, younger bothers and sisters. They always culminated with the breaking of a piñata, of course!

We also produced a Fairy Tale Fair in the first grade each year. The children all took a role, dressed as their favorite character, presided over the Wishing Well, retold stories, produced videos of favorite tales, and gave puppet shows. One year two very talented students serenaded us with Baroque music on the piano and cello!

The Japanese Festival was another fine culminating activity. The children had made getas in industrial technology, kimonos with the help of the junior high home economics students and presented a style show. They also prepared written reports on topics such as snow monkeys, volcanoes, silk worms, origami, rice, and Japanese literature as parents and visitors came to their desks to listen and ask questions.

None of this could have happened without the underlying spirit of collegiality that drove all of us to work together to celebrate each other’s successes when times were good, and support each other and the “cause” when times were not good. If we will let them, these positive memories of the past are so many they can overshadow recent history and stay with us forever. It is up to all of us whose lives were so enriched by our time at Price Laboratory School. We should dedicate ourselves to making this our legacy.

Judith M. Finkelstein Elementary Classroom Teacher


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