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Building an Incredible Sense of Community in My Classroom and at My School

08 May 2024

By Ms. Danielle Otto, Kindergarten Teacher at Tarkington School of Excellence

Tarkington Teacher

I’ve been teaching kindergarten at Tarkington for nine years now, and I keep coming back because of the strong sense of community that exists here. I’ve taught so many cousins and siblings of my former students. I’ve developed strong relationships with my students’ families. And I’ve gotten to know so much about the neighborhood that I serve. 

My students would probably tell you that I’m extremely goofy. I have a theory that kindergarten students sometimes take on the personality of their teacher. For some reason, every year, I always feel like I have the quirkiest class. Maybe my personality helps my students feel comfortable being themselves. 

I can be stern at times, but only because I have high expectations for each of my students. When I have to be stern, it’s usually only for a bit, and then, before you know it, I might be telling my students a joke. 

One of my favorite subjects to teach is science, which is surprising because, growing up, I hated science and thought it was so boring. And, now, I’ve even had the opportunity to give a few presentations at conferences about teaching science to kindergarteners. 

My students have become so passionate about it as well. A great example of how my curriculum piques their interest is our unit on engineering. Instead of just learning about different forces, I actually give them an opportunity to build a pinball machine! This makes their learning so engaging and hands-on. They think it is the coolest thing and have so much fun.

Bringing learning to life goes beyond science too. One of my favorite memories at Tarkington happened during our gingerbread unit that connects to the famous fairy tale. We all went to the cafeteria and built a big gingerbread man, and then I would go “get it out of the oven.” I actually studied theater in college, so I got to put my acting skills to use. 

Our principal would make an announcement on the overhead speaker that there was a gingerbread man loose in the school. We even got a costume and had one of the eighth-graders run past the window. My students absolutely loved it. 

Teaching is a work in progress, and I try to give myself grace and focus on the positives. It’s also important for me to take the time to sit back and enjoy the company of my students. This is what helps my classroom become a community. 

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