This Illinois teacher welcomes back her kindergarten students — this time, as second graders

Second graders write and illustrate their own fables and folktales.
Second graders write and illustrate their own fables and folktales. (Allison Shelley / The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages)
How do teachers captivate their students? Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we ask great educators how they approach their jobs.

The last time Jeanette Delgado was in a classroom was 19 months ago, just before Illinois shuttered all school buildings to control the spread of the coronavirus. She was teaching kindergarten at the time. This year, she’s working with those same students — only now, they’re second graders.

(Courtesy of Jeanette Delgado)

In her eighth year in the Urbana School District 116, Delgado is a dual-language educator, teaching in Spanish for 80% of the school day and in English for 20%. 

“I know them, and I knew what they needed back then,” Delgado said of her students. “I can continue that process because I know that they might have not fulfilled those social-emotional goals in first grade since they were remote or virtual.”

While academics are important, Delgado is also making sure her students’ social and emotional needs are met. She spoke recently with Chalkbeat.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Was there a moment when you decided to become a teacher?

I actually did not have a great experience in elementary, middle school, and high school. I never had any teachers I’ve ever had a connection with. I hear all these amazing stories of “Oh, I love my third grade teacher,” or “I love my high school teacher,” and I never had that. For me, that was something that I thought I needed to change. When I first started teaching, my greater purpose of going into education was to be someone that the students can relate to, especially as somebody of color. I wanted to make sure that students can see themselves be successful in different areas.

What are you looking forward to this school year?

I’m excited to be with kids in the classroom, all together. I’m hoping that we can explore more outside versus inside, take a step away from computers, and start to visualize our learning projects. We just started a community garden at our school. So the first half of our quarter has been spent learning about a garden and how this garden can help not just our school community but our neighborhood community. 

What are you doing to meet your students’ needs following two disrupted school years and the trauma COVID brought with it?

I taught kindergarten up until this year. The kindergarteners who were in my class when COVID started are now in second grade. I’m still familiar with their needs. They haven’t had time to socialize with one another. To make sure that my students were successful in school, not just academically, we had to do a lot of getting to know each other. We had to do some bonding, learn how to be with friends, and learn the expectations in the classroom. A lot of students have not had the chance to be around 25 kids or in a school building. 

How do you approach news events in your classroom?

In second grade, they’re 8 or 7 and more aware of what’s going on in the world. We’re reading a book about individuality, how we’re all different, and how that is okay. A student brought up the topic of Black Lives Matter into the classroom and the things that were going on. We went into a full discussion of gun violence happening throughout the United States and within our neighborhood, too. So they’re very aware of the topic, and I’m giving them space to actually share their thoughts. 

What’s something happening in the community that affects what goes on inside your class (or your school)?

I would say right now the closest thing would be COVID, obviously, but also, there is gun violence going around within the area. You know, there are students saying threats to one another in middle school in high school. A lot of our second graders have siblings in middle school and high school, and that kind of gets talked about within our classroom.

Tell us about your own experience with school and how it affects your work today.

When I started elementary school, I was one of the few Latinas in the school building. At home, my first language was Spanish, but at school, it was always English. I did not receive any support. Growing up, that definitely affected me, my view on myself, and connecting with my own culture and language. Finding out who I really was took me quite a long time. I felt embarrassed about being Mexican and of my family for a long time growing up. That affected me as a student in the classroom. I didn’t have a teacher who connected with me, so I felt like I had to blend in and do what I needed to do just to survive.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and how have you put it into practice? 

Take that time to get to know your students because they are as important as I am in this classroom. Without meeting them halfway on what their needs are, socially and emotionally, I am not going to be successful without getting to know them. 

You have a busy job, and this is a stressful time. How do you take care of yourself when you’re not at work?

It’s really hard to disconnect yourself from this type of work, especially if you’re taking care of children. But I would say the biggest thing that I have been doing for self-care is going on walks, listening to audiobooks and podcasts.

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