As a first grade teacher at Ridgely Elementary, Christine Fortner, is known as a master of differentiated instruction through small groups. Christine has participated in writing curriculum and meets with a study group weekly to maintain and refine her skills as an educator. She is active and involved in many school committees and after school events. She is currently a member of the School Improvement Team, Literacy Committee, PBIS Committee, and mentors a new teacher. Mrs. Fortner has sixteen years experience working in a variety of capacities with many different age groups.
How has the way you teach changed over the course of your career? What lessons have you learned?
My teaching has changed over the years mostly from focusing on whole group lessons to small group or more individualized instruction today. I have learned that small group instruction allows me to meet the needs of my students better. It also allows me to get to know my students as learners. In a whole group situation, only the students that participate show what they know. By utilizing small groups, all students must participate or show what they know. This allows me to differentiate instruction.
What advice would you give to a teacher who's starting their first year and feels overwhelmed?
Every teacher becomes overwhelmed, especially new teachers. I learned yoga to help me with the stress and teach it also to my students. Breathing deep breaths helps to calm during stressful times. Focusing on one thing or area also can make you feel confident and have a sense of accomplishment. Then I try focusing on another area that needs work. Making a friend at school that will listen helps reduce stress. It is even better if exercise is also involved at the same time. I like to walk and talk after school. Try to simplify everything by working smarter, not harder.
What do you think the key has been to your success as a teacher?
My key to success has been to bond with my students. I greet them every morning as they come into the classroom. I get to know each of them not just as a student, but also as a person. I learn what they like and dislike and what their interests are. Knowing about a student’s interests helps me help guide them to further or expand their knowledge when reading or give advice on writing. It also creates a bond that allows them to take learning risks and succeed.
How do you keep your students engaged in the classroom?
I engage students in my classroom in many ways. I read authentic literature that provides wonderful discussions based on the reading strategies. I create centers that are fun but also provide practice with skills in reading and math scheduled in 15 minute intervals. This keeps students actively engaged with enough time to complete activities well. Being enthusiastic about any activity is also a great way to motivate and engage students.