Learning is a two-way street, and teachers learn from children, too — sometimes their own children.
“I have my own kid, he just started kindergarten,” says Paulo Chalco, a second-year kindergarten teacher at PS 108 in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn. “I look at him, I look at his energy, and I know he’s not going to sit down for 20 minutes in front of a computer watching PowerPoints and listening to a teacher.”
When the pandemic began, Chalco found visuals helped keep his kindergartners’ attention, so he teaches them to count using household items like sugar cubes and Popsicle sticks. “We have to improvise,” he says. “We have to be creative.”
When he tried showing his students things in a book, nobody paid attention. “The next day I tried with small toy cars I took from my son, Ethan,” he says. “I started counting those cars, and they were engaged. They were raising their hands, telling me they wanted to count the cars.”
Ethan is also Chalco’s “test audience.”
“If I prepare a lesson, I put it on his table and see what he does. If he gets into the material, then I have an idea it might be a good lesson to use with my kids,” he says.
A native of Ecuador, Chalco came to the United States 11 years ago. After college, he became a paraprofessional in a private school for young special needs children.
“It clicked,” he says. “I really liked giving them the support they needed, helping them achieve small things.’’
Chalco earned a master’s in early childhood education and became a teacher. When he took a job as a New York City public school teacher, he finished his bilingual extension in Spanish.
He remembers how his own teachers in Ecuador supported him in small classes where they had time for each child. Now, as the special education teacher in an integrated co-teaching classroom, he says, “It’s wonderful to have my co-teacher so we can provide each of our kids more time, more support.”
In English language arts, his students are studying letters, letter formation, letter sounds and sight words. Reading online with them, Chalco uses a highlighter on the computer to emphasize each word. For sight words, he uses his iPad to “write” with a crayon or marker in a color the students choose.
“In school they need a lot of one-to-one support, a lot of mothering, so I try to provide the same through the computer,” he says.
Chalco taught parents how to use Google Classroom and Google Meet and how to join live lessons. He requires that someone — mom, dad, a sibling — be next to the child during these lessons. He asks them, for instance, to write sentence starters he provides with a highlighter in their child’s notebook so the child can trace over the words with a pencil.
Chalco doesn’t have a lot of experience with technology, “but if I see something on TV, in the newspaper or in books, I like to do research and try it on my own.” That enabled him to teach coding to 4th-graders in an after-school program before schools went remote.
Now he helps his colleagues with remote learning. “Just ask me the question,” he tells them, “and by tomorrow I will have an answer for you.” He says he’s returning the favor for all the help he received in his first year as a teacher.
Chalco wants his kindergartners to feel safe and welcome in their classroom. “I want to give them the best first experience of their school life,” he says. “I want them to come in happy every day.”