Mary Britt Hamilton Speaks Out on Teaching and How to Cultivate A Learning Environment

Since her childhood in South Carolina, Mary Britt Hamilton has always known that she wanted to be a teacher. Her career goals came to fruition after she received her Batchelor of Science from the College of Charleston and became a kindergarten teacher. For the past 8 years, she has been working in her role as a teacher and now resides in Wilmington, North Carolina, where she strives to set up each child for success. 

What keeps you motivated?

A lot of days, the children are one of the only things that are keeping me going!  I love watching them have that light bulb got off when they grasp a new concept. That part of my job is so rewarding.  Young children are so impressionable, and that makes me want to be the best teacher I can be, and it also makes me want to serve as a role model for them.  

The amazing teachers around me are also a big part of my motivation.  They teach me a lot of practical skills that are not taught in college, so watching them excel at what they do inspires me to match their effort. 

What is the biggest lesson you have learned from teaching children?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from teaching children is that I learn as much from them as they learn from me.  

What teaching technique do you suggest everyone use?

Oh my gosh, there are so many I think everyone should use! But if I had to pick just one, I’d probably say differentiated instruction.  Every single child in a classroom learns in a different way, and it’s up to the teacher to cater to all of those learning styles.  

What is your favorite part about being teaching children under 6?

Oh, that’s easy… it’s their love of learning.  They’re still young enough that the majority of them haven’t felt discouraged yet.  They haven’t had the chance to feel frustrated when they don’t understand something, and as a result, shut down. Plus, the ones who have experienced that sense of frustration are still open to teachers who make it their mission to get those discouraged students back on track. For me, teaching children under 6 has been a perfect match.

How do you deal with online learning – are you a fan of it or not?  Why or why not?

You mean online learning through virtual instruction because of the pandemic? I’m definitely not a fan of it.  There is no substitute for the in-person experience of going to school- socially, academically, etc.  They are just not equal experiences.  

How do you organize your classroom to be the best learning environment it can be?

I prefer a classroom arrangement that is open and organized.  I have a large rug in the front of the room to bring my students together for whole group lessons.  Students also work in small groups on the rug during literacy and math workstations.  My classroom is colorful and engaging without being too distracting or overstimulating.  In order to promote cooperative learning, I traded traditional student desks for large tables.  I am beginning to incorporate flexible seating to help transform my instruction style to become more student-centered.  My classroom library has hundreds of books for students to choose from.  I display a visual agenda for my students to reference throughout the day and a job chart that allows them to see their job for the week.  The smartboard is almost always being used to display lessons, directions, timers, etc.  Anchor charts and vocabulary charts are displayed upfront so they can be easily accessed and referenced.  I have a kidney-shaped table that is used for guided reading/small groups.  There are also cubbies for each child for their bookbag, coat, lunch box, etc.  I also always make sure the walls are displaying student work.  I change it frequently to show the students’ success.  

What is the hardest part about being a teacher?

For me, the hardest thing about being a teacher is maintaining a balance between work and home life.  The children are on my mind and heart all the time.  It’s not a job where you can just leave work at work.  When I go home, I never stop thinking about the kid that might not eat dinner or the kid that had to be put in foster care that day because of family issues.

In your opinion, what is the best way to calm down a rowdy classroom?

There are so many little ask-and-answer attention getters that I use to calm down a rowdy classroom in a heartbeat.  My classroom rarely gets “rowdy” but when it’s loud or when my students are in small groups, I get their attention by using these techniques that I teach at the beginning of the year.  For example, I say “1 2 3 eyes on me”… and they stop what they’re doing and respond with “1 2 eyes on you.” Then they’re silent with their hands on their head so they aren’t distracted by anything else.  I change them up sometimes according to the time of year.  Another example is around Halloween I use “Hocus Pocus!” and the students stop what they’re doing and say “EVERYBODY FOCUS!”, then they freeze and wait for me to give them further instructions.  They’re cute and catchy and the kids love them… and they work like a charm!

What is your favorite subject to teach and why?

I love teaching math.  There are so many different ways and strategies to teach kids to solve math problems.  I love all the math manipulatives that are available to help the children work out addition and subtraction problems.  I have taken tons of professional development courses on teaching math and feel very confident in my ability to teach math to my students.  

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