Back to School Interview: Dianna T.

For back-to-school week on Magnificent Nose, we’ll be featuring interviews with teachers and other education professionals. Dianna T. teaches at a bilingual school in New York City. She is fluent in both French and English, but because she is a native speaker of English she’s expected not to speak French with the children. She quickly pointed out, “Knowing both languages is essential. Just let a classroom full of kids get the idea that they know some secret language that you don’t!”

Magnificent Nose: Anarchy I bet!

Dianna T: Exactly. The Francophone children often spend most of the summer in France, so getting them to convert back to English takes a few days. The kids returning from France who are having trouble participate less in class until they are over the jet lag and back [into] the routine. I plan ahead for that. We focus more on math in the first days, because it’s more easily understood. Arabic symbols don’t need translation.

Does that transition work the other way for you?

Not really. I never stop translating between the two even during the summer. The toughest thing for me is having to start getting up at the crack of dawn again!

So, about the summer. Every one knows that the first assignment at the start of a new year is to write an essay about summer vacation. What did you do on your summer vacation?

Had as much fun as possible!

Well I know some of what you do for fun is pretty adventurous.

That’s true. Climbing and other outdoor experiences that have a little risk in them keep me from getting stressed out.

Climbing is an odd way to de-stress, but I know some of the ways it does because we are climbing buddies. Is there something about it in particular that relates to the classroom?

It’s funny because it actually gives me a lot of perspective. It’s hard to get annoyed about whose shirt isn’t tucked in properly, when you spent part of your summer staying calm a few hundred feet up a cliff. Climbing is a part of staying fit for me that’s never boring. Overall, I think it’s super important to be physically fit. Teaching is a much more physical job than you might think. Lots of bending, lifting, crawling, and climbing stairs. You don’t want to have a bunch of third graders outrunning you on the stairs! I don’t just climb. I think that having a lot of different interests keeps your creativity up, which is also important.

So what other creative things are you up to?

I hula hoop, surf, play the ukulele, take yoga classes, and this summer was really special. My husband and I got to work on a project we both loved together. We wrote a musical geared for grade school kids on the subject of bullying. It’s being cast now and we’re excited to see it performed.

That is exciting. What’s the name of the show? Can you say more about the story?

It’s called “Simon, The Invisible Boy”. It’s the story of a boy who is bullied to the point of feeling invisible. One day he wishes he really were and his wish comes true. Simon and everyone else learn a lot from the experience. We think this is a hugely important issue right now. We wanted a fun way to teach the lessons to this age group. It’s one of the things I love about working with children. They are very honest. They will call you out fast if you aren’t making the grade or you’re coming across false.

With all that excitement, is there anything else you are especially looking forward to this year?

Well, this year is a change for me. I’m teaching third grade instead of kindergarten. I’m already noticing a difference. Kindergarten children are so lost in the mystery of learning that they don’t even realize that’s what they’re doing. They’re fearless. By third grade I see that they have much more trepidation. There’s more competition and more fear of making mistakes. I’ll be learning a lot myself, which is always fun and challenging for me. We are also making an overnight field trip to Nature’s Classroom in the Adirondacks.

An overnight trip with third graders? I can’t imagine the parents I know signing up for that!

I don’t want to make any generalizations, but this sort of field trip is a national tradition in France. That doesn’t mean the parents aren’t anxious. Some of them book nearby hotels, just in case!

I might have to restrain myself from doing that too.

You’d be as surprised as these parents at how quickly the children learn to cope. There are so many activities and things to learn. There are hikes, science lessons, plant identification. It’s a real bonding experience for the children.

Anything else?

Really right now the most important thing we’re talking about in staff meetings is what to wear for Halloween. Believe me, that is a very big deal. But we all have a lot to look forward to. My class is going to learn about South America in conjunction with reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We’ll also study the science behind the process of making chocolate. What could be more fun?

Wow, I think I want to go back to third grade at your school! It sounds like a fun year ahead. Dianna, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by Magnificent Nose.

My pleasure. Thanks for asking me.


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