Ask a Teacher

Diane Anttila

Going from Elementary Students to Online Teaching

Diane Anttila has more than 20 years of experience working as an elementary classroom teacher and school-based administrator. She earned her undergraduate degree in psychology/elementary education from the College of Mount Saint Vincent and holds a master’s in curriculum from Western Connecticut State University and a doctorate in curriculum development and systemic change from Nova Southeastern University.

In her 9+ years as an online instructor, Anttila has had the opportunity to work with adult learners from all over the globe. When she’s not serving as an adjunct faculty member at Kaplan University, a job she’s had since September 2009, Anttila enjoys spending time with her husband and cheering at their children’s sporting events.

Reflecting back to your first year as an educator, what is one thing you wish you would’ve known/been told in college?

Anttila: “Looking back, I wish someone would have told me that as an elementary teacher you do it ALL. Of course during student teaching assignments you are responsible for a certain number of days from tardy bell to dismissal bell, but until you shut the door and have your own classroom, you really cannot comprehend that you must do it ALL.”

“From taking attendance first thing in the morning to refereeing arguments at recess to planning, instructing, and assessing every subject to making sure everyone boards the correct bus in the afternoon. I would imagine that a first-year teacher learns just as much (if not more) than his or her students.”

What disciplinary methods do you find work best with elementary students?

Anttila: “Over the years, I have found that taking a positive approach to behavior management has been most effective in working with elementary students. Taking a proactive approach fits my teaching style and personality type more than being reactive and blasting a student for what has been done.”

“My preference is to catch a student doing something well. The other students will take notice and the majority will fall in line.”

“At the start of each school year, call a class meeting and create a short list of expectations. It is also important to state what each expectation will look like in the classroom or in the school building. Most young students will need to be explicitly taught how to be responsible on the bus or respectful in the cafeteria.”

Do you still have the same perspective on teaching as when you started?

Anttila: “Yes, I do. I still want to change the world one child at a time and help each student perform to his or her full potential. If this translates into performing on grade level, that is even better.”

“Years of experience and several doses of reality have made me realize that many students will get there, but unfortunately some will not, no matter how hard we all try. These are the times when you must reflect and then try a new approach as some students learn in their own way and in their own time.”

How do you stay motivated throughout the school year?

Anttila: “Making every effort to focus on the positive helps me stay motivated throughout the school year. It would be easy to get caught up with the ‘Negative Nellies’ in the building.”

“Finding the good in each student and each situation helps you to stay optimistic and become a better educator. There are 180 school days each year and each one is a fresh start, a new chance to make a difference in the life of a child.”

What are three tips you would offer to first-year teachers?

  • “Plan, do, reflect … repeat. This holds true for the procedure for collecting homework to your daily lessons. If something doesn’t work for you or meet the needs of your students, fix it! Thinking about effective and ineffective aspects of activities, lessons, procedures, etc. will help you develop into a more intentional and purposeful educator.
  • Take advantage of any and all learning opportunities. Collaborate with, listen to, and learn from staff and students alike. Understand that you are now a teacher, but you will always be a student as well. Learn from your mistakes, reflect … but no repeat.
  • Make time for you! Amid all of the deadlines, standards, meetings, directives, emails, and parent phone calls, be sure to carve some time out of each week for yourself. Meeting a friend for lunch or taking a walk in the park will help you to clear your head and keep all of the demands in perspective.”

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