April 17, 2013



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Zebra Staff Note:
The Teacher Feature highlights the positive impact or innovative work of a South Dakota teacher each month. If you have a suggestion for a Teacher Feature, contact Laura Haatvedt at (605) 773-2593 or laura.haatvedt@state.sd.us.

First year elementary teacher celebrates students’ small victories

Almost through her first full year, Pierre’s McKinley Elementary teacher Jessica Callahan has learned to celebrate the small victories.

Callahan is the school’s only third grade teacher, but has looked to the guidance of teacher mentors in the second and fourth grade classrooms.

“I do enjoy the close knit environment of a smaller school. It would be nice to go to another third grade teacher, and ask where they’re at right now, but one of the teachers taught third grade before, so she was able to give me feedback,” Callahan said. “The other teachers are such a valuable resource when you’re first starting out.”

Callahan spent part of a previous year as a long-term substitute at McKinley, which helped her transition into the position, but still there were some things she felt less prepared for. Students at McKinley come from a wide array of varying backgrounds.

“It was challenging, especially at first, but you just learn to focus on the progress each child makes at their own level,” Callahan said. “I quickly realized I had to learn to meet my students where they’re at when they first walk through the door.”

From helping a child learn to control his temper, to working one-on-one with students who really struggled with reading at the beginning of the year, Callahan remembers those moments of success.

“I had a student who wrote me a letter and thanked me for everything he had learned in math that year, complete with a list. It was the nicest thing,” Callahan said.

She also helps out with the school’s 21st century after-school program, and spends two afternoons working with the first graders who attend.

“The after-school program is great because I can be a little more relaxed and have fun with the kids at the end of the day,” Callahan said. “I enjoy the variety too – getting to see kids in a slightly different age group.”

Though she’ll be transferring within the district to Jefferson School next year, her time at McKinley has spurred her to pursue her master’s in differentiated instruction. She started an online program earlier this spring.