A Day in the Life of a First-Grade Teacher

From the outside looking in, a teacher’s days may appear attractive, with short hours and summers off. However, that view is an optical illusion. The reality is that a teacher’s daily hours don’t end when the kids head home. And that long summer? Most teachers spend the entire month of August preparing lesson plans for the coming year, leaving seven or eight weeks off, during which many teachers try to find a temporary job to supplement their income.

Here’s a glimpse into a single day in the life of Anahi Villegas, a first grade teacher in a dual-immersion program at Valley Crest Elementary in West Valley City. In addition to teaching during the day, Villegas, with five years of teaching experience, is working on her master of education degree in Teacher Instructional Leadership at the University of Utah.

8:15 a.m.: Villegas pulls into the parking lot. With 20 minutes before her day officially begins, she checks her planner and runs through the day’s agenda. “I make sure supplies are in place for the first class, check my email, make sure there are no urgent messages from parents or administrators,” she says.

8:35 a.m.: Villegas herds 28 bouncy, noisy, excited Valley Crest first graders inside. It’s time to shape young minds.

8:40 a.m.: With the kids arranged on the carpeted floor, Villegas leads them in a Spanish song or two—a sneaky way to focus their attention—then shares with them the day’s objectives. First up: math. In Spanish. Children in Valley Crest’s dual-immersion program spend half the day being taught in Spanish and the other half of the day with an English teacher who reinforces math concepts in English and teaches English Language Arts. Villegas and the English teacher split two classes this way, so Villegas works with 55 students every day.

9:30 a.m.: Villegas shepherds her class to the restrooms for a bathroom break. It goes more smoothly than you might think. She’s been doing this for five years, and while the first several weeks of the year are devoted to training these first graders to follow a routine, by now they’ve got it down. Mostly.

9:45 a.m.: The kids divide into four centers, each featuring a different activity that Villegas has designed in science, math, Spanish, and other topics. Villegas sits at one of the centers, which lets her focus more individual attention on each child in a small-group setting. Every 10 or 12 minutes, the groups rotate to the next center. This morning, Villegas is the only adult in the room, so she’s trained the children to help each other if they’ve forgotten the center’s assignment. “If you have high expectations,” she says, “they become very independent. I will hear them go ask a friend, and the friend says, ‘You didn’t listen, but I will show you what to do.’ ”

10 a.m.: Recess! (Aka, controlled pandemonium.) While the kids play outside, Villegas has 15 minutes to help one student take a missed quiz, while she tutors another child one-on-one so he doesn’t start falling behind.

10:15 a.m.: Putting her cat-herding skills to work, Villegas corrals the class and brings them back inside, where she starts them on another rotation through centers.

11 a.m.: For 10 minutes, one lucky student gets to lead Calendar Time, where they talk about the calendar and the weather—in Spanish, of course. Meanwhile, Villegas works with a child who needs a little more help with math. There are still a couple of minutes left, so Villegas reviews some Spanish pronunciation sounds with the class.

11:10 a.m.: Lunch begins. Technically, it’s lunchtime for Villegas, too, but she spends 15 minutes guiding her children through the lunch line, helping them make healthy food choices, and opening milk cartons for small fingers. Then she is back in her room grading yesterday’s test, getting homework ready for the rest of the week, and checking email. A parent needs to talk to her, so she squeezes in a phone call before she goes to collect her kids. Her lunch sits in the fridge in the faculty room, uneaten.

11:45 a.m.: Villegas herds her kittens back inside, stopping for each to get a drink of water on the way. Now it’s time for the “Specials”: depending on the day, it might be PE, computer time, library, or music. Today is PE, which means she must pay particular attention to one student whose medical issues can make physical education challenging.

12:30 p.m.: After ensuring the children get another drink of water on the way back from PE, Villegas has 15 minutes for Spanish Language Arts: “I do as much direct Spanish instruction as I can get in, writing, talking about concepts, and decoding syllables.”

12:45 p.m.: Villegas and the other teacher switch classes, and she starts her whole routine all over again, this time with help—Carmen Flores, a student teacher from the U, is in the classroom to help her.

3:20 p.m.: The bell rings, and the kids are free to go. Villegas is on parking lot duty today, so she makes sure the little ones don’t scamper across the parking lot or dart between cars.

3:30 p.m.: Villegas and Flores go over the day, brainstorming ideas for what to do differently tomorrow, how to reinforce a tricky subject, or how to reach a child who doesn’t seem to be “getting it.” Flores asks about class differentiation and a theory she’s studying in class, and Villegas runs some ideas by Flores that she’s developing in her master’s program at the U.

4:30 p.m.: Flores leaves, and Villegas tackles more grading, prepares tomorrow’s homework, and combs through the kids’ work to see if any of them didn’t understand today’s concepts, then modifies lesson plans accordingly. She and another teacher are considering starting up an after-school Lego club, but that means she has to find time to apply for a grant to buy the Legos. She doesn’t have time for that this week, though. And since running the club will be on a volunteer (i.e., unpaid) basis for her and the other teacher unless they find additional grant money, it feels a tad overwhelming right now.

5:45 p.m.: Villegas packs up, closes her door, and heads home. Tonight, she will be working on an assignment for her graduate class at the U, so she has a long evening ahead.

Despite the long hours, Villegas is passionate about her work. The educational law courses in her master’s program at the U have given her entirely new insights into “how much we are tied to the government, all the litigation behind all the policies and decision making that go on,” she notes. Additionally, she says, “The focus of my master’s program has let me see how other people form their perspective and why they have the opinions they do, so I can hopefully get them to work with me on a vision of what our school should be, breaking down barriers between different groups.”

She isn’t sure where her master’s degree will propel her in the future, but for right now, she says, “I love the kids and I love doing what I do.”

—Kelly J. P. Lindberg BS’84 is a freelance writer based in Layton, Utah.

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