When Tyler ISD schools opened their doors Monday, new teacher Amy Hiler ushered kindergarteners to their places at round tables and showed them large decorated sheets of paper, suggesting they color until time for class at Birdwell Elementary.
For the kindergarteners, it was the start of school and for Ms. Hiler, it was the start of her career as a language arts teacher.
“I wanted to teach kindergarten. I just love this age. A lot of teachers don’t like to deal with tying shoes and blowing noses and all that, but that doesn’t bother me. I think at this age they are eager to learn and you can really make a big impression on them,” Ms. Hiler said.
Josh Gray escorted his daughter, Audrey, 5, to Ms. Hiler’s class. “She’s excited,” he said, then hugged Audrey and told her to have fun.
Jeremiah Hinojosa, 5, was so excited he wanted to come on Friday, his mother, Sherrie Hinojosa said. “I think he’s going to love everything. He has a thirst for knowledge, so he wants to learn everything,” Ms. Hinojosa said.
Seeing her only child going to kindergarten was “a hard morning for mama.” Michele Arthur said. Her son, Grant, 5, “couldn’t wait to get started. He was up and at it before me this morning,” she said.
Mr. and Mrs. Jason Stewart brought their son, Reed, 5. “I think it’s a great opportunity for him to come and meet kids and enjoy learning and have a good time socializing with his peers,” she said.
For Ms. Hiler, who grew up in Arlington and moved to Tyler about four years ago, the first day of school was fulfillment of a circuitous route she took to a career in education.
“I always knew I loved working with kids. I just love their spirit and I think it’s so much fun,” Ms. Hiler said.
She had thought in high school that she would like to teach, but she took a psychology course in high school that she liked so well that she majored in psychology at Baylor University, intending to become a school counselor.
After earning her bachelor’s degree, she learned she would have to teach three years before getting a master’s degree to work as a counselor. But she did not have a teaching certificate and ended up teaching almost two years in a preschool, which does not require teacher certification. Then she spent the last two years as a life skills aid at Birdwell.
Because of those experiences, Ms. Hiler returned to her original thought that she would like to teach and she began the process of earning alternative teacher certification.
Ms. Hiler remembers being inspired by her kindergarten teacher in Arlington, Anne Seay. “I felt like she is a really good teacher. She made it seem fun and I enjoyed going every day. I know the difference my teachers made in me. I felt like I could be a good teacher and do the same thing,” she said.
“I feel like I’ve been led back to teaching; I think that’s where I’m supposed to be, what I should have done all along.”
Ms. Hiler was hoping to stay here at Birdwell. “I was lucky this position opened up because I wanted kindergarten and I wanted to stay here. It worked out,” she said.
When Ms. Hiler taught preschool, she said, “I realized how good a feeling it is to see how much they (students) grow even from month to month and week to week. That’s where I feel like I make the most difference.”
She added, “I love being in the classroom and interacting with the kids. The more I think about it, I feel I prefer that over just mainly being in an office (as a school counselor) and working with kids one on one. (Teaching) is something I feel like I won’t get tired of after awhile.”
Wearing a T-shirt that read “inspiring students to dream big” on her first official day as a teacher Ms. Hiler said the main goal in kindergarten is to get students to reading and being pre-writers … writing something that resembles a sentence.
“I want to see some progress and improvement in reading and writing from where they start to where they are when they leave me,” Ms. Hiler said.
Her other goal is to see them increase in maturity, a difference between the beginning of the school year and the end of the year.
She first met many of the 15 children in her class during the “Meet the Teacher” event Thursday when parents and children got acquainted with Ms. Hiler and brought supplies.
“A lot of them (kindergarteners) are coming in knowing quite a bit. Some are writing their name. And then some come in not knowing hardly any letters and things like that. So you have to be able to teach both ends of the spectrum … the higher end and the beginning ones,” Ms. Hiler said.
“The challenge is teaching one class but reaching everyone.”
She wants to find a way to help each child be successful. It takes at first getting to know them and making a plan for each child taking into account how they learn best, whether visual or auditory, and catering to their needs, Ms. Hiler said.
“I just love this age. The kids are 5 or 6. They are excited to come to school and so eager to learn. It’s easy to teach them when they want to learn,” she said, whereas in older grades, it’s just the start of another school year.
The new teacher planned to keep kindergarteners interested and motivated by keeping class exciting, doing a lot of hands-on activities, changing up the way she does lessons, keeping students involved and active.
She said she would challenge them by asking questions and encouraging them to do things that use their imagination. “I feel like that’s a big part of critical thinking and expanding your mind,” Ms. Hiler said.
“One of the first things we focus on the first two weeks is about learning the rules and how we act in school and the way things work. We take a tour of the school as a class so they get comfortable being here and know where everything is and get to know each other.”
Her classroom walls are filled with posters and other school materials about class rules, the calendar and days of the week, shapes, the alphabet and numbers, colors, consonants and vowels and an illustration about the weather for a talk about what’s appropriate to wear.
“Our philosophy at Birdwell is ‘make success happen for every child.’ I take that as my own educational philosophy,” Ms. Hiler said.