Pavlik sees eye to eye with kindergarten students

October 06, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

Editor's note: This is the first in a monthly series highlighting excellent educators in Washington County elementary schools. Next month: Eastern Elementary School.

At 6 feet 3 inches tall, Michael Pavlik towers over his kindergarten classroom, but the Conococheague Elementary School teacher said he can still see eye to eye with his students.

On this day, his room, tucked in the back of the school, was decorated with handmade construction paper wind socks that would sock him if he let them. The classroom's clustered desks edged at about his knee.

"I've found it's best to get on my knees," said Pavlik, 51.

But Pavlik won't teach his students on just one level.

In kindergarten, teachers often don't get to assess their students with pen and paper, he said, so they have to look for immediate feedback.


"Usually if they can come back the second time and tell me what they did the first time - that's a plus," he said.

Yet Pavlik, who teaches two half-day classes, has to get the same message across to his students as a full-day kindergarten teacher does.

His days, crammed with more math and reading and less playtime, play out differently than they did when he started teaching children 31 years ago.

The classroom's blocks have sat on their shelves since the start of school, he said, but that doesn't mean the students aren't having fun.

Recently, Pavlik read students "The Gingerbread Man." He asked them to make a replica of the character to test whether they remembered its traits. Later, students were asked to write a sentence describing the Gingerbread Man.

He said he'd be surprised if students are in their seats 20 minutes out of the 21/2-hour class period.

"If I'm making reading and math fun, then I'm doing a good job," he said. "Nobody seems to be worried about coming back tomorrow."

At the start of this particular day, Pavlik said his students counted out the number of the day's date in paper clips. Students checked a meteorology Web site for the day's forecast and then posted the weather on a board in the back of the room.

At the end of the week, students would count how many days of sunny weather versus cloudy weather they saw.

But 5-year-olds, although they may be observant about the weather, aren't always as observant about some of the differences between them and their peers.

"One of the beauties in kindergarten is that kids do not recognize who's a boy, who's a girl, who's black or who's white," he said.

"I'd really like to see through their eyes because they don't see the difference," he said.

During holidays, Pavlik is careful not to overrepresent a particular religion or group. Pavlik, who's been at Conococheague for 14 years, held a patriot day on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and asked students to wear red, white and blue. But there was no talk about terrorism out of fear that children would become anxious.

Pavlik said he wants his students to leave kindergarten with confidence. He wants them to have the ability to listen and follow directions, and to show initiative to begin and complete a task.

"They need to be willing to take a chance and fail," he said.

One benefit of teaching children in their first year of school is the memory that is left with them. Pavlik, who began his teaching career in West Virginia, said he still gets wedding invitations from former students.

Also, kindergartners are excited about coming to school.

The novelty can hit a little bit harder for their parents, but Pavlik has a way to deal with them, too. He advises parents to let their children ride the bus so they can say goodbye at home, rather than at school.

"Somewhere along the line, parents became younger. It's easier to talk to parents now," he said.

Patience is the key to any future kindergarten teacher's success, Pavlik said, whether it's dealing with children or parents.

And becoming a parent was one of the best things that happened to Pavlik's teaching career. He now has five children ranging in age from 2 to 19.

"You have to be in a position where you want the children to learn," he said.

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