Times Assistant Editor Jess Bengtson begins her ‘A Day in the Life of...’ series in which she spends a day shadowing a local professional or business. Her first stop? Renee Tangquist’s kindergarten classroom at Washington School

    “A day in the life of kindergartners at the beginning of the year is very different from a day in the life of kindergartners at the end of the year.”             

    Washington Elementary School kindergarten teacher Renee Tangquist uttered these words on a Tuesday morning as her kindergartners worked at their stations. This coming from someone who has been with them five days a week for almost seven hours a day for almost nine months. She has been there to shape their minds with reading, writing and arithmetic, all at an advanced level of rigor. So advanced, in fact, that one of the first things I overheard from a student who was getting situated for the day was a question about double digit subtraction. (Double digit subtraction? I don’t even know if I knew what subtraction was when I was in kindergarten. Seriously.)

    I arrived on a Tuesday morning for my first assignment in the beginning of this series, “A Day in the Life of…” I chose to shadow a kindergarten teacher first because of two reasons: 1) Who better to begin with? 2) School was almost out for the summer and I didn’t want to have to wait until the fall. That Tuesday morning I walked in just before the kids and inched by a swarm of teachers and paraprofessionals eagerly awaiting the big smiles that would come through the door.

    Mrs. Tangquist was setting up her room for the morning and classroom “Grandma” Delores Bertils put her things down before they both walked to the hallway to greet their students. The kids knew the routine: they came in the door, turned their name card around and found a book to read. I was waiting for the noise to begin, but, to my surprise, there was none. If one of them were to have looked at me in the five minutes after they grabbed their books they would have seen an almost shocked look on my face. (I have a four-year-old daughter who seems like a wild animal needing to be tamed and to hear the sweet sound of silent children reading a book was something I can’t recall experiencing. If any kindergarten teachers are reading this, I’m totally over-exaggerating. My daughter is an angel.)

    As the students read their books during their 20 minutes of “Readers Workshop”, Grandma Bertils was able to have a quick chat. She told me this was her 22nd year being a classroom Grandma or Foster Grandma through the Tri-Valley Opportunity Council program.

    “I needed a job and the kids need the help,” said Bertils.

    She went on to say that Mrs. Tangquist is really a good teacher; “the best.”

    Next, Washington School principal Denice Oliver came over the intercom for the morning announcements. The word of the week that week was “kindness.” Everyone also put their books down to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Then, Mrs. Oliver acknowledged classes with perfect attendance and students who have done great things recently.

    After those announcements, Mrs. Tangquist moved on to her own class’ 10 minute “Morning Meeting.” During that portion, students recite “Respect Counts” and then sit for a song in which Tangquist plays the guitar to. (A teacher and a guitarist? These kids have it made.) Finally, the students used their addition and subtraction skills to determine how many kids were in class that morning and who was eating hot lunch that day. One lucky student whose name was drawn out of the glove on the wall got to deliver the attendance folder to the office.

    For the next 25 minutes, the class had “Whole Group Phonics.” Mrs. Tangquist had a message on the board describing that date and who was the helper that day. However, there were some things missing or “off” that the kids had to fix. The first thing the students noticed was that the message was not in sentence form and had no punctuation or capital letters. (Again, this stuff was blowing me away! Had I had my head in the sand or have the things they teach kindergartners now dramatically changed in the last 5, 10 or 20 years?) I snapped back to reality as the kids took turns at the board fixing the mistakes and explained to their classmates what they were doing.

    Before their short free time and before breaking into groups for their literacy stations, Mrs. Tangquist played a game with the kids that had them recognize words with the long “i” sound. Since they did so well on that (and beat the teachers), they did 10 quick jumping jacks to get their blood flowing, did some sight word recognition and wrote on their dry erase boards using sight words with the long “i” sound. After being such great participants and listeners, the students finally had a bathroom/water break and free time.

    Mrs. Tangquist told me that their goal is to have kindergartners reading at a Level D by the end of the year and, out of the 25 years she has been teaching, each year is becoming more academic.

    “Kindergartners are doing amazing things,” Tangquist boasted. “We make their learning fun, engaging and developmentally appropriate for their level.”

    “Our rigor has increased (over the years) and we are noticing that ripple effect,” she added. “Our kindergarten team meets to cover our standards, create themes (like the space theme that week) and connect the curriculum we receive from the district.”

    “Each week we think about the next week,” Tangquist continued. “Kindergartners need a different activity every 15 minutes and their can be a lot of prep work that goes into that.”

    She said her fellow teachers all work together well and that has made her a better teacher.

    “We all share the same philosophy.”

    When the students got back from their water/bathroom break and jumped into the free time stations of computers or junk art, I noticed it was only after 9 a.m. (Excuse me? I felt like I had received a day’s worth of knowledge, but it had only been one hour since I arrived.) During free time, some kids talked to me and some just stared, and that’s okay. After that, it was time for an hour of “Literacy Stations.” There were four areas where kids in groups could go: Art/Writing (kids made pictures of themselves looking like an alien so at this station they could bubble-cut their head out and add an alien body, and describe it), Tablets (educational apps only to help with reading, spelling, phonics, etc.), and two Reading stations with Grandma Bertils and Mrs. Tangquist (on a sheet the students would also write their name, the title of the book, what the topic of the book was and three things they learned from the books.)

    While the kids at Tangquist’s station read silently, she had a chance to talk quietly with me again. Tangquist said they usually have around 100 kindergartners at the school, but this year there were 20 less so they kept the five K teachers and had smaller class sizes. She said it was nice for students to get that “extra attention.” There are a few students on an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) in Tangquist’s class so they get additional help for an hour a day and paraprofessionals stick around the classroom as well. Tangquist stopped talking when a student asked for help with a word in their book after asking a friend. She asked the student to use their reading strategies to try to figure out the word like sounding it out while she offered another word that meant close to the same thing. Other strategies included: thinking what makes sense, looking at the picture, and reading it again.

    Then she got back to me saying that great quote I had at the beginning of this story, “A day in the life of kindergartners at the beginning of the year is very different from a day in the life of kindergartners at the end of the year.”     

    “(At the beginning of the year) they’re coming off of summer break and their attention span is a little less,” Tangquist explained. “This morning they sat still on the carpet for 30-35 minutes; that would have been 5-10 minutes at the beginning of the year.”

    “Kids thrive on a schedule,” she added. “We usually do two weeks of a schedule and move on. Students know if you change that.”

    When it came time for the “Benchmark Lesson”, the children came back to the carpet for more learning and fun. Mrs. Tangquist pulled our her guitar again and asked the children to pick a couple of their favorite songs to sing. One of them was called “New Moon” and the other “Macarena Bones.” Another was “Bumping Up and Down in my Little Red Wagon.” Before recess and lunch, Tangquist read a large book to everyone and asked questions about the book while she read. Then, the kids quietly got up for recess and that ended the first two and a half hours of the day. After lunch they would have Math, Math Stations and Table Work, Physical Education, Storytime/Science/Social, Writer’s Workshop, Rest, Library/Music, Snack/Free Time, and Gear On/Prize Drawing before heading home. (Honestly, I would need a nap every day after school with how much they do.)

    School lets out in about a week and a half, and, after summer break, a new batch of kindergartners will enter Washington Elementary School. Tangquist says the district and the school look at the incoming kindergartners by gender, ethnicity, academic levels and if they’re on an IEP before splitting them up to the classrooms. Depending on where the paraprofessionals are is another indicator of where students will go.

    During the summer, Mrs. Tangquist says she like to spend time with family and friends, but does do some curriculum work. They have a rotating schedule and are able to submit for staff development hours. Summer sports and activities with her own kids keep her busy, too, she says.

    In the margin of my notebook as the first visit of this series wrapped up, you might find little scribbles that said, “She always has a soft voice,” “The kids listened very well,” “Good technique to keep their attention,” “Good idea for Violet (my daughter) over the summer,” and “They’re so respectful!” I’ve learned a lot shadowing Mrs. Tangquist and her kindergarten class not only for this write-up, but for my own personal life too. If this was any indicator of how this series is going to go, I’d say it’s going to be a fun one.