Learning The Job

Published 8:00 pm Sunday, August 19, 2012

It was the first day of school, and Tiffany Gamble was a little nervous.

     She was in a classroom of 24 children she’d never seen before. And all of them were staring right at her.

     That was to be expected, though. She was, after all, their teacher.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

     “Am I going to be able to handle this?” thought Gamble, standing with a whiteboard behind her and students in front of her.

     The answer, as it turns out, is yes.

     Gamble joined Mamie Martin as its newest kindergarten teacher this year, prayed for success and, after a week and a half, feels confident in the direction she’s headed.

     There have been bumps and quirks.

     A few students called her “Campbell” instead of Gamble for a while. Some are still prone to skipping or running in the hallway to the bathroom. Most are still on the upward side of the cafeteria learning curve.

     But all that will work out.

     “By Labor Day, I think they’ll get it,” Gamble said.

     And as the students are learning, so is Gamble. She spent the month of July cleaning and preparing her room and growing nervous as the first day approached.

     Now, she only grows more confident as each day passes.

     She’s also increasing her stamina. After the first day, she was exhausted.

     “When I got home that first day, I slept and slept,” Gamble said.

     Gamble, a 2003 Brookhaven High School graduate, originally planned to become a coach. She played basketball at BHS and Southwest Mississippi Community College. From there, she trekked to Jackson State University and declared a major in physical education.

     The major required some elementary education classes, however, and those classes required observing in elementary school classrooms.

     That’s when things changed.

     “I just fell in love with the kids,” Gamble said.

     By her second semester at JSU, Gamble had changed her major to elementary education.

     She appreciates that the younger children come to her ready to learn with few inhibitions.

     “They are so open-minded,” Gamble said. “They get so excited, even if it’s just about jumping over boxes.”

     To cap off her degree, she was required to spend her last semester student teaching.

     Most JSU students are placed into schools in the Jackson area, but Gamble had other ideas. She pushed to student teach at Mamie Martin Elementary School, a request that was eventually granted.

     This past spring, she was placed with an experienced veteran who was planning to retire at the end of the year, Barbara Crossley.

     Gamble credits many lessons learned from Crossley.

     “She taught me to always be prepared,” Gamble said. “She prepared her lessons weeks ahead of time.”

     She also taught Gamble the need for animated instruction to keep the students’ attention. Gamble is working to model the skills of the veteran she learned them from: preparation, organization, enthusiasm in the classroom.

     After her student teaching semester had ended and the summer had begun, Gamble learned she’d been hired as a kindergarten teacher at Mamie Martin.

     It was news she been waiting for several years. Since she declared her major in elementary education, Gamble had hoped she could return to the district she attended from kindergarten through 12th grade.

     The summer was quickly taken up with plans and preparation.

     Then the first day arrived. There were some things student teaching couldn’t prepare her for, like the tears of many students as their parents dropped them off for the first day.

     Thus far, instruction has been fairly basic.

     “The first week you want to make sure they can spell their name, hold a pencil,” Gamble said.

     After that comes sight recognition of letters and then learning the sounds behind those letters. Gamble feels kindergarten instruction has grown more challenging since she herself was that age.

     “They’re smarter than you think they are,” Gamble said. “Kindergarten is not all about coloring anymore.”

     But she’s been thrilled by the challenge of the students and the moments when she sees her work pay off.

     “You can see the little bit of growth each day,” Gamble said. “After sitting back and thinking on the events of the day, thinking about how they’ve grown from day to day, that’s the most satisfying.”