Traci Jones on igniting the spark of curiosity in students
Traci Jones of Lakeshore Elementary is an educator who truly goes above and beyond for her students. Prioritizing flexibility, curiosity, and mutual respect, her classroom is a place where discovery happens, and students find a love for math in their own way.
Over the 26 years that Traci Jones has taught, she's traveled all across the US, from Maryland to San Diego. She finally settled in North Carolina, where she's been for the last 18 years. She knew she'd become a teacher from the word go and joked that she must have had the smartest stuffed animals in town because she was always teaching when playing play-pretend. After moving on from her bedroom's toy blackboard, she ended up studying at Princeton, where she majored in developmental psychology and obtained her teaching certificate. Since then, she's never stopped learning and is always trying new things, understanding that in teaching, adaptability is key.
One thing that has endured in Traci's classroom over the years is hands-on learning. She explained that in fourth and fifth grade, that's what gets students excited to learn. “Today, we were working on volume and measuring boxes. That led to students saying, ‘Well, I wonder how many cubic centimeters could fit into the trash can. I wonder how many could fit into that cabinet.’” For Traci, these exploration activities are crucial because they help students build their curiosity and think more deeply about math and its workings. Traci also fosters students’ curiosity by making it her mission to find ways to apply math to the subjects her students are passionate about. One student in her class, for example, loves baking but isn't so much a fan of math, "She thinks she hates math, but I'm going to change her mind because we're bringing math out through cooking," she said.
Traci's classroom is built on a foundation of mutual respect, and from the first moment her class walks in the door, she stresses the value of everyone’s uniqueness and emphasizes that every idea is a good idea. “We learn how to work as a team together,” she said. To create this atmosphere, she uses a lot of real-world company videos that show brainstorming in action, which teaches students that their contributions are valuable. Another part of building respect in the classroom involves making sure her students know that sometimes things will feel challenging, whether it is a relationship with a fellow student or math. To help students get through these tough moments, Traci has created a recharge station, a solitary space where students can go if they feel troubled.
For Traci, teaching is all about community and she said that this means she has the “biggest extended family ever.” Traci explained that treating her students like family shows them that she’s on their side, as does attending their extra-curricular activities. Ultimately, Traci always goes above and beyond for her students, something which they greatly appreciate. This was evident in a memory Traci recalled, where a former student who won the 'future teacher' award went on to become a teacher herself and sent her a picture of that award on her own classroom wall. "Just little things like that, when they remember you with a positive feeling, that's definitely a good thing," said Traci.
Photos courtesy of Traci Jones