Student Teacher Embraces Spirit of Teaching

It was “Spirit Week” at Hodges Elementary School, a fun opportunity for students and staff alike to dress up. On this particular Wednesday in October, the theme was favorite school sports teams. Not to give anything away, but there was a good bit of orange represented in Ms. Kimber Burrell’s first-grade classroom. But student teacher Caroline Falls proudly sported a Piedmont Technical College (PTC) shirt, though the school might define sport a little differently.

Instead of the national anthem, these young go-getters ― decked out in sports jerseys and cheerleader uniforms ― stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to start their day. Dressing up can add levity and bring some children who might be a bit bashful out of their shell to engage with the class.

“It’s OK to be shy, but you don’t have to be shy here with us,” Falls reassures the class as she prepares to lead a participatory lesson. Using a book titled ‘The Girl Who Thought in Pictures,’ Falls identifies words for the class to name synonyms for. “What does ‘different’ mean? Unique? Special? We are all different, and we are all unique at the same time.”

Falls asks a lot of questions to engage the children. Sometimes she asks them to finish sentences she starts. She will ask them what a word means to them. She encourages them to really think about language and consider the multiple meanings of some words.

On this day, the students are getting one of the biggest homework assignments they’ve received to date. They are being asked to create visual timelines representing milestones in their own lives. Falls made one from her own life to give the students a model for their own timelines.

“I was born,” she says pointing to the first notch in her timeline. “Everybody can start with being born. This next line is when I learned to drive a car. And this line is when I began teaching at Hodges Elementary School!”

The classroom begins to buzz with speculation as to what will go on their timelines.

“Try to include dates,” Falls added. “Your parents can help you.”

One young student noted a milestone he will include on his timeline:  “When I got my first pellet gun!”

Soon the class breaks so the students can go to physical education class. After they are safely in the charge of the school’s PE teacher, supervising teacher Burrell and Falls discuss the role of routines in class management.

“They need to move,” Burrell said, referring to the PE session and their daily morning stretches. “They have been in quarantine for six months. It lets them get some energy out.”

Routines help give the students a sense of security and purpose. After some investment of time and reinforcement, the children know the routines and often begin some of them, such as their everyday morning work, without prompting. Routines help them understand what is expected of them and affords them a sense of independence.

Falls empathizes with the students and takes extra time to reassure them at the first sign of anxiety.

“I know I stress about things. I have anxiety,” she said. “So I feel it’s important to comfort students who are uncomfortable about something. Some of them stress about perfection. I tell them it’s OK if it’s not perfect.”



  • Student teacher Carolina Falls displays her timeline project for the class.
  • One of Ms. Burrell’s students sports a cheerleader outfit on ‘Spirit Day’
  • Supervising teacher Kimber Burrell shows her school team spirit.