Cristina Ulrich is a kindergarten teacher at Brookhaven Elementary School in Rockville. She is one of three finalists for the 2013-2014 Montgomery County Public Schools Teacher of the Year Award. She was interviewed March 21 at Brookhaven.
Congratulations on your nomination as Teacher of the Year. Can you tell me why you were nominated?
I was nominated by a former kindergarten colleague who now teaches second grade and the [English for Speakers of Other Languages] teacher I work with. I was surprised how I was viewed in their eyes. When I see myself as a teacher, I see myself as someone who changes on the spot to meet the kids’ needs, and I see [the other teachers] as more put together.
When I think of all the great teachers I see at this school, I think, how can this be possible? I work at a school that has excellent educators, and they are all an inspiration. I go to their classrooms and get ideas and bring them back and think, how can I use that? I’m a reflective learner.
I read the nomination packet, and I was flattered. I did realize [while reading it] how involved I am with our school community. I do it because I see a need.
How long have you been teaching?
Seven years — all at Brookhaven and all in kindergarten.
I really love teaching younger kids, they are just excited. If you ask a question, they are not self-conscious; they are not thinking about what their peers are thinking. They just answer.
I also had a really great teacher for first and second grades. The same teacher for both. She always gave the message: You can do this; you can overcome it, but it takes hard work. I try and do that. It fits well with the key messages the county has going. It fits well with the thinking and academic success skills in the new curriculum that will follow them all through elementary school. I expose [my students] to them: collaboration, synthesis, analysis, fluency, note-taking and persistence. That’s the one I tie in to you can do it, I believe in you.
What is the hardest part of your job?
The hardest part is in the beginning of the year. There are a lot of set routines they need to help them learn. This is a Title I school, and a lot of my students come in without preschool or day-care experience. Some also come in without English skills, so there is a lot of action and a lot of hand cues. They love to please.
The growth I see from the beginning of the year to the end of the year is the best part of the job — knowing I had a say in that.
You said earlier that you were an ESOL student when you started school, do you think that is why you chose to teach in a Title I school?
Yes, I chose a Title I school because I wanted to work in a school where I could make a difference.
What do you hope for your students in reference to education?
I hope I’ve instilled a level of curiosity and a love of learning. It’s little points during the year that I see it. An example is, we did an author’s study on Robert Munch — the kids really love him. One student, at the end of the unit, went to the library and checked out all the Robert Munch books. Sometimes parents talk to me and say [their child] came home and talked about our Popcorn Words. Those are words that pop up everywhere. They are sight words the kids learn.
Is there anything else you would like readers to know about you?
I work at a great school and have a wonderful principal. They are instrumental in my development as a teacher and as a person. They are very caring.
How does that translate to your personal life?
My family is involved in everything I do. My mother-in-law volunteers in my classroom twice a week. It’s great. She supports me at literacy stations. My husband goes on our field trips, and my family does not exchange Christmas gifts. We started using [those resources] one year when I learned I had a student in need. This year, we were able to support four families with 11 kids. My husband’s work, Tek Systems, helped. My family came over and we wrapped 160 presents!
That’s how it translates to my family, to my personal life. I guess it’s kind of unusual, I’m lucky my family understands.
“Voices in Education” is a twice-monthly feature that highlights the men and women who are involved with the education of Montgomery County’s children. To suggest someone you would like to see featured, email Peggy McEwan at firstname.lastname@example.org.