An Inside Look into the Teaching Profession
Joyce Gilliard-Williams: A Commitment that Spans Generations
One of the advantages of teaching Kindergarten in the same school for 25 years, says Joyce Gilliard-Williams, is that, “I know the children that are coming to me now and I know their parents. I’ve had their parents as students, so I see their parents in my students. I feel comfortable working with the family.” Sometimes she says to herself, “your mother was just like that.”
“It’s a friendly environment, and that is the reason I stayed there all these years,” Ms. Gilliard-Williams says. Mr. Young, the principal of Public School 46, The Arthur Tappan School, has also been there a long time—14 years. Sometimes parents are uncomfortable leaving their young children off at Manhattan’s 152nd Street off the Harlem River Drive in Harlem, Ms. Gilliard-Williams says, but adds, “We have an administrative staff that walks the children to the lunchroom, and the Principal is greeting everybody, rain, shine, sleet or snow. He stands outside every day. He knows most of the children’s names, and that means a lot to the parents. It makes the parents feel more comfortable leaving their child with someone who greets them at the door every morning. It feels like you’re going to visit a friend.”
Ms. Gilliard-Williams says that over her 25 years at Arthur Tappan, “my teaching methods have changed; in order to teach for 25 years you have to change, you have to be flexible. Kindergarten is no longer the play time/sleep time it was when I started. We still do rest for 15 minutes after lunch. The children put their heads down on their desk, most of them just rest, some actually sleep.” But then, they rise and shine: “We do math, science, literacy, writing, phonics, rhyme recognition, syllables, consonants, blending alphabet recognition, spelling, and preparation for first grade.”
Over the years, “We’ve changed from one reading and math program to another. We have professional development and workshops that help us along when we have to change. Now we’re an empowerment school, so we select our own program.” She says this fall everybody from Kindergarten through sixth grade will be using a program called “Story Time”. “We prepare ourselves by having the workshop, we have literacy coaches, and the program comes with a whole kit. We have the teacher’s edition so we can read it over the summer and familiarize ourselves with the program.”
Besides the academics, “We have an art teacher and an art room, and a music teacher. We’re getting ready to present a spring show of songs.” Although there is no dance teacher, “I do dance with them. I did an American dance, an African dance—but it would be a good thing to have a dance teacher because it’s movement, it’s physical activity for them.” Yes, they have gym, she says, “but there’s a need for creative movement. I did an African dance and that is different from gym. It’s another thing to hear the music of the African drums and to move to the beat. And it’s different from social studies because it’s one thing to read about it, and it’s another thing to do it.” Especially when you’re five.
Ms. Gilliard-Williams also thinks the school trips are very important. “We go to cultural events, like the Paperbag players,” and, as virtually all New York City children have been doing since there were public schools and a Museum of Natural History, “we’re on our way to the Hayden Planetarium.” Some things never change.#