|Zebra Staff Note:|
|The Teacher Feature highlights the positive impact or innovative work of a South Dakota teacher each month. If you have a suggestion for a Teacher Feature, contact Laura Haatvedt at (605) 773-2593 or email@example.com.|
Teaching: Not just a job for Gardner-Fink
Elementary teacher Nicole Gardner-Fink, of Sioux Falls, was pulled to the profession from an early age. She spent her teenage years babysitting and teaching swimming lessons – even volunteering in the resource room during her senior year of high school.
“I found such enjoyment in helping students learn – especially students who really struggled,” she said. “I just wanted them to feel success! This experience showed me that my desire was to work with children, and the teaching profession was the way I wanted to be involved in the lives of children.”
It’s been almost 20 years since her first teaching assignment, but Gardner-Fink still approaches each new day with the same amount of passion.
“Being a teacher is not a job; it’s an opportunity,” she said. “Every day I come to work and have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children. I am proud that I am in a profession where we not only teach students the academic skills that students need to succeed, but we also help develop students who become good citizens and productive leaders in a world that is ever-changing.
“We help students learn to collaborate, to take chances, and to fail and persevere. I get the chance to support children in developing self-confidence, being happy and proud of who they are, and to celebrate their differences. I am in a profession where I can encourage and support each child and to unlock his or her special gifts.”
Gardner-Fink has done plenty of projects that have been engaging, challenging and fun for her students. But when they can think beyond themselves and even beyond the walls of their school building, that’s when Gardner-Fink finds the most fulfillment because then her students are learning about the world. Last year during a health unit, she had her 2nd-grade students write their own “Healthy Cookbook.” During the course of the unit, nonprofit agencies from the community visited her classroom and explained their charity and how they helped people in the community. The students voted on one of the charities, sold their cookbooks, and donated the money they raised to that organization.
“As their teacher, it was so fulfilling to listen to their discussions about what charity should receive the money and why. It was a difficult decision for many,” she said. “Not only were they learning about helping others, but many math, writing and reading standards were covered in the process of making and selling the cookbooks.”
Gardner-Fink also incorporates lots of technology into her lessons. Her classroom is equipped with an interactive Smart Board, an Ipad and three Ipods. The students also are able to use the computer lab and the mobile lab to assist in learning.
“Kids learn differently today than they did even five years ago. They are living in an age of technology. Everything they need is at their fingertips, and it is immediate,” Gardner-Fink said. “As an educator, I need to change my teaching style to meet the needs of my learners. Technology can be used as a very successful tool in the classroom. It keeps students engaged, it is part of their learning style; they are not afraid to use it. I try to incorporate technology into my teaching every day and in different ways.”