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Virginia Journal of Education

Ten Minutes With...Sandy Sullivan

:  Kindergarten teacher, Sully Elementary School
Local Association:  Loudoun Education Association
Years worked in education:  20

What is a typical school day like for you?
There really is never a typical day in kindergarten, but our student day is packed from 7:50 am-2:50 pm with literacy, math, science, social science, movement and the students’ favorites—lunch and recess. It’s so wonderful this year that after lunch I pick up the same students I dropped off—my school and Loudoun's three other Focus schools were funded for full day kindergarten this year! This is crucial for us. We’re a Title 1 school with a large group of families qualifying for free and reduced lunch. We serve a very high English Language Learner (ELL) population, as well.

Many afternoons and evenings a month, I attend Association, School Board or Board of Supervisor meetings, as well as school events, such as movie night and PTO meetings. I also volunteer time to supervise children during our Parents As Education Partners (PEP) meetings.

What do you like about your job?
Like so many teachers say, the best part about teaching is seeing the light bulb go on. That is simply priceless. Many of my students come to school with little to no preschool or literacy experiences. This year, after our snowy winter that wouldn’t end, I was reading with one of my little girls who came to school knowing only a small handful of capital letters. As she was working hard to use picture clues and read the sight words she knew, her eyes lit up and she exclaimed, “Ms. Sullivan, you’re teaching me to read!” What a precious moment!

More recently, a non-English speaking student who had only been in my class about three weeks spoke his first sentence in English to our assistant and me—“May you tie my shoes, please?” We were thrilled and he beamed back at us as we celebrated.

What is hard about your job?
The most challenging part of my job is managing and directing the energy and attention spans of 22 five-six year-olds while dealing with the increasing demands placed on students and educators. In just my second year of teaching kindergarten, I’m learning every day about the unique needs of kindergartners and I’ve been building my stamina to keep up with them!

Another challenge we face at my school is engaging and involving some of our parents in their child’s school experiences. The language barrier certainly can get in the way, despite our best efforts to welcome parents and connect them with our school community.

What are some of the most fun and unusual things that have happened on the job?
My students tell me so many things about what happens at their homes. I’ve adopted the practice of a dear, former colleague: Tell the parents, "I'll believe half the things your child tells you about home, if you'll believe only half of what your child says about school."

One funny incident happened in one of my first years of teaching. To get materials needed for a project to make musical instruments in class, I sent a note asking parents to save and send in the cardboard dowels from paper towel and toilet paper rolls. About a week later, I was greeted one morning in the hall by the father of one of my students. He was loaded down with a case of paper towels in one hand and toilet paper in the other. He happily offered them to me since I “needed them.” Once I realized his misunderstanding, I could only think about what he must of thought when his son’s school needed toilet paper and paper towels to be donated, as this family had moved here from China fairly recently. Nonetheless, I thanked him and politely tried to let him know that all we needed was the cardboard in the middle of each roll. It took a little time for him to understand what I really wanted, although I’m not sure he understood why.

How has being an Association member been helpful to you?
Being a part of LEA/VEA/NEA has helped me become informed about and active in matters which directly impact my students and me daily. I’ve been supported by the Association as I’ve learned to make my voice heard by those who make critical decisions. Making our voices heard in Loudoun is important, as in every district, but with our entire Board of Supervisors up for re-election in 2015, our Association must (and will—we are planning now!) act to get parents, students and community members involved. The underfunding of our schools is not new, but the cuts over the years are truly taking their toll. We will work together to elect pro-public education candidates who will support our students and schools.


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