On the clock: First-grade teacher guides eager learners, settles them into comfortable routine

Schenectady resident Carrie Caraynoff White has always worked with kids, in day care places and as a

Films from the General Electric Co. made the front page of The Daily Gazette on Thursday morning.

The story also made the conversation in Carrie Caraynoff White’s classroom at Yates Magnet School.

“Our first part of the newspaper is the main headlines,” White said. “They tell us the most important information for what we need to know. And what’s really cool, what’s on the main headline, we talk about this place a lot because we live in Schenectady, where this place is. I’ve told you before, when you drive down Erie Boulevard you can see this big sign, they change the lights during the holidays. Does anyone know what sign that is? Two letters? That big sign — GE.”

White’s first-grade friends — including Tasyana, Anija, Shamar and Ciara — sat quietly on a color-square carpet near the blackboard. They wore T-shirts, blue jeans and sneakers and listened as the lively White provided news flashes about the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day parade and the University at Albany’s basketball game against Manhattan. Some raised hands — the familiar, stiff-armed reach into the air — to ask questions.

It was 10 a.m., and White had a busy morning planned for the 6- and 7-year-olds with whom she spends most of her days from autumn through early summer. “All right, first grade, it’s time to move on to our writing. . . . Who can tell me what a persuasive letter is? What are we trying to do? When we write a persuasive letter, we’re trying to get someone to change something for us.”

Sixteen kids moved to their stations, four small tables furnished with hard plastic, 2-foot-high chairs. They were thinking about asking for softer cookies at Tops American Grill in Rotterdam, more playground swings at Central Park, ways to improve trips to the dentist and requests for comfortable beds.

Shamar Giglio, 6, hoped to convince his dentist to find ways to make procedures more pleasant. White provided extra incentive: “Maybe you can ask them to give you something like an ice cream sundae so you feel better when you’re done,” she suggested.

The kids spent about 10 minutes with their pencils and their plans. At 10:24, White persuaded them to finish up. “We’re going to 10:30, so you have six minutes left,” she said. “Then we’re going to move on to ‘centers.’ ”

Schenectady resident White has always worked with kids, in day care places and as a nanny and baby sitter. She graduated from Guilderland High School in 2002 and earned undergraduate degrees in child education and psychology from Russell Sage College in Troy. She later received her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Phoenix Online. She landed her first student teaching job at her former elementary school, Pine Bush in Guilderland, in 2006. She later student-taught at Yates, at Salina Street and Avenue A, and secured a full-time spot at the head of the class in September 2007.

White is organized and stays on schedule. At 10:30, she called the kids back to their assigned color squares — there were blocks of red, orange, blue, green and purple on the carpet. “Tasyana, will you collect the letters?” White asked Tasyana Monty, 7. “You can put them right in the orange bin.”

The study group waited for their next assignments — computer center, group listening center, writing center and word centers.

Ciara Wade, 6, knows all about words. “My name is an outlaw word,” she said.

“That means it doesn’t follow our alphabet sounds,” White said. “We have a very smart group in here.”

Once the children moved back to their tables and their new lessons, White ensured hush time was also in play. “All right, first grade,” she said. “Mrs. White is counting to five. You need to be in your seats with your voices off.”

The kids followed orders. “Very nice job, first grade,” White said.

White took a small group to another part of the room for a reading exercise. Her baby daughter Vivian was mentioned — to the delight of the little girls at the table. “She’s a very big part of the classroom,” White said. “They know a lot about her and talk about her a lot. I think it’s important for students to know about your life at home so they feel a part of you. I want them to know I have a family and life — that I don’t live here. I even had my class at my wedding in 2009, at St. Anthony’s. They all sat in the balcony.”

The brief study period ended, and the kids returned to their carpet squares. “Criss-cross, applesauce,” White said, reminding kids she prefers them sitting with legs folded. She said she loves the job, day after day with curious kids. “It’s always something new, fun and interesting,” she said. “They keep you on your toes.”

The kids moved on to new study groups. By now, young scholars at Yates should know their teacher has excellent hearing for whispers.

“Courtney,” she said, as the new study session began at 11. “I shouldn’t hear you over there. You know the rules.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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