A Day in the Life of a Chicago Kindergarten Teacher

By: | 06/16/2021
Categories: Distance Learning, Instruction

A Teacher's Day in the Life logo

Photo of Darnell JacksonEducator: Darnell Jackson
Location: Chicago, IL
Occupation: Kindergarten teacher at the LEARN Romano Butler
Experience: Teaching for the last nine years

What was your pre–COVID-19 daily routine?

4 a.m.–5 a.m.: I wake up, go to the gym, work out for about an hour—40 minutes of strength training and 20 minutes of cardio—and then head home.

7:15 a.m.–7:30 a.m.: I take a shower and get dressed for work.

7:45 a.m.–7:50 a.m.: I head downstairs and prep my lunch for the school day—usually shrimp alfredo, or I’ll chop up Italian sausage with garlic naan bread.

8:15 a.m.: I head to work. I work at the LEARN Romano Butler campus, which is six minutes away from me, so it’s a short drive. I teach five- and six-year-old students. I love kindergarten because, at that age, the kids are inquisitive and curious. If I can provide them with a strong academic foundation, they’re ready to grow, and they get excited. You can just see the joy in their faces in the morning. They’re the reason that I go to work, their smiles. They are the reason. You look at them, and you say, “You’re going to be somebody, you’re going to be president, you’re going to be an astronaut.” Whatever I can do to make them excited about school.

"They’re the reason that I go to work, their smiles."

8:20 a.m.: I arrive at school and start prepping for the day. This involves printing out papers, turning on some background jazz music in the classroom, and writing the morning welcome message on the board.

8:30 a.m.: Students arrive in class and begin their morning work. We spend the morning doing English language arts work (e.g., reading aloud, foundational skills, pronouncing letter sounds, etc.) and math in the afternoon (e.g., counting, addition and subtraction, etc.).

As for my teaching, I believe in the consistency and accountability model. I’m consistent in what I say and do, and I hold the kids accountable. And kids listen. The best part of my day is when people ask me, “How did you get these five-year-olds to sit still and learn?” I say, “Because great people do great things, and we’re all great in here.”

3:50 p.m.: Clean-up time! I help students gather their book bags, put on their coats, and tidy up their desks.

4:15 p.m.: It’s time for student dismissal, and I have conversations with parents as they arrive for pick-up.

5:30 p.m.: Prep for tomorrow, which includes getting homework packets together and printing out worksheets for the next day.

6:15 p.m.: Get home, prepare dinner (if I haven’t already meal prepped for the week), and start working on my side business—an independent streetwear clothing brand. I started the streetwear company nine years ago and have been working on it on and off. I started it when my sister passed away. She and I were best friends. I called the clothing brand “Nephew,” as everything I do is for my nephew. I do it to show him that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. I work a day job and have a side hustle so he can learn that it’s never too late, and never too early, to start your path in life.

10 p.m.: It’s bedtime.

“Great people do great things, and we’re all great in here.”

How has your daily routine changed since COVID-19?

Much of the last year has been remote learning. We just returned to the building for the first time last week. Despite going virtual, I’ve tried to keep the students engaged. I sometimes feel like a YouTube character! But what has stayed the same in my teaching is accountability and consistency. Now that we’re back in the classroom, students are still on their computers, so it’s more of a hybrid model. I keep reminding myself to wash my hands, especially when tying shoes, fixing masks, and helping with computers!

How did you get into teaching?

I originally thought I wanted to be an architect. I went to Florida A&M University, and it involved so much math that I changed my major to photography and graduated in the top of my class. The job market was low since I graduated during the recession, and I couldn’t find work. A family friend said, “Hey, do you want a 30-day contract to work with a kid one on one?” I started off as a paraprofessional, and it just kept building from there.

When I began working in schools, I started with students who had behavioral problems. My students could not internalize or process what was going on in their lives, and I was able to get them to stay calm, redirect them, and make sure they learned. Because if you’re not on task at school, you’re not learning, and if you’re not learning, you’re not growing. How can you be great?

What’s your teaching philosophy?

I don’t think people really understand how important teaching philosophies are to education. If you’re consistent with everything you do, you have the same routine, and you are on it, the day you’re not consistent and the kids aren’t behaving the way you want them to will make you sit back and say to yourself, “It was me.” I have a few of those days. One of them was yesterday. You can’t blame the students. They are children. They are supposed to make mistakes, and mistakes help them grow. If you’re not allowing them to make mistakes or having one-one-one conversations with them about how they shouldn’t be having those behaviors, then you’re doing them a disservice. I always ask myself: If that was your child, did you teach them effectively enough? Did you give them the education that you’d want someone to give your child?

“I always ask myself: If that was your child, did you teach them effectively enough? Did you give them the education that you’d want someone to give your child?”

If you don’t change it up, the students get complacent, and their brains start getting bored. They find other things to do, and they get off track. If you’re on task, then they’ll be on task. Every interaction that you have with this child impacts their future. If you read like a robot, then they’re not going to like reading. If you don’t pause and explain to them, give them strategies, listen to them, and try to figure out how they learn, then you’re not really teaching them.

“Every interaction that you have with this child impacts their future.”

I feel like the education system is set up so that people who don’t have money don’t get a quality education. Education has a property tax. If you live in an area with socioeconomic disadvantages, then the resources for your school are probably low. But I can try to give [all students] the education that others have access to. I want students to understand that this is their power, that knowledge is power. Someone can take anything from you—they can take your clothes, everything—but if you have the know-how to get it back, then you don’t worry about that. I’m trying to give them that freedom. Education is freedom. The more you know, the more you grow. The more you know, the more you earn. Knowledge is power, and I truly believe that.

“Education is freedom. The more you know, the more you grow. The more you know, the more you earn. Knowledge is power, and I truly believe that.”

The plan was to give 10 years of myself to education. I always told myself it wouldn’t be forever . . . but what happened was the kids. It took more kids saying to me, “Don’t quit until I graduate eighth grade!” And then another one said it. To be able to make that impact . . . there are not many Black male teachers, so when students see somebody who looks like them and somebody who's excited about learning, talks to them, and relates to them, you see the growth.

About the Series

In our “A Teacher’s Day in the Life” series, we honor and follow educators as they move through a typical day—as typical as a teacher’s day gets, that is.

Individual teachers from across the country and from a variety of backgrounds and specialties take readers from first bell to lights out. Along the way, readers learn about their classroom rituals, what motivates them, their mantras and mottos, why they do what they do, and more.

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