September 15, 2014
Melody Arabo was selected as the Michigan Teacher of the Year (MTOY) for the 2014-2015 school year. Meemic partners with the Michigan Department of Education in the MTOY program, so we were able to get in touch with Melody for an exclusive interview. Below is the full account of our exchange:
Meemic: Can you outline your teaching experience? (e.g. school, grades, years)
Melody Arabo (MA): I have taught third grade at Keith Elementary for twelve years.
Meemic: Please outline your platform/mission as Michigan Teacher of the Year?
MA: I have two main platforms. Academically, my focus is on Common Core reading instruction with a focus on comprehension strategies. In my classroom, the basis for reading instruction is metacognition and making kids aware of their own thinking.
Socially, my focus is on bully prevention. I was surprised to see bullying happen in third grade early on in my career, and unfortunately, realized it was common and occurred every year. I started to notice patterns and began to fine tune techniques that I could use with students. I introduced different strategies to help students identify bullying behaviors and taught them communication skills to stop the bullying. The main problem I’ve seen is that students do not identify their behaviors as “bullying” because they do not look or act like the bully stereotypes they see on TV and in movies. It is important to teach kids what real bullying looks like.
Meemic: You have previously stated teaching should be transformational/reflect change… Can you give an example of this in your classroom and its positive effects?
MA: I was initially nervous about the shift to the Common Core State Standards. Anything that is new and unfamiliar seems like a big challenge, but I’m always ready to take on new challenges. I began researching the new standards and getting training through many avenues. If I didn’t have the right resources to teach the new standards, I found them online or created them myself. The changes were slow and steady, but they have made a huge impact on my students’ critical thinking and problem solving skills already, so it has been worthwhile to make the transition.
Meemic: What is the biggest change in your classroom from when you first started teaching?
MA: I would say that the biggest change is my deeper knowledge of best practices with curriculum and instruction. I learn so much every year and try to constantly reflect, change, and grow. I know so much more now than when I first began teaching. I am determined to be a better teacher every year and every day.
Meemic: What is (are) the most important thing(s) that your students have taught you?
MA: The most important thing my students have taught me is to have fun. We laugh a lot, we sing and dance a lot, and we have an endless curiosity for the world around us. They keep me young and I always consider myself a third grader at heart.
Meemic: What is your favorite story/event from teaching?
MA: My favorite event is definitely the Michigan Teacher of the Year assembly. The gym was filled with state and district officials, hundreds of current and former students, colleagues, and about 50 of my closest friends and family. The kids were chanting my name after the announcement was made, there were lots of tears and big smiles, and the media caught all of the most incredible moments. It is a day that I will always remember and cherish.
Meemic: Do you have any words of advice for teachers (rookies or veterans)?
MA: My best advice is to stay positive because there is a lot of negativity surrounding the education field and you can’t let that take away your passion. You can’t be successful without a passion for teaching.