The Alfred P. Sloan Teaching Champion Award honors teachers in the New York Metropolitan area who have displayed excellence and innovation in their classrooms while teaching economics and personal finance. Recently, CEE asked Wendy Garcia-Buchanan some questions to find out more about the award winner and her success in the classroom. See what Wendy told us about her work innovating economics and personal finance education while keeping the attention of a room full of 9 year-olds.
CEE: How has your teaching style evolved through your career? What do you like best about 4th graders? What’s your biggest challenge?
Wendy Garcia-Buchanan: My teaching is constantly changing. During the past several years, many of the families of my students have immigrated to the United States from Mexico. Teaching the 4th grade curriculum to students with little or no English language proficiency can be most challenging, and finding ways to engage these learners while reaching the needs of all my students can be overwhelming.
Fourth graders are typically selfless individuals who are sensitive to their peers. If they are having fun, they learn and love to share what they know. My years of experience have taught me that I’m not the only teacher in the classroom. Kids learn from other kids, and I’ve learned to let go of that role at times, and the results have been amazing!
CEE: Do you feel that one lesson in particular resonates with your students? If so, why do you think that is?
WGB: Any of my lessons that have students making connections to their real world resonates with them. At the age of 9 or 10 years old, children love to share their knowledge with their classmates and families. When a child can contribute to the conversations in the classroom and at the kitchen table, they feel empowered. Adult conversations are no longer limited to the adults when their child comes home from school and can speak about a particular stock he added to his portfolio that day, or how his checkbook has the highest balance in the class.
CEE: What has been the most surprising thing about your teaching career? Was there a challenge or a benefit that you didn’t see coming?
WGB: After teaching for 19+ years, I have realized that I am truly my biggest critic. Because of this, I am constantly looking to improve as a teacher and to find new and exciting ways to teach concepts to my students. Wanting my students to enjoy their time while in school and understanding that unless they are having fun they’re not learning, has always been a constant challenge. My self-worth as a teacher is dependent upon whether or not I can go home each day knowing that my students were having fun while learning. I have been told that I’m a great teacher, but I’m always questioning if what I’ve done in the classroom worked. When I worked in a bank as a branch manager, before becoming a teacher, I never once left my desk at the end of the day wondering if I was the best banker I could be! Teaching has changed all of that for me. Now, I question everything that I do because I know that each and every day I have a direct effect on my customers – my students.
CEE: Teaching is a physically and emotionally challenging profession, what keeps you going at your best year after year?
WGB: Being an elementary school teacher requires that the person in front of the classroom be a “master” in every subject; math, reading, writing, science, social studies and technology. Teaching these subjects time and time again, year after year, can definitely become boring. In order to approach my job with enthusiasm and vigor, I write grants that allow me to enhance my instruction. The small amount of extra time and effort needed for each application is all worth it especially when ideas are accepted and funded. Averaging approximately one grant per year, allows me to teach the same concepts, but now in a more innovative fun way. Students have an “Adult Radar.” They know when I’m enjoying what I’m teaching.
Recipients of the Sloan Award receive a $5,000 and their school will receive a cash award of $2,500 to use to support economic and financial education. The awards will be presented along with the CEE Visionary Awards at a ceremony on October 22 at The Pierre hotel in New York.
Find out more about the Alfred P. Teaching Champion Awards at www.councilforeconed.org/events/visionary-awards/alfred-p-sloan-teaching-champion-awards/.