Consistency is key in Ruth Cordova’s fifth grade English language arts classroom as she prepares her students for middle school and for the STAAR test.
“The first day of school, they see me, this is what they get, and this is what I expect from them,” she said, “and they’re going to hear it from me every day, my expectations from them.”
While she makes sure her students at Harmony Science Academy in Bryan understand the rules of the classroom, she said, the lessons can still be fun.
This spring, as Cordova’s students prepared for the STAAR test, they became architects as they constructed homes with pieces earned from answering practice test questions correctly. The more difficult a question, the larger the piece they received.
Then, the small group that built their house first got to pick a prize from the class prize box.
“She definitely did build a good classroom environment,” Megan Cutrone, Cordova’s student teacher this spring, said. “That’s definitely one thing that I’ll take into my future classroom is just making sure that my students know that they can count on me and that, yes, we’re here to learn, but we can also have fun while we do it.”
Cordova said one of her favorite things is seeing the students want to read. She also teaches social studies twice a week, but even then reading is reinforced.
Cordova first entered the classroom full time in 2014, but she began substitute teaching in 1998. It was while she was a substitute in Bryan schools that some teachers encouraged her to go back to school to complete her degree and get an alternative teaching certification.
In addition to her time as a substitute, Cordova has worked in Head Start, in child care and day care and in Bryan schools as a tutor and as a teacher’s assistant.
“I always enjoyed working with kids, always,” she said.
In her fifth year at the Harmony campus in Bryan, she said, she enjoys the smaller classroom environment and the connection she is able to form with her students.
“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” she said, noting she and the students have a respect for each other. “You build that respect every year, and every year it’s the same; the kids are different, but they learn from each other. We all make mistakes. We learn from each other.”
With varying reading levels in her class and students from different socioeconomic backgrounds, she said, she encourages all of her students as their confidence builds and they begin participating more.
“Beginning of the year, some kids are really quiet and really don’t want to answer questions or even want to read out loud,” she said. “By the middle of the year, even before that, they’re raising their hands, they’re reading out loud, they’re participating. I really enjoy that. It’s like I’m helping them actually come out of their shell.”
That growth is what she enjoys seeing.
One of the ways Cordova helps encourage that growth is through small groups.
“It almost gave students a sense of security,” Cutrone said. It was that chance the students had to ask questions they might otherwise be too scared or embarrassed to ask in front of the entire class.
She saw how Cordova valued making sure each student received extra attention if needed, even sending home extra reading passages for students who requested.
In addition to working with students in small groups, Cordova holds after-school tutorials, is a sponsor of multiple clubs and works with young teachers who join Harmony’s staff.
It was in the class that Cordova pushed Cutrone out of her comfort zone, having her take over a lesson.
“I never felt like I wasn’t a part of the classroom,” Cutrone said. “I never felt like I was just there to observe. … It was almost as if it was my little classroom for a semester. It was really good. It was a great experience.”
The biggest things Cutrone said she will take away from Cordova are the importance of consistency and trust in the classroom and how to make learning fun while keeping that structure.
“She’s super sweet and very kind,” Cutrone, who finished her junior methods class at Texas A&M this semester, said. “You can tell she cares a lot about, not only her students, but the people that she works with.” “I’m so blessed to be here,” Cordova said. “It’s a thrill and honor to come here every day.”