Teacher of the Week: Carissa Culbertson

Carissa Culbertson has adjusted her setup on the fly this year, designing a mount for her laptop on top of a tripod to make classes more engaging for her remote-learning first-graders at Pleasant Acres Elementary School in Rantoul.

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Each week throughout a different-looking 2020-21 school year, we’ll spotlight an area classroom difference-maker. Email nominations to staff writer Anthony Zilis at azilis@news-gazette.com


Carissa Culbertson

First Grade, Pleasant Acres Elementary in Rantoul

In her 18th year of teaching, Carissa Culberson spent her summer studying. Whether she was watching videos on remote teaching or contacting experts, principal Wendy Starwalt said, she wanted to come into the school year prepared, even before the district knew what direction it was going with in-person learning.

She’s been quick to adjust on the fly after the school year began, Stalwart said, which is part of what makes this Teacher of the Week such a valuable member of her staff.

“Her stand out quality is she never lets the challenges get her down,” Starwalt said. “She starts looking for answers to be the best teacher she can be. When I walk down the hall I can hear all this animated language and learning and it’s just Carissa in front of the camera.”

Here's more:

I find my work important because … I get to have fun and learn everyday with the coolest, funniest group of kids. To think I’m playing a small part in shaping their little minds as they’re soaking up everything around them is a huge honor and blessing.

I became a teacher because … No day is the same and I can’t imagine sitting still everyday. We are constantly trying new things and I have had so many teachers in my life that have inspired me. Some of my best memories of school are because of the fun things my teachers did to make school fun.

My favorite/most unique lesson that I teach is … I love a good experiment where we can really get hands-on and messy! When the kids are excited and take over, that is when the learning happens. STEM projects are my favorite for sure! In the past, we’ve made apple towers, blubber gloves, dissected owl pellets, designed and engineered inventions to solve any problem we can think of, and turned our classroom into a rainforest. I love using a science or social studies topic to create a full unit and pull in the other subjects. The kids are engaged and learn even more.

My most fulfilling moment on the job was … Whenever former Fabulous Firsties tell me something they remember and enjoyed from 1st grade years later...like when they’re graduating high school!

Something else I’m passionate about is … We have to take care of the whole child in order for them to feel safe, supported, and connected. The social-emotional learning is, in my opinion, the most important thing we can provide as educators. Kids have to feel safe in order to learn. Using Conscious Discipline in my classroom has helped me remember that and keep it at the center of my daily practice.

My favorite teacher (please include what school) and subject to study in school was … That’s such a hard question! Mrs. Bradley in second grade at St. Mary’s School in Sterling, Ill. was my very first favorite teacher. She always let me stay and help her with things and it made me feel so special and connected. Mr. Underwood at Challand Junior High in Sterling made math real by assigning us careers complete with paychecks, taxes, and a checkbook we had to balance daily. And Mr. Armstrong also at Challand Junior High in Sterling made science so fun with lots of projects and experiments.

I engage students during this strange time by … Doing everything I can to make learning fun and real. Virtual is so tricky but having the belief that it can work is important. I’ve learned by watching other teachers online, asking questions, and trying new things. Lots of songs, movement, and incorporating projects whenever I can has helped keep things fun. know when we’re having fun the kids are feeling safe and cared for, which results in the right environment to learn.

If I weren’t a teacher, I would be … I used to think I wanted to be a meteorologist because I love weather and science, but I’ve always joked that I need to work somewhere I shop a lot to get a discount. Health and fitness are also a passion of mine so I have worked to support other women to be healthy inside and out.