Faces of 501: Jennifer Odermatt
Updated: Dec 13, 2018
Jennifer Odermatt is the lead teacher of an Early Learning Community classroom at Sheldon Head Start. Odermatt is in her sixth year of teaching for Topeka Public Schools, and has a background in elementary education. Her classroom is designed to enhance diversity in early childhood learning, where she and four other teachers foster an environment of creativity and diversity.
"ELC is a specific grant that was designed to encourage and enhance diversity in early childhood learning communities. Our classroom is made up of students who are considered financially in poverty, and children who are not necessarily in poverty. There are children in our classroom who have specific identified needs, and then there are students who don't have identified needs. We work really hard in this program to make sure we have a diverse population in the classroom."
Her energy for teaching preschool is evident in the creativity she uses in her classroom, teaching more than academics to her students. On the day of the interview, her classroom was having a pajama party to celebrate filling their "Warm Fuzzies Jar," a method of positive reinforcement when good behavior is displayed. They earn a warm fuzzy when the class as a whole is cooperating towards a goal, taking turns or when someone notices an act of kindness.
"My favorite part of my job is the "ah-hah" moments. The other day I had a friend (student) who was struggling with scissors, and he clamped down the middle of a piece of paper, and when he managed to cut all the way down the middle of the piece of paper, he jumped up and said "I did it! I did it!" And he held up both pieces of paper, and he knew in the past he had cut his paper by tearing through it, but he had cut through it. And that's where it comes from. That's where my energy comes from."
"I know absolutely that one of the impacts we are having on our students is that they are having a lot of experiences with other children that they may not have had experiences with in the past. We have children with autism in this classroom, we have children with speech and language needs, and they are friends and running together on the playground."
Odermatt believes that the collaboration and partnership she has with her fellow teachers allows their classroom to function in a way that benefits each of their students, despite what background they may come from.
"Our classroom really doesn't look any different than any other classroom in this building. There's nothing different or special about this particular classroom other than we have added staff. We have an extra para and a special education teacher to meet the needs of such a diverse population of students. One of the purposes of the grant is to see and to point out that when programs have the appropriate support, and when they have the collaborative teaching co-teaching that the special education teacher and I have, that kids can be integrated successfully and that it is mutually beneficial for all of the children in the classroom."
"I've always wanted to be a teacher. I had a childhood that was rough. I had a lot of trauma in my childhood and school was my safe haven. School was how I survived. I've always felt safe in school, and so it was very natural for me to want to work in a school and to want to spend my adult life in school. It was my safe place and I wanted to make it a safe place for other people."
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