Read Time: 14 minutes
Watching Brooke Goff (BS '13) with the students in her first-grade class would renew your hope in the future. Our public schools can be places where children are cared for and expertly instructed in the essentials for today's world. And in Goff's classroom, you can sense that those children are nurtured particularly through her gentle ways.
It is 9:00 a.m., and the second shift of extended-day students is arriving in classroom 109 just inside the entrance at Fox Hollow Elementary School in Lehi, Utah. But even though there are 15 new students entering the room, there is barely a disruption, and the learning doesn't seem to slow.
The Early Birds, Goff's first group of 13 students, have been here since 7:55 a.m. and are now quietly working independently on iPads secured through a grant their teacher arranged. As the 9:00 children enter the classroom, Goff's soft, soothing voice keeps the room surprisingly calm. Tall and slender with long blond hair, she bends to welcome the small pupils. The children slip into their desks, and, except for a few welcoming whispers, there is not much interruption.
The children respond quickly to the classroom cues they are clearly familiar with. Goff first calls the red triangle group to the "sit spots" at the front of the room and then calls the other groups. After they gather for a moment, they stand and repeat the Pledge of Allegiance. They move on to the calendar and weather. Today will be a classmate's birthday celebration. Together they recite a rhyme about the clock. There is counting by twos, fives, and tens, and then the students practice sounds and letters: "L, I, leaf. T, t, turtle."
Kind and Quiet from the Beginning
"I knew from the very first time I met Mrs. Goff that she cared deeply about her students," says Jennifer Rampton, whose fifth child was in Goff's class. "I feel that if the teacher really cares, no matter what happens academically, the child will have a successful year. !fl had to choose two words to describe Mrs. Goff, they would be kind and quiet. She was always listening and responding to the students around her-and not just to what they were saying but to their body language and general mood as well."
"Just by being in the room and observing her, you can see she is very patient," agrees her principal, Darrin Johnson (BS '96, MS '01). "She has many activities going on with the kids at once, but she knows where they are at. She will get down on their level and read with them, listen to them, and give them a hug if they need it. She just loves the kids. She just loves being around them."
Goff has long known the value of a gentle teacher. In recent conversations with her mother, she has been remembering her own experience as a child in the grade she now teaches. "I actually had two first-grade teachers because we moved," Goff says. "The first one I hated. I hated going to school, and I started stuttering. When we moved, my mom gave the teacher a heads-up that I had been having a hard time. Within a week the teacher told my mom that she didn't have anything to worry about. This new teacher was so loving and kind. I still remember her long curly hair. This really showed me that one teacher could make a difference."
Fellow first-grade teacher Marlyce Andersen (BS '87) says Goff is frequently sharing ideas and volunteering. One place she serves is on the school's Teachers Assisting Teachers committee to help other teachers with classroom challenges. That team provides insights and ideas for helping children who fall behind or who might need help with emotional or behavior issues.
"One of my favorite ideas that she shared was she would talk to the class about what they were doing well and what they needed to work on," Andersen says. "They would write a weekly goal as a class and display it on a board. They worked on it all week and checked in daily to see how they were doing. Including the students in this kind of decision-making helped build a strong class community."
Now it is time for news with the small scholars. Hands are raised and stories are told of new shoes and play dates planned for after school. Then they stand up for a "brain break" video. While the kids get in some quick movements and jumping, Goff places papers on each desk-a spelling test and two large manila folders glued together.
As the students return to their desks, Goff reminds them to keep their eyes on their own papers and to keep their voices off. Then, at the "go," they are to stand up the folders as shields to block wandering eyes.
"By: My friend lives by my house."
"As: My hands are as cold as ice."
Then there are harder words. "Tree: There is a tree just outside our classroom."
Next, those words are combined, and the children write short sentences. The room is silent, the air is tense, and small fingers tightly grip pencils, but there is an obvious satisfaction when the exam is over. Goff congratulates them for completing the day's only test.
Support from Home
Back at the gathering spot, it is time for a talk about tackling tough things. Some students had a difficult time with learning about place values. It was a new and challenging concept, and some children gave up. "But we don't give up and quit when we try hard things. When we try hard things, our brains get stronger, like muscles," Goff says.
"I was talking to Mr. Goff," she continued. "And he said that one of the most important things to learn in life is that we can ask for help when we are stuck."
It is not surprising that Goff's husband, Matt, has some helpful guidance for the kids. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in education. The couple met while teaching at this school when she started in 2014; he was a sixth-grade teacher.
"When the principal interviewed me," Goff says, "he had already hired someone else. But he had a strong feeling that he should hire me. He called Human Resources and canceled the first name."
The Goffs were married at the end of that school year and continued teaching at Fox Hollow the next year. The following year Mr. Goff had a temporary administrative position. He is now teaching sixth grade 12 miles away at Sage Hills Elementary School in Saratoga Springs.
Goff admits that having a two-teacher household has its pros and cons. "A big plus is the understanding that we have for how hard our jobs are," she says. "When one of us comes home tired or frustrated, we completely understand why. It is a lot easier to be empathetic. A lot of teachers that I know have spouses that just don't understand how tiring and trying teaching can be, so it is really nice to have someone who does. We also can share ideas and help each other out with things. A downside is that teachers don't make a lot of money, so it probably is nicer for teachers who are married to someone who has a bit higher salary."
STEM Time with Art Integration
A bit later it is time for both math and a science project. The two tasks are explained.
The math assignment explores four ways to write a number-as a number, with words, expanded, and with a picture. Each student will use dice to select numbers; then they will fill out their worksheets.
Goff reminds them of an earlier science discussion a bout penguins. The emperor penguin is the tallest. While they are working on their math papers, each child will be measured to see if they are taller or shorter than an emperor penguin.
The children return to their desks and use their own dice to complete their papers. Now it is noisier. The dice clatter on desks, and quiet chatter about penguin sizes sometimes gets excited.
The red square group is chosen earliest because they were working quietly. The first child is taller than an emperor penguin, the next three are shorter, but the last is the same height. Each child places a square in a pocket chart to show their height relationship, resulting in a graph of the heights.
Goff takes time for some art integrated with the science project. Each child is to draw a picture of themselves with a penguin, making sure to have the proportions correct. And because penguins live in a cool climate, they should use only cool colors in their pictures.
"What are the cool colors?" Goff asks. The students decide their drawings should have lots of blue, purple, and black.
Art is something that Goff values. Although there is no room in the curriculum for official art instruction, she believes it is important.
"I really enjoy art. I want to make sure every child has a chance to experience it."
Art skills are also developed as the students craft birthday cards. Sample text is on the board, but illustrators can get creative. Some do quick scribbles while others take their time. And there is one smiling birthday girl who glories in the day.
`At 2:15 p.m. the Early Birds head home, and Goff is left with the 15 Later Gators. Goff thinks the extended-day structure serves the community well. It is flexible for families. She uses the beginning and ending parts of the day, when there are fewer students, for small reading groups, giving the students more one-on-one attention.
Reading is one time of the day when Goff remembers how her McKay School classes impacted her. "My favorite class was my children's literature class, "she says. "I already had a love for reading, but it opened my eyes to the importance that books play in the lives of children, and I have definitely implemented books into my teaching."
All through the long day Goff stays calm and is gentle, helping students through some rough spots and collaborating with her fellow teachers. Then there will be some downtime when she and Mr. Goff can talk things over and prepare for another day, helping more children learn.
"We face many issues in education, and we all do the best we can with what we are given," sums up coteacher Marlyce Andersen. "Brooke in particular seems to always face the challenges with a smile and a positive attitude. She is always ready to see the bright and funny side and cheers the rest of us on."
With teachers like Goff, students all around the country are carefully taught and loved through life's little challenges. And that helps make the world a better place for children and the rest of us.
Written by Cynthia Glad
Photography by Bradley Slade