GARNER — For Laurie Bubenik, kindergarten doesn’t start when students first walk into her Vandora Springs classroom. She reaches out well before then to begin the process, especially in a new era of rising expectations for a grade level percieved as more of an alphabet-learning playtime.
“As soon as I know the names of the kids in my class, I try to call parents two times before we meet face to face, ask about their child,” Bubenik said. “People think kindergarten is just to play.”
Wake County named Bubenik one of 26 semifinalists for 2014 Teacher of the Year, a first for the 12-year veteran of Vandora Springs.
The Texas native who moved to North Carolina in 1993 has taught kindergarten for the vast majority of her career, and it’s a position that her boss said suits her personality well.
“She is a teacher that is very positive, high-energy, very enthusiastic about teaching and working with kids and making sure that all students are showing growth and meeting thteir needs,” Vandora SPrings principal Troy Peuden said. “She does everything she can for each and every student in her classroom.”
Bubenik, who goes by Mrs. B, said she works to make her classroom both fun and challenging. She loves children and relishes watching them grow, often going from not being able to write their own name to writing full sentences and even paragraphs.
“I love my job. I’m lucky every day when I get up to go to work, It’s so rewarding,” Bubenik said.
The implementation of Common Core standards changed the game for many grade levels, and kindergarten proved no exception. In a way, it may have changed it more fundamentally than other levels.
“It used to be kindergarten was some naptime and lot of playtime,” Peuden said. “It’s totally opposite now. Instruction takes place from the moment they walk in to the moment they leave.”
Bubenik said her kids didn’t have to know anything, and when they left they needed to be able to know their letters and count to 10. Now, they’re asked to know the letters and count before they even arrive, though many don’t.
Bubenik has worked hard to make the learning fun and appropriate for her students developmental level. She earned a home economics degree that included some study of child development.
“Kindergarten used to be play, which is really good; that’s what kids should be doing at that age. Now it’s that socializing and language plus all that Common Core and learning,” she said. “I think it’s great that we have rigorous expectations, but I just wish it would be developmentally appropriate.”
Nevertheless, she works to do her job, and that job now includes getting students prepared for the Common Core requirements of first grade.
She says parental involvement is key, which is why she tries to reach out as early as possible. She emphasizes not just problems, but positives, and wants to make sure concerned parents feel comfortable leaving their most treasured possession with her.
“It’s important to extend to parents, keep them informed of everything going on, and not just tell them the things they’re struggling with but the things they do well,” Bubenik said.
Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland