WoFo’s Teacher Spotlight is on JiIl Vaz

WoFo’s Teacher Spotlight features awesome educators who are dedicated to teaching and inspiring young people everyday.

In this edition, WoFo features first grade teacher, chocolate lover and one of my former students Jill Vaz. I would like to thank Jill for her interview and for her dedication to the teaching profession.

…when you forget where you are and what is going on in the world around you- it’s just you and your students lost in the moment of learning.


Besides being a teacher Jill Vaz is….

An avid runner, beach lover, chocolate eating, shopping and organization enthusiast!

Where do you currently teach, what do you teach and for how long?

It is my third year teaching first grade at Sharon School in Robbinsville, New Jersey and I absolutely love it! Recently, I have also taken on the role as one of our K-5 math coaches. I have found a new passion for writing math curriculum and working alongside colleagues to establish the best mathematical teaching practices in the classroom. Sharon School is not necessarily new to me. I am so fortunate to be working with all the teachers that made me fall in love with learning at my old elementary school!

What is your favorite lesson to teach and why?

Typically my favorite lessons are those that bring me by surprise and do not turn out as planned. Or even the lessons when you forget where you are and what is going on in the world around you- it’s just you and your students lost in the moment of learning.

Although if I had to choose a specific lesson that is my favorite, it would be the introduction to place value in math. It begins when my students are interested in asking about all my favorite things at the beginning of the year. I mention how zero is my favorite number. They’re usually surprised by my response and I assure them that eventually I will explain why. Every winter when it comes time to teach the place value unit, I ask if they are finally ready to find out why zero is my favorite number. I take out a special book to read,  Zero the Hero by Tom Litchenheld and Amy Krouse Rosenthal, which helps me to share the message to my students of the importance of zero. It’s not just a big old round nothing, it’s actually the coolest number in math! It saves the place for all the other numbers, allowing us to have numbers larger than 9. Then zero quickly becomes their hero and I have a class full of students intrigued by the wonders of math- my favorite!

If for one day you were in charge of your school what would you do?

If I were given the opportunity to be in charge of my school for a day, I would encourage everyone to slow down- myself included. I would encourage all to listen to their student’s conversations at snack time, ask what they did over the weekend, pay attention to who’s using the bathroom all the time during writer’s workshop, or eat lunch with colleagues in the faculty room instead of in front of the copier. It’s only natural that with the pressure of today’s high paced society and the recent high demands in education, we as teachers feel the need to teach as much as we can as fast as we can. I feel it would be nice if everyone slowed down and paid more attention to the little details.

If you could write one quote on the board for your students what would it be?

“Make someone’s day today.”  -Steven J. Mayer

If you weren’t a teacher, what would you be?

If I weren’t a teacher I would, without question, be a meteorologist! If you know me personally, this may not come as a surprise. I am an avid watcher of the Weather Channel (for fun) and Al Roker is one of my biggest idols! I have always been intrigued by extreme weather and enjoy being able to tell the weather forecast to my family and friends. I’m lucky enough to be able to share this passion with my students during our Air and Weather science unit.

What advice would you give to all new teachers?

Unfortunately I can’t claim it as my own but a fellow veteran teacher once told me, your students won’t adapt to you, you need to adapt to your students. Your first year and every year, you will need to modify and adjust your classroom structure and routines to best fit the needs of your students. This might mean trying something three, four or even five times before it works!

If the best thing about teaching is the students, what’s the second best thing?

The second best thing is most definitely their families! I have been fortunate enough to have nothing but the most supportive families. They have done more than just donating supplies and their time in the classroom, they have opened up their families and invited me into their lives. In my three years of teaching I have attended soccer games, birthday parties, communions, pool parties and baseball games. I am blessed with their constant appreciation and without that, my job wouldn’t be possible!

Who inspires you?

This is a difficult question for me to answer and I think it’s because their are so many people that inspire me each and everyday. Growing up, I always admired my teachers. I distinctly remember I would go home and imitate them because I wanted to be just like them- so compassionate, happy and knowledgeable. That’s ultimately how I chose my profession. My cooperating teacher from student teaching, Mrs. Deb Smith, has had a huge impact on the teacher that I am- her positive attitude and love of learning is infectious. I continue to look up to my mom and my sister, two dominate and fearless female role models, and my dad reminds me how to be patient, gentle, honest and kind. All of which are crucial when working with six and seven year olds.

My classroom superpower is…

My classroom superpower is color because I love to bring everything to life, whether it be in my lesson, my activities, my materials or my classroom design. Vibrant colors create a positive and inviting environment, which cultivates an enthusiastic and engaged community of learners. I want to color the lives of my students and I hope that this is how they remember me as their teacher.

Connect with Jill…

Blog: thefirstgrademade.blogspot.com

Instagram: @firstgrade_made

Twitter: @missjillianvaz