Ellie Ienatsch says she works with miracles in the making. A first-grade teacher at Grant Elementary School in the Murray School District, Ienatsch spend her days with 6- and 7-year-olds.
"A child's capacity to learn is a wondrous miracle ranking up there with spiders spinning webs and plants making their own food," she said.Ienatsch is a former high school English teacher. But she came to realize that the way to turn out students who are strong in English was to work with them in the beginning of their school careers. So 18 years ago, after seven years in high school classrooms, Ienatsch switched from secondary to elementary education.
Her teaching style is what she calls child-guided education a way of involving the child in his own instruction.
"The mind of a 7-year-old is just fantastic. It's truly amazing what a child can learn. Children can go a lot faster than a general curriculum will take them," she said.
To keep youngsters learning at their capacity, her charges help decide their own lessons. Ienatsch selects lesson units, but the children often dictate the subjects for the day-to-day instruction.
For instance, her pupils recently read "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." That led to the class writing its own story about a vacation trip. They continually write stories because Ienatsch believes writing and daily phonics instruction are indispensable to teaching children to be strong readers.
But no one should think that her 25 charges, with all of the reading and writing that they do, are tied to their desks. In the middle of discussing their trip story, she took them out to the playground to pace out the story's directions, giving them another spontaneous lesson.
"Education can be so much fun. I wish we had our own bus so we could just climb in and go do all sorts of fun, educational things," she said. Because of tight educational budgets, Ienatsch reported, field trips have almost become a thing of the past in Utah elementary schools.
Ienatsch's teaching style means that she plans out her lessons only a day in advance. She disagrees with teacher-training programs that suggest a teacher write out lesson plans for the week, month or term. "That's deadly. Then the teacher is teaching to the lesson plans and isn't paying attention to the children."
Another integral part of her approach is immediate evaluation. "What children produce one day must get back to them the next day with lots of personal `hurrahs' as well as suggestions for improvement," she said.
"If you don't evaluate them right away, they'll quickly lose interest," she added.
Besides having strong opinions about teaching techniques, Ienatsch believes that Utah needs more creative solutions than raising taxes to fund education. She would like to see a threefold program a reduction in the amount allowed on the annual income tax exemption for each school-child, a lottery and a heavy sales tax on candy, gum, ice cream and soft drinks. "Nobody really needs to eat that stuff, and a higher price will simply make it more tempting." Angie Hutchinson