It’s early December and Jenise Bartholomew’s classroom is taking on the feeling of Christmas. A Christmas tree is already standing, and a few other Christmas decorations are starting to appear on the walls.
On another wall, each student is spotlighted as a “star student” with a flower that is displayed with their picture. The other students have written something nice about that student on the flower petals.
Outside Bartholomew’s classroom, the walls of the first-grade hallway have been decorated to look like train cars of the Polar Express. The faces of each student appear in each train car window. Bartholomew and the other first-grade teachers stayed after school on Dec. 1 to create the Christmas art installation.
Bartholomew likes her classroom to be colorful and organized, the latter not always an easy task with a room full of first graders. And right now, her classroom has that extra buzz of energy that every classroom in America has right now, during the spirited period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
All in all, the room has a nurturing, caring atmosphere.
This is Bartholomew’s 28th year teaching. She has taught at Lake View Primary her entire teaching career. During her career, she was a reading specialist for two years, teaching students grades first through fifth grade. The other 26 years she taught first and second grade. She currently teaches first grade.
Bartholomew realized she wanted to be a schoolteacher when she was in sixth grade.
“As I finished my school years, I was inspired to be a teacher because of several teachers that taught me,” she said. “Those teachers had a love for learning and for teaching. Education is important to me because I love to learn, and I want to help my students learn and cultivate a love for learning.”
When asked what keeps her motivated, she said with a laugh, “Summer break!”
She’s kidding a little, but as any teacher will tell you, the break is important. Besides allowing her some time to recharge and reflect, it adds a sense of closure and completion to the year just finished, and allows her to move into the mindset of preparing for a new set of students.
Starting a new school year is a part of the job Bartholomew enjoys most.
“I look forward to a new bunch of students each year,” she said.
One of her favorite and most gratifying parts of her job is teaching her first graders reading, math and writing.
“I like seeing the growth each student makes from the beginning of the year to the end,” she said. “Each day is a challenge, and I never get bored. There are always things I can work on to be a better teacher.”
Those words were never truer than during the pandemic.
“I had to learn new technology to teach online, and I had to rethink how to best teach reading, writing and math in an online setting,” Bartholomew said.
“Teaching during the COVID pandemic was a challenge for teachers and for the students,” Bartholomew said. “It was difficult to keep the students engaged and online the whole time. It was hard to do writing assignments and small reading and math groups. Students of this age need to be with other students to learn social skills. It was also difficult for students to use a tablet for many hours daily.”
To make an already challenging situation even more challenging and tiring, Bartholomew was undergoing chemotherapy treatments for cancer at the same time.
“I was not feeling my best some days,” she said.
Every teacher has their favorite times of the year, their favorite classroom or schoolwide activities they look forward to. Bartholomew has events every month that she looks forward to doing with her students.
“Each month I look forward to doing fun things with the students,” she said. “The students like to do art projects and look forward to fun activities.”
In August, Bartholomew looks forward to the beginning of school and getting to know her new students. In September, she enjoys doing a unit on patriotic symbols and a unit on apples where her kids taste different apples and pick their favorite.
In October, she loves doing the Halloween parade and party. In November, she likes creating Thanksgiving placemats with food, and the Balloon Regatta. In December, it’s Christmas stockings, Christmas Around the World, Polar Express, Beehive Home caroling to elderly residents, and the school play.
In January, her class makes Snowflake snowmen. In February, she looks forward to the Valentine’s Day party and making face silhouettes. In March, her classroom hatches chicks in an incubator. In April, they hatch butterflies and do Read Across America, and in May, there are fun field trips to Dinosaur Museum and hiking at Toadstools.
“Jenise is an excellent teacher in every aspect,” said Lake View Primary Principal Brian Henderson. “She is kind, caring and has high expectations for all her kids. The systems and operations she carries out on a daily basis are flawless, from her whole group instruction to the activities kids do during their small group work time. She is a true leader in this building.”