Joy Mack ’21 interviewed Elementary School Teacher Ms. Natasha Koltypin, who has taught both Kindergarten and first grade since starting at TASIS in 2015 and believes it is essential to forge a personal connection with each student.
When did you start at TASIS, what do you teach, and what else are you involved with at the School?
I started teaching at TASIS in August of 2015. I was hired to be a Kindergarten teacher and a Middle School dorm parent, and I now teach first grade. I also became the assistant basketball coach for the High School Varsity Girls team.
What led you to pursue a career in education?
Teaching has always been in the cards for me, but prior to teaching I also had a degree in Information Systems and Business, so I worked as a business analyst and computer programmer for several years. At that time, though, I often volunteered as a coach or led trainings for new hires at my workplace. I enjoyed that work, but I always felt like something was missing. My mom was a teacher for as long as I can remember, and she would always tell me that teaching is in my blood. So, she was partially the inspiration to switch careers. And I’ve now been teaching for 11 years.
How would you describe your teaching philosophy?
During every school year and with every student, I try to make a personal connection. In my classroom, I work hard at making sure it is a nurturing atmosphere. I also want my students to feel like they are safe, and I personally promote self-inquiry where they can explore and make mistakes. I also work hard to make a personal connection because I want to understand what the student enjoys learning, and that helps build mutual respect between the student and the teacher. I feel like, after that, they also become more engaged in the lessons. As a life-long learner myself, my goal is always to epitomize Brad Henry, who said, “A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.”
What do you like most about working at TASIS?
As a teacher, I feel that it is important to challenge myself, to try new strategies, and to think of new ways to enhance the curriculum and make it more meaningful for the students. Teaching internationally, especially at TASIS, has helped me to grow both as a person and as an educator because each day I gain a better understanding of what it means to be a global citizen. Also, the students that I meet in my various positions—in the Elementary School classroom, in the Middle School dorm, and on the High School basketball court—all have different experiences. I like to draw from those unique experiences and encourage them to use their life experiences and background knowledge to add to what we’re learning.
In general, I love TASIS because it is a beautiful place. I love my colleagues here. I enjoy getting to know the students and working with them, and I think TASIS is a place where everyone appreciates everyone else’s new ideas. We increase our mindsets that way and learn to be responsible, compassionate, global citizens.
What are some fundamental ideas you try to implement with your students at such a young age?
My teaching experience has taught me that, no matter where they come from or what background they have, children love and need hands-on experiences just to understand a concept. In my 11 years of teaching different stages of primary school, what I’ve learned is that morals and life lessons are important to help children feel supported and cared for. Then, once they feel this way, they’re able to open up and learn in the classroom. Also, as my teaching career continues and I attend different workshops, I am learning that children are unique and, at times, need change just like our teaching methods and curriculum do.
What do you enjoy about teaching at this level?
I enjoy teaching at the Elementary School level because the students give you unconditional love, and it is exciting for me, as a teacher, to see the excitement surrounding that moment when they understand a new concept. They get very emotional, and it is like a light bulb went on. So for a teacher to see that, it is very rewarding.
Ms. Koltypin with her 2019 class (grade one)
How important is it for you to stimulate a good relationship between yourself and your students’ parents?
Developing a healthy relationship with parents is important, especially at this age, because they are so young and the parents want to know what’s happening. It helps to make a home and school life connection, or build that bridge, because the children’s learning only grows and becomes better when the parents know what’s happening. If you send out weekly newsletters, send pictures to them, or let them know if something happened that day, you are just helping them grow as learners by making that connection with the parents involved.
Is there one student or situation you will never forget?
I had a student in Kindergarten who was struggling to learn her letters and letter sounds while the rest of the class was moving at a quicker pace. This was partially due to an issue she endured with her sight. So, I helped her during class, often working with her one-on-one, and would work with her a little bit after school. I helped her develop the mindset that she was determined to learn and grow no matter how much she felt like she couldn’t. This age requires the student to have confidence in themselves. Working with her and instilling that positive mindset that she could do it, and finally seeing her believe in herself to the point that she was able to learn her letters and letter sounds and then move on to being able to read, was magic. She would be so excited—she would come in with a bright and happy face every day!
What advice would you give an incoming Elementary School teacher who is newly adjusting to teaching a young age group?
Number one, I would say that as much as you are overwhelmed with everything, try to enjoy it because it is your first year teaching—so take it all in. Second, get a good night’s sleep every night because it really affects how you teach and the way you react. I would also say that when you start off teaching, every teacher wants to be perfect at everything, but it is impossible, so pick one thing to focus on and do your best at that one thing. I would lastly say to reflect a lot and be patient with yourself and the kids—and find that sense of humor because there are days in which you are going to need it!
What are some things you reflect on as a teacher?
I constantly reflect on several things. I reflect on whether the kids understood the lesson. Also, I reflect on whether I could’ve taught the lesson in a more engaging, realistic, or meaningful way. Lastly, I reflect on whether I need to teach the lesson again the following day. I feel as though one difference between the Elementary School and the High School is that, as an Elementary School teacher, I am constantly reflecting on classroom management as I strive to make each lesson go as smoothly as possible.