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SONIC Limeades for Learning July Teacher of the Month: Fostering Growth Through Creative Expression and Meaningful Connections

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July Teacher of the Month Adam Bernstein (Miami, FL) values his students’ growth in the classroom through creative freedom and making real connections with one another. Learn how receiving funding support through SONIC Limeades for Learning allowed his virtual-learning students to receive access to the same creative opportunities as their in-person classmates throughout the pandemic. Mr. Bernstein also shares advice for other teachers who wish to have a classroom project funded.

Who or what inspired you to become a teacher? 

I have always been interested in education since I was a little kid. When I was in high school, I had the most amazing language arts teacher, Mrs. Fray. She had such a positive impact on my life, even to this day giving me advice as a teacher. If I could have the impact she had on my life with my students, then I know I have changed a student’s life for the better.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

To me the most rewarding part of being a teacher is seeing my students’ growth, such as seeing a student walk into my classroom as a timid little 9th grader and then becoming confident and social by the end of the year. It is the positive impact you have on students’ growth towards college, their future careers, and most importantly supporting students on their journey to become ready for the future is what makes teaching so rewarding.

What advice do you have for fellow educators? 

Get to know your students – teaching is so much more than just teaching content. Building relationships and supporting your students’ growth and development is so much more than what is in a textbook. When you know your students, you can teach in a more engaging and relevant way that captures their attention.

If you could give any advice to yourself as a first-year teacher, what would it be? 

Ignore the pressures that are put on you as a first-year teacher to be the ‘perfect’ teacher, because perfection does not exist. If you are doing what is best for your students and creating a student-centered classroom in which students want to come to class, that is what it is about. Everything else will come together. Also, go out there into the community and visit your students outside of school time. If a student in your class plays a sport, go and cheer them on, and if your student has a job go visit and support them. At the end of the day our students support us at our job so why not do the same.

What are some of your go-to ways to encourage students to engage in the classroom?

Teaching in a way that is relevant and tailored to my students helps me keep student engagement. Open ended projects that allow students to share their creativity, personality, and what their career ambitions are is what I believe makes for an engaging classroom. As a Computer Science teacher, when my students learn about coding, they create and design an app of their choice and have creative freedom. In their code, they are using what we have learned in class.

What professional relationship(s) have you found most beneficial in your teaching career?

Building relationships with teachers within and outside of your school is beneficial. Being an elective teacher there is usually one Computer Science teacher in the school building. Being able to build relationships with other teachers throughout the district, state and even beyond has allowed for me to learn best practices, gain advice and feedback to improve as a teacher. Within the school, we are all there for the success of our students and having a relationship with your colleagues has allowed for me to better support my students not just in my class but also in their core classes.

What is your favorite project that has received funding from SONIC Drive-In, and why?

During the high of the COVID-19 pandemic, students who were at home wanted to feel more connected to their classmates who were in-person and the learning that was taking place in the classroom. To support both learners, in person and online, we posted a project for an iPad with an Apple Pencil so that way the iPad could be used as a whiteboard that was shared on our smart board in class and the student on Zoom could see what was happening, and this allowed for our online students to connect with their in-person classmates. Thank you to Sonic, DonorsChoose, and the donors who brought this project to life.

What are some of the notable classroom needs you and your fellow teachers might have right now where funding support could help?

Now more than ever technology projects are crucial in order to keep learning more accessible and engaging for students. Teaching has evolved and it is important that we are allowing students to use technology that they will use in the real world. Food projects are also important, as across the country we have students who go to school for the only meal they will receive that day, so having snacks and drinks in your classroom is so important to ensure students are fed, can concentrate, and are engaged.

What tips do you have for fellow educators who want to upload a project on DonorsChoose for the first time?

Go for it. DonorsChoose is an amazing organization with partners that want to support you and your students. Create a small project under $600 that will have a positive impact in your classroom. Share your project on social media to get exposure.

This story is part of an ongoing series.