Setting expectations: A day in the life of a kindergarten class with Littlejohn’s Tracy Paszotta

Littlejohn Elementary School kindergarten teacher Tracy Paszotta talks to Liam Alvarez during small group time in class Monday, March 28, 2022, at the school in DeKalb.

DeKALB – Upon their return from spring break recently, several kindergarteners at Littlejohn Elementary School met their teacher Tracy Paszotta at the classroom door and hugged her, one by one.

As they embraced their teacher, some students exclaimed, “I missed you!” Paszotta returned the hugs with a jubilant, “I missed you, too!”

One child told Paszotta before class that Monday morning that he had learned how to tie his shoes, which earned him a high five from Paszotta.

“That makes my heart so very happy,” Paszotta told him.

Tracy Paszotta, a kindergarten teacher at Littlejohn Elementary School, welcomes her students back from spring break the morning of Monday, March 28, 2022, at the school in DeKalb.

The school day with Paszotta began with carpet time, when kindergarteners took turns sharing one fun thing they did during their weeklong break. One classmate, who entered the room late after a two-week vacation, was met with cheers and applause from his peers.

The students then broke into reading and writing groups, before heading off to music class. At Littlejohn, music classes are taught in a mobile classroom, a separate structure adjacent to the school building which requires students and teachers to bundle up for a walk across the blacktop on cool mornings.

Though Paszotta’s class was a few minutes early — keeping them outside a while longer — she kept her kindergarteners busy with an impromptu game of “Follow the Leader,” using cracks in the blacktop pavement as her path.

Littlejohn paraprofessional Jenni Keller, who works in Paszotta’s classroom, said that’s not uncommon for Paszotta.

“Just to get the wiggles out,” Keller said.

With her students safely in music class, Paszotta returned to her classroom to organize student folders at a table surrounded by child-sized chairs. It’s her 30th year teaching. She said she loves it because she gets to set students’ expectations for how they should behave in school and build a foundational model for their education.

The things her students say is also a favorite of her job, Paszotta said.

She recalled one time when she told her students about traveling to Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865 while watching a play. It was a lesson for the kindergarten teacher in language, she said. She quickly learned to phrase her words more carefully but for the ears of children.

She said she later heard a child tell their mom, “Mrs. Paszotta was there and saw the whole thing,” referring to Lincoln’s assassination.

“It makes me laugh,” Paszotta said with a chuckle. “Their energy is fun.”

As Paszotta’s students returned from music class and their kindergarten day continued, Paszotta’s colleague came to visit. Littlejohn special education teacher Mary Lynn Buckner said she agrees when others say that watching Paszotta teach is “watching a master at work.” Buckner called the kindergarten teacher a consummate professional with the patience of a saint.

“If there was a model for a perfect teacher,” Buckner said, “it would be her.”