Janet Moritz teaches the sounds of letters, the value of numbers and how to recognize shapes and colors in her dual-language kindergarten class at the Verda Dierzen Early Learning Center in Woodstock School District 200.
But it’s the way she runs her classroom that makes her stand out, parents, staff, students and administrators have said.
The mom of two creates a loving culture and a feeling of family early on in the school year by taking time to learn her students’ interests and personalities and teaching them that caring for one another includes being accepting of their differences, may they be cultural or physical.
“My priority is my relationship with my students,” Moritz said.
Once that’s established, she said, teaching the academics comes easier, and then it’s just a constant practice of how to be a good bucket-filler, which is a method used by the whole school based on a children’s book by author Carol McLeod.
“Have You Filled A Bucket Today” teaches kids to fill each other’s “buckets” with good deeds and kindness and not to take away from these invisible buckets with negative behavior.
If you set the expectation, they will rise to it.— Teacher Janet Moritz
Tricia Bogott, principal at Verda Dierzen, said it only takes walking into Moritz’s classroom to see that come alive, with kids helping one another and cheering each other on.
Bogott uses words such as empathy and collaboration to describe the vibe of the class.
Of Moritz, Bogott said, “She’s just pure joy.”
To set her kids up for a successful year, after getting to them during that first month of school, Moritz introduces the rules of the class.
One of Moritz’s favorite things to do is to show, step by step, how different stations she has set up all around the classroom work.
Moritz is thorough with her explanations on how to do basic things, such as how to pull a book out, gently turn its pages and put it away while at the literacy station.
Moritz said that when kids know the proper way to use what’s available, they can just focus on learning.
Most rewarding to her is when the routine has been established and there’s a flow in the classroom; she looks around and sees students working independently or with friends, and that gives her the time she needs to work with smaller groups.
“If you set the expectation, they will rise to it,” Moritz said.
When describing her relationship with Moritz, Michelle Keyfauver can get emotional.
As the classroom associate, she works alongside Moritz to meet all of the students’ needs.
The two women said they work well together, and they’ve been there for one another through challenging times in their personal lives.
“She’s genuine with her love and care,” Keyfauver said. “Janet is very kind-hearted.”
Moritz also isn’t afraid to get goofy, Keyfauver said. She dances and sings with the kids all the time, and the two often giggle at silly things students do and say.
One of Moritz’s kindergarteners who often makes her smile is Emelina Kelm.
The 6-year-old said she likes her teacher for lots of reasons.
“She’s fun and helpful and patient, and she’s a good explainer,” Emelina said.
Moritz also describes Emelina as someone who explains things well. In fact, Moritz thinks she can recognize future teachers, and Emelina is one of them.
Recently, the brown-haired little girl with some teeth waiting to come in had a dance recital and invited her teacher.
Moritz didn’t disappoint and was there to cheer Emelina on.
She doesn’t take for granted that her kids want her to be a part of their activities, even outside of school.
“We’re in their world,” Moritz said.
Emelina’s mom, Mariana Kelm, wasn’t surprised Moritz attended the event.
“She’s a fantastic teacher who is very present in the kids’ lives,” Kelm said.
From her daughter, Kelm hears daily all about her school day and how fun her teacher makes learning.
Kelm said she’s thrilled Emelina can now read in English and Spanish.
Impactful interactions with her young students is what Moritz lives for.
She knows firsthand what a genuine praise or show of affection can do for a child. She had a couple of teachers who left an impression.
From her first-grade teacher, Moritz learned that you can be kind and still command attention. She said she remembers her teacher having a way of getting kids to follow directions, always in a sweet and passive voice.
Moritz also remembers a special feeling she got when while struggling with learning subtraction, she received a postcard at her home from that teacher, letting her know that she was proud of her for trying so hard and that she was doing a great job.
Moritz still has that postcard in a memory box.