Who the Folk?! Briana Lavintman

We talk with University of Minnesota graduate student, Briana Lavintman, about her experience teaching elementary school to new English speakers and why it’s pretty cool to be a twin.

What do you study and how did you get interested in the subject?

I’m getting a master’s degree in elementary education. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a teacher. This is just a stepping stone to where I want to go; I want to open a supplementary school to teach children concepts through cooking, so I’d have to go to culinary school for that.

When did you make the connection between food and learning in your life?

When I was 10, I started to keep kosher. I went to Camp Ramah, and I came back one summer and said, “I want to think about my Judaism everyday.”  You eat everyday, so I thought that was a good place to start. I started to love to cook when I found out about kashrut. Keeping kosher sparked that love.

How do you stay in tune with your love for education outside the classroom?

 I used to work at a summer camp and do theater—Jewish drama and stuff like that. Now, I’m focusing a lot on developing my own professional self so I can bring more to the table for the kids.

Where do you teach now?

Right now, I’m student-teaching at Andersen United Community School. The student demographic is very different  than the one I worked with before, which I love. I teach second grade and my class is the biggest out of six at 21 students. I have six native English speakers in my class. Most of the students are from Somalia and came to the United States within the past few years. I have four newcomers who came to the country in this past semester. Today was the second day for one of my students!

They students learn so quickly, it’s really exciting to see. Learning languages is also exciting for students because they need to translate for parents or other newcomers. Children learn languages much easier than adults do. It’s amazing how quickly they pick it up, even when it takes them longer to get the routines down. People don’t always know that you need to take  turns in school and be patient, or that one tactic can’t solve every problem. In our class, we just focus on three things all the time: solving problems, making good decisions and showing respect.

101.3 KDWB rewarded your school with a Christmas Wish this winter! What was that like?

KDWB has a Christmas wish, and like most teachers, we talk about our students all the time. So my sister, Jessie, wrote a wish letter to the radio station explaining my students’ situation. They are so deserving of everything and don’t have the things they need to conquer the winter. The letter talked about how the students are young, vibrant and intelligent people, and while they strive to help themselves, this isn’t something they could help themselves with. We knew it would be nice if we could help them out, and wow, did they help them out! All of my kids got new shoes, boots, winter gear, hats gloves, coats and snow pants. They came in the next day saying, “My parents say thank you.” My class is still getting newcomers and we’re still able to give them clothes. They have enough going on at home and they come to school so ready to learn and are so grateful that if there’s this little thing we can do for them, it makes a huge, huge difference.

What’s it like being a fraternal twin?

It’s the best! I don’t know how non-twins do it; I honestly don’t. Some people ask, “Can Shira really read your mind?” She totally can, all the time. Sometimes, it’s scary. I can read hers, too, but she’s really more in tune with me; It’s much easier for her to get in my head than it is for me to get in hers. It’s nice to have someone on the same page and to be going through the same life experiences as you. When you’re one out of five kids, it can be hard, so given we have no age gap—except an hour and a half—it’s nice. I don’t know what it’s like not to have a twin, and I would never want to.

Do you have any advice for students studying or considering elementary education?

Go to a lot of different classrooms. Go in with an open mind. You have to enter the lives of your students. For elementary students, school is hard. So acknowledge it, and let them know that the work they’re doing is challenging, but they’re doing it and that’s awesome. The skills you learn in elementary school, like showing respect, making good decisions and solving problems, are things you use throughout your entire life. Make the connections for students between the content in class to their daily lives, and more importantly, help them make those connections because that’s where the learning happens. Knowledge is a two-way street. Give them the opportunities to grasp the information you’re presenting to them.

What does being Jewish mean to you?

I’ve never thought about what it would be not to be who I am; I’ve never known I wasn’t Jewish. It’s so ingrained in me that being Jewish, to me, means being me, not compromising what I believe in, asking a lot of questions —a lot of questions.

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