Diane McFarlin nominated Ericka Kiriakou for Class Acts. McFarlin said Kiriakou is a multitalented individual and carries those talents and enthusiasm into the classroom. Kiriakou's musical talents are a blessing to all her students, McFarlin said.
• Name: Ericka Kiriakou
• Age: 29
• City of residence: Turlock
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• Occupation: Kindergarten teacher
• Family: David Kiriakou, husband; Pete and Rakkie De Guzman, parents
• Education background: Bachelor's degree in liberal studies with a music concentration and a multiple-subject credential with supplementary music authorization, both from California State University, Stanislaus.
• Teaching experience: I just started my sixth year. I have been at Chrysler Elementary School (in kindergarten) the whole time.
Why did you get into teaching? During my first year of college, I was watching the news and they were saying that there was going to be a need for teachers soon. I thought about how I enjoyed interacting with younger kids and being a youth group leader in high school, so I decided to start volunteering in classrooms. I soon realized that I loved watching students achieve their goals — big or small — and seeing their faces light up when they understand a concept.
What is your favorite thing about being a teacher? I'm trying to think of one favorite thing, but I can't. There are many things I love about teaching: watching a child read for the first time, celebrating with them when they succeed and being able to introduce music to my students.
What is the most challenging part of your job? Paperwork, prepping, trying to teach 5-year-olds to take a benchmark test, and the first week of kindergarten (every kindergarten teacher can understand this part).
What is the most important lesson you've learned? Be thankful for what you have. Oh, and don't wear nice clothes on days when you're painting in class!
What is your favorite teaching tool or activity? My favorite tool is a simple laser pointer. I like having the ability to point at anything and everything in my classroom without having to walk everywhere. I also enjoy playing my piano in the classroom for the kids (to sing "Happy Birthday" or other songs).
What's next in your classroom? We just had a field trip to Resendiz Farms. We're still learning our letters, letter sounds, numbers and counting, as well as learning about fall, pumpkins, leaves and spiders.
What advice do you have for students? Be respectful to others. Always try your best. Celebrate your success and hard work!
What advice do you have for parents? Be active in your child's life: Interact with your child by talking with them, working with them at home, keeping them accountable for their behavior and work, and make every opportunity a teachable moment. What I teach in class can be reinforced at home only if there is parental support at home.
What will it take to improve academic success in the valley? I believe it starts in the home and then it should become a partnership between parents and supportive and involved parents, and it goes out to caring teachers, support staff and administrators who want to help students succeed.
How do you to reach students not interested in school? I would try to find a different way to motivate them. Instead of using a paper-and-pencil approach, it could be a song, a dance or a physical activity. I also would ask veteran teachers for other ideas.
What one area should schools put more emphasis on? Teachers and students having more access to technology. We have a new principal this year, and he enjoys integrating technology in the classrooms to engage students in learning.
If you could change one thing about the current educational system, what would it be and why? I would like to adjust the entrance age for kindergarten from December to September. Not only does it give the child more time to be a child, they can enter kindergarten a little more mature. Kindergarten standards are more demanding than what they used to be.
What would surprise people about your job? The amount of time and energy we invest in this profession, with lesson planning, prep work, answering e-mails, communicating with parents, organizing special events, being on committees, and trying to reach each student and individualizing instruction that's tailored to their learning style.
What are your future plans? Long term, my husband and I are wanting to start our family. Short term, trying to squeeze any opportunity to go dirt-biking on the weekends, spending time with friends or just hanging out with each other.