Class Acts: A Q&A with Jill Harlan-Gran

Tripat Cheema nominated seventh-grade language arts teacher Jill Harlan-Gran for Class Acts. Cheema said Harlan-Gran is an amazing teacher who has lots of energy and is really kind. Harlan-Gran cares about her students and has a warm heart, Cheema added.

• Name: Jill Harlan-Gran

• Age: 46

• City of residence: Riverbank

• Occupation: Seventh-grade language arts teacher at Turlock Junior High School

• Family: a wonderful one, especially my daughter, Kathryn

• Education background: Bachelor's in English and single-subject clear teaching credential from Humboldt State University

• Teaching experience: This is my 24th year at Turlock Junior High School. I've taught seventh and eighth grades, yearbook and journalism, and I started the annual trip to the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore.

Why did you get into teaching? I had a fantastic fourth-grade teacher named Mrs. Hayden who read aloud to us, encouraged us, and made each of us feel valued and important. I decided at 9 years old that I wanted to do what she did.

What is your favorite thing about being a teacher? I love teaching! Establishing rapport with my students, getting to know them and being allowed to participate in their learning is an incredible experience. The chance to pass along my love of literature and writing is a remarkable one!

What is the most challenging part of your job? Budget cuts. Class size is increasing, and materials are increasingly limited. We were supposed to adopt a new textbook this year, but that is on hold now. Besides that, parents who aren't involved in the education of their children. In my experience, when parents are involved in education, students are usually successful.

What is the most important lesson you've learned? The ability to laugh at oneself and to laugh with others is absolutely crucial in the classroom (and perhaps in life).

What is your favorite teaching tool or activity? Reading aloud to students to get them hooked on literature is definitely my favorite activity! I love it when students beg, "No, don't stop there, keep reading!"

What's next in your classroom? "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens.

What advice do you have for students? Have dreams and goals from a very early age and never, ever give up. Also, read, read, read!

What advice do you have for parents? Please be involved in education all the way through high school. Encourage your children to care about education and to always do their best on every assignment and on each project, no matter how challenging or difficult. Show your children that education is important to you. And, of course, read, read, read. Let your children see you reading and read to them!

What will it take to improve academic success in the valley? State tests do not accurately measure student, teacher or school success. Smaller class sizes, access to technology, and teacher-created lessons (rather than cookie-cutter ones) will help students be more successful. Cookie-cutter education isn't an effective means of teaching the many diverse students in our valley. Generally, teachers know what each class — what each student — needs to be successful; let the teacher use their experience and training to help their students learn.

How do you try to reach students not interested in school? Humor, stories and student choice (novels to read, topics to write about, projects to create) whenever possible. Finding something to bond with the student helps create a connection — and then I can get them hooked on something we're doing — and then I can teach them.

What one area should schools put more emphasis on? Smaller class sizes! There is a huge difference between 23 students in a class and 34 students in a class! Being able to focus energy on a smaller group is very important; smaller class sizes will allow teachers to have some individual time with students and to work with students who are struggling.

If you could change one thing about the current educational system, what would it be and why? API, AYP, STAR and all other related acronyms would be gone forever. That type of testing provides statistics, but no real measure of student, teacher or school success. The current testing system puts pressure and anxiety on schools, teachers and students but doesn't actually improve education or truly indicate measurable growth. Since funding for classroom education is in such dire straits, the money we spend on the state testing could be put to better use purchasing newer materials that align with our state standards, getting more updated technology for our classrooms, and lowering class sizes or hiring aides to help in classrooms where students are struggling.

What would surprise people about your job? The amount of energy it takes! Not just on the paper-grading during evenings and weekends; not just on the creation of interesting, topical and meaningful lessons; not just on the time spent attending games, concerts and productions — but the energy necessary to keep a class of students (usually over 30 these days) engaged, focused, attentive and interested in the material at hand for an entire class period — and to do that successfully day after day! Teaching is a labor of love (let's face it, if you don't love teaching, you probably don't stay in the field for long) — but it's definitely "labor!"

What are your future plans? Turlock Junior High is a remarkable place to teach! The faculty, staff and administration is top-notch! I plan to remain there, reading aloud, encouraging students to read and write, and teaching for many, many years to come!