In the Educator Spotlight today – 4th grade teacher Amber Kuehler!
Please tell us about yourself!
My name is Amber Kuehler and I am wrapping up my fifth year in fourth grade in West Des Moines, IA! Next year I will be moving into a new position in the same building and will be teaching fifth grade reading, science and math. I am so excited!
I have been married for four years and we have a two-year-old daughter that is as obsessed with books as I am (I LOVE IT!). I have always been a city girl (despite living in Iowa…) but we just bought an acreage outside of Des Moines and so far I am loving country life.
Teaching is a second career for me and switching careers to education has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. I love just about everything about my job. The kids keep life interesting on a daily basis, I regularly feel rewarded and valued and my job will always be a challenge because it is never done and always evolving.
I have always been a reader. From a young age, my parents fostered a love of reading and we were never left without books in our house. My childhood was filled with trips to the library and the bookstore and I am so grateful for that gift. I can still remember begging my mom to stop at the book store on her way home from work to buy me the latest Fear Street book (true story, right mom?).
As a child, I loved Amelia Bedelia and Encyclopedia Brown. From there, I discovered Charlotte’s Web and Roald Dahl after my teacher read aloud James and the Giant Peach. After that I discovered my characters could live longer in series and I fell in love with the Sweet Valley Twins (which continued with Sweet Valley High) and the Babysitter’s Club books. After that, I loved R.L. Stine (Goosebumps and Fear Street) and Christopher Pike books. I also went through a phase where I couldn’t get enough of Lurlene McDaniel books (and apparently crying my eyes out because they were so sad!).
Reading has always been a huge part of my life and is somewhat of a hobby for me. I love reading and collecting books and I especially love passing that love on to others.
What are some of your favorite middle grade books or authors?
Oh, boy. It’s SO hard to pick favorites because I am such a mood reader. My favorite genre is historical fiction and I LOVE Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan, The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, and Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart.
Other favorites are Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper (I’ve read it aloud two years in a row now!), Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling and Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. I like books with serious themes and that really stick with me over time – which is probably why I love historical fiction so much!
I tend to read mostly middle grade, but I do read a few adult and young adult novels as well! I recently discovered Neal Shusterman and am floored with how good his books are!
Tell us about your classroom library!
My classroom library is constantly evolving. Books are my weakness and I love adding books to my library. Before I became a teacher, I bought a ton of adult books that just sat on my shelves at home when I finished them and I rarely used the library. Now that I’m a teacher, I cannot justify purchasing too many adult books that just on my shelves at home. Now I tend to use that money for children’s books that will be used often! If I own young adult books, they always get sent to my friends that teach in the middle schools. In the past few years I have become really obsessed with getting books out and in the hands of kids or others. What is the point of them just sitting on your shelves at home?? Besides looking pretty of course…
My classroom library is organized by genre and I have three library helpers that help keep the library organized each day. I do use a checkout system, where the kids just fill out a form for what book they have and the librarians make sure it gets returned. My classroom librarians are amazing and are so organized!
How do you stay “in the know” about new/upcoming books (are there tools, people, sites you regularly rely on)?
I love staying active on Twitter and Instagram. I’m an avid user of Goodreads as well. I love seeing what books other educators are talking about online and adding them to my own ginormous TBR (to be read) pile.
I found the majority of my friends online through Nerd Camp, which is an event every year in Parma, Michigan. After the first year I attended I felt the urge to maintain that momentum and spirit that I felt at Nerd Camp and keeping in touch with everyone online has really helped! I am so grateful to all the people in the Nerdy community because they have inspired me to be the best reading educator I can be!
How do you share your own love of reading with your students?
I post what I am reading and what I just finished on my door. This allows students to see what I’m reading and connect with me over books. Most of the books I read are books that will end up in our classroom library so it is not uncommon for students to ask me if they can have a book when I am done with it!
I constantly have books with me and there are piles of them around my room! My kids know that I don’t go anywhere without a book and they have even tried to do the same. I have even had to stop them from trying to bring books on their field trips!
What are some of your favorite read-alouds? Why?
I love Dan Gemeinhart books for read alouds because the chapters always end on cliff hangers and keep the kids begging for more! My favorites to read aloud are Some Kind of Courage and The Honest Truth. Another favorite read aloud is Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper. I just love the message in that book. The main character, Elyse, has a fictional disease where words that others say about her end up on her skin like temporary tattoos, but they itch like mosquito bites. It is such a good symbol for when we let others’ words hurt us.
How do you encourage less-than-enthusiastic readers?
I do my best to get to know students and offer suggestions without cramming it down their throat. I don’t want to be too overbearing, but I am honest with kids and they know my goal is to turn them into a reader. I noticed a “reluctant” reader on Friday finishing Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate and he had that focused look on his face that said I’m-reading-don’t-you-dare-mess-with-me and I about cried. When I went to pull another Katherine Applegate book for him, I realize he had already read The One and Only Ivan AND Wishtree and I about cried again! My job with him is definitely not done, but a little bit of a wall has broken down and that makes me so happy.
With kids that are less-than-enthusiastic I tend to pull out audiobooks and instead of small group lessons, we will spend time listening to the book and following along. I will often stop the audio to pull out a word or two (which they hate when I do that because they want to keep listening) but other than that, the lesson is truly just about enjoying a book. Strangely enough, playing an audiobook in the classroom with a small group while the rest of the class is working keeps everyone pretty quiet. You would think the opposite would be true (because we don’t wear headphones) but I think students like to hear the audio playing during reading workshop!
Audiobooks are always my secret that I’m really to share freely. They give access to students that would not have access otherwise.
Want more inspiration? Check out the other #MGEducators interviews and guests posts!