Faculty & Staff Profiles

Faculty Spotlight: Fifth-grade language arts teacher Avery Goldstein
Posted 11/10/2016 03:48PM

There are more than 1,000 books in Avery Goldstein’s classroom library, all kinds of books for all kinds of interests and all kinds of readers — from biographies of sports stars, to books about climate change, to a series Goldstein describes as a “The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor kind of story.” 

It’s all part of Goldstein’s grand plan to have her fifth-grade language arts students love reading as much as she does.

“I really think my job is less what I teach and more the love that I have for reading — to try to make everyone have that. It doesn’t have to be the kind of books I love, but I try really hard, I read nearly every book that I have in here, and I try to read with certain readers in mind. The greatest feeling is when a student says to me ‘I really want a book and I don’t know…’ and then I can say ‘Oh my gosh, you’re going to love this one.’ That is to me a great day of teaching, when they run in and say ‘Are there any more?’ ”

Goldstein has been a reader since she was 3, and she grew up playing school.

“I would go home and make up extra homework for myself. I had this little chalkboard, and I would line up my dolls and I just thought everybody did that when they came home from school.”

But during her 13 years as a Durham Academy teacher in third, fourth and fifth grades and as the mother of two boys now in sixth and seventh grades, Goldstein learned that not everyone loves school, and she’s changed her teaching to reflect that.

“Raising my two boys, who are so different from me but are actually probably more like all the kids who sit in my classroom, has completely changed the teacher that I am. I think I was good, but I didn’t have a sense that not everybody loves school the way that I love school. … So I feel like it totally shifted the way I think about teaching — I feel like I’m an entertainer. They are in here [in language arts] for a double period. That’s twice as much as any other class, so I need to make it fun and exciting. I need to find that balance between a routine that makes students feel they know what to expect in here, but it’s always different every day so they never get too bored. That’s sort of like my journey of teaching.”

Goldstein arrived at Durham Academy in 1996 with a teaching degree from the College of William & Mary. A college friend who had attended DA told Goldstein “if you want to be a teacher, you have to see this school” and took her to visit DA when they spent fall break in Chapel Hill.

They stopped by the Academy Road campus on a Saturday. The campus was empty, but Goldstein was hooked. Back then the campus was home to Preschool through Middle School, and Goldstein was drawn to Debbie Suggs’ first grade classroom at the corner near the flagpole. “Debbie had all of her kids’ writing up on the window like a giant bulletin board. It was this beautiful cursive and these amazing stories. At that corner, right there, I said ‘This is where I want to teach.’”

Goldstein came back for a job interview with Sheri-lyn Carrow, who was director of the Lower School. “She was super honest and said, we’re not going to hire a teacher who is just out of school, but I think I have the perfect situation for you. She connected me with Sarah Parry [in fourth grade] and I was her T.A. for that first year.

“I tell everybody, even at the time, that was my master’s. I learned more from that year with Sarah than all of the college training I had, including my master’s degree [from Benedictine University]. It was amazing. Every day I sat in there like a sponge and soaked it all up. That was great, and then I got a third-grade teaching job for the next year.”

Goldstein spent seven years at the Lower School, then stayed home for eight years with her own children — a period including a move to Chicago. Her older son started school there and “on that very first day I was like, ‘This isn’t Durham Academy!’ That kind of flavors why I’m here: I feel like there is a sense of gratitude that I might not have had if I hadn’t had that ‘wait, I thought all schools did this’ moment. I have never been anywhere else as a teacher, and to see your own kid not have what I knew kids get here was really hard.” Goldstein decided Durham Academy was “the village I want to take care of my kids,” and two years later the family was back in North Carolina.

She interviewed for a job on DA’s fifth-grade team, and joined her mentor Sarah Parry as one of the two fifth-grade language arts teachers. She calls her job “too good to be true. … It’s so great — and it’s really humbling and energizing — to be in a place when I could walk in any direction and say ‘This is what’s happening in my room, can you help me?’ It’s literally like teaching in a school for teachers. I love it.”

Goldstein felt immediately at home when she returned to DA, but she knows what it’s like to be new because her father’s banking career led the family to move almost every two years when she was young. “I always empathize with new students, because I remember what they feel like so much.”

She connects easily with her students and likes having fun with them. Goldstein gets a new group of students each year in her fifth-grade advisory, and each group gets to choose a name for the advisory. Last year Goldstein’s advisory was the Gummy Bears and this year’s group is the Savage Ducklings. They decided the advisory needed a mascot, so Goldstein dons a bright yellow duck costume to cheer for the advisory at intramural competitions.

And she has dressed as a princess to celebrate the release of a new book in a series call The Selection. Here’s how a book turned into a costume party.

“A student saw me with a book and said ‘What’s that about?’ I spontaneously had this book talk. I love the series. Then all the girls were like ‘We want to read it.’ We all read it together, through all the series. That day was the release party for the last book in the series. Anyone who wanted to could come. You just had to have read at least the first book. It was for any fifth-grader. The girls got all excited. It was about a princess in dystopia America, like a Hunger Games meets The Bachelor kind of story.”

Goldstein reads lots of fiction for middle-grade students and thinks the genre is underrated.

“I really think there are great stories out there and it’s not just fluff. It makes you think about kids and kids who are different and my world is very small. … Books have become a lot more broad for kids than they used to be. If I can get them from Babysitters Club to maybe a book about a girl whose mom just got out of jail or who is in jail, that helps the kids see we’re all the same in some ways, even if the difference is all you see first.”

Her love of books does not extend to film adaptations of books.

“I don’t see movies. The greatest thing that happened to me this week was my sweet girl whose goal was to finish Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children before she saw the movie. She persevered and she read it, she was so excited she finished it and could go see the movie. Then she came on Monday and said ‘I wish I’d never seen the movie. It ruined everything. They changed this and this and this.’ I said you’re officially in my camp. Never see movies. Books are always better.”

Book trailers, though, are a different sort of beast. Goldstein describes book trailers as being similar to movie trailers, and they are usually made by teachers and librarians to promote books.

“They are like commercials for books. We have Future Reading Fridays. Every Friday we see trailers and they are usually along a theme. October was mysteries. When there was that huge lottery, when it was $500 billion or whatever, I said if I win that I’m going to make it so that book trailers are like commercials. I’m paying for all of it! That’s what I want for my people: talking about books and loving books and appreciating reading.”

Goldstein generally reads two kids’ books for each adult book, and historical fiction is often her choice. A recent favorite is Freeman, a story set in post-Civil War America about Sam Freeman, a freed slave who walks from Philadelphia to Mississippi in search of his wife Tilda.

And her most-treasured book from childhood?

“Oh, Charlotte’s Web. When I was a kid I had a dog named Wilbur, and I used to pretend he was a pig!” 

An independent, coeducational day school, pre-kindergarten through grade 12.
email page print page small type large type
powered by finalsite