Erin Straw: I Want Them to Feel Safe, Loved and Recognized for Their Uniqueness
Marshall Elementary School
Marshall Elementary School’s Erin Straw is fairly new to the Monterey Peninsula School District and her school. However, she is actually a veteran teacher of 16 years. Currently in her third year at MPUSD, Erin is the bubbly, energetic face to 5- and 6-year-olds in Kindergarten.
Little learners are not new to Erin as she previously taught Transitional Kindergarten at Marshall Elementary last year, and Kindergarten two years ago at MPUSD’s Foothill Elementary. Prior to calling MPUSD home, she taught Preschool, Kindergarten and 1st grade in the Pacific Northwest, Bay Area and Carmel.
Erin’s educational roots are strong. Her mother was a 1st grade teacher at the same school Erin and her sblings attended where they helped her mom in the classroom regularly. At a young age, Erin knew she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and teach. Following high school, she headed to Gonzaga University in Washington state for her undergraduate degree and then moved onto Santa Clara University where she received her California Teaching Credential and Masters Degree in Education.
Working with younger students brings Erin great enjoyment and pride, especially seeing their progress from the beginning of the school year to the end of the year. She gets excited when her students learn something new. “They are always so eager to learn and I get a lot of satisfaction in helping students become successful, particularly our struggling students.”
Pre-COVID, a typical day in Erin’s classroom began with welcoming students as they crossed the threshold of the door. “Every student is unique and as they enter the class each day, I want them to feel safe, loved and recognized for their uniqueness,” she says. “These are my top priorities.”
Erin goes above and beyond to cultivate a classroom that meets the different learning styles of every child, and this includes incorporating traditional teaching methods; centers rotating every 10 to 15 minutes; Language Arts, including leveled reading groups that work with the teacher; technology; and hands-on manipulative learning activities. “My students know what is expected of them. We start out the year learning and understanding classroom rules and expectations so we can jump right into rotations to make learning fun,” says Erin. Even as this year’s class began in Distance Learning, the expectations were no different. “I shared from day one the expectations. I maintain students in small groups of 5 to 10 while other students work on SeeSaw activities and different learning apps,” she says.
“I love how excited students are to learn,” states Erin. “So many students are always raising their hands as they want to get involved. They love to sing and dance. I like them to be their own person - engaging in what they are comfortable doing. Allowing them to express themselves makes teaching and learning fun.”
At the drop of a dime, Erin can easily change instruction quickly. “I can definitely tell if students are not engaged in an activity, and I am able to change it up quickly.” Moreover, she knows bringing students real life or hands-on experiences enhances their learning experience. For example, she likes to bring out puppets or even show pictures of her dog Bailey to bring a more personal flair to instruction. “I used to be a volunteer firefighter and EMT and bringing these real-life experiences to my students helps them relate to me. It can be something as simple as wearing glasses when I know a student is going to be getting new glasses to wear in the classroom.” Erin incorporates what her students are going through and meets them where they are.
The energy and enthusiasm of families at Marshall Elementary inspires Erin. “There is a lot of positivity among teachers, staff, and our families - a real camaraderie. I greatly enjoy working with our military-connected families because they are so appreciative and dedicated to their student learning and achieving.”
When asked why MPUSD? Erin shares she moved from the Bay Area five years ago and has been really happy teaching in the district. “I felt very welcome here and feel like the teachers are really dedicated to their students and to helping them become curious learners.” She notes that her team works really well together and that there is collaboration across the district with other schools, especially when she taught Transitional Kindergarten last year, thanks to Teacher on Special Assignment Holly McKrill. “It’s been fun getting to know the other teachers district-wide,” she says.
“The district is really knowledgeable about finding answers. And if someone doesn’t know, you are always directed to the right person. It has been so easy with the service mindset. I like how responsive people are in getting back to you - it’s very professional,” Erin states.
When Erin is not busy preparing a lesson, engaged in professional development or with her students, she can be found on the hiking trails with her chocolate lab Bailey. She also enjoys going to the beach, collecting sea glass, and making necklaces or art pieces with the found glass. She is also part of the Ke Kai O’uhane Outrigger Canoe Racing Team. The next time you are on the Marshall Elementary campus, be sure to pop your head into Erin’s classroom!