Profile, photos and video by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Valeska Bass has been a first grade teacher at Clifford E. Bryant Elementary for six years. Because her father was in the U.S. Army, she and her seven siblings grew up in many different places, including several years in Mainz, Germany.
When her mother moved the family to Ypsilanti, Bass experienced a culture shock as the new neighborhood lacked the diverse population she was used to in Mainz. Once she was in middle school, her mother opened an in-home preschool daycare, which is where Bass says she grew to love helping the little ones learn, create, and have fun.
After graduating from Belleville High School, Bass attended college at Eastern Michigan University to obtain her bachelor’s degree in elementary education. While at EMU, she worked at a Level Five psychiatric prison where she interacted with the prisoners on a daily basis by helping to manage their accounts. Bass worked at the prison for almost five years when she decided she could no longer handle that environment, preferring to make an impact on children before they got older. She ended up doing bookkeeping for a property management company in Ann Arbor while finishing her degree.
She and her husband of 10 years, Derek, have a blended family consisting of a son, Kyle, and daughters, Alanna, and Asia, who works as a paraprofessional at Pattengill Elementary.
For fun, Bass loves to lift weights, ride her bike, jog, ski, read/watch documentaries, travel, and spend time with her family.
Here’s an example of Valeska Bass engaging with students on the first day of school:
Dawn Linden, Executive Director of Elementary Education for AAPS, extols your skills, and says you develop individual math and reading goals for each of your students. Why? And how does that work? I want each student to know that they should always strive to learn more. Students should all expect to set a new goal and realize what they need more help with. I meet with each child after going over their math and reading NWEA scores as well as classroom assessments to see where they excel and where they could use more instruction. I pick three concepts from math and reading. I tell them where I see that they have exceeded and ask them to tell me what they think is their strength. Next, I ask them if there’s an area that they feel they could use more help in. If they don’t know, I then tell them where I noticed that they may still need a little more teaching. I let them pick which concept they feel they can set a new goal for.
What was always written on your report card in grade school? One thing that was always written on my report card was that I had very neat handwriting and was a great reader.
What inspired you to become a teacher? Helping out in my mom’s day care sparked the passion of seeing little ones learn new concepts. Working at the prison also made me think about how I could make a difference in a child’s life to help steer them in the right path in life, to make a difference in someone’s life who may need a role model outside of their home.
What’s the best compliment anyone could give you? Since I love to help others, the best compliment for me would be that I am very helpful.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning? Going into my seventh year of teaching, the most important thing I’ve learned at AAPS is to always meet a child where they are in their learning.
Describe an average workday. An average workday for me is getting up at 5:30 to get ready for work. I like to get there early to think and work in peace. I always plan ahead in the morning and stay late to reflect and do my homework (EMU). During the day I teach all subjects, work with my students in small groups according to student needs, take activity breaks throughout the day, conduct morning meetings to start the day and closing circles to reflect on our day. I stay engaged with my students by keeping them engaged through games, read alouds, small group discussions, partner work, explorations, yoga, and dancing.
What advice would you give to a first-year teacher? My advice to a first-year teacher is to get to know all of your families individually by making personal connections with them. Another important piece of advice is to tackle classroom management right away. Without classroom management, there will not be any learning.
What’s the happiest part of your day? The happiest part of my day is when a student’s light bulb comes on for the first time!
Favorite websites: My favorite websites are Pinterest and Teacherspayteachers.
Apps you can’t live without: Google Translate. This has been a lifesaver in the classroom.
What do you know about teaching now that you wish you’d known that first year? I wish that I knew about Teacherspayteachers my first year. I spent countless hours creating work from scratch and never knew that I could borrow ideas from other teachers.
How do you keep students engaged? I keep students engaged by challenging all students at their level by asking higher order thinking questions that have multiple answers so that all students feel safe to share. I teach lessons using different modalities of learning so students are up and out of their seats, working with peers, using technology, and using speaking skills. Having students use their creativity in their own way keeps students engaged.
How do you show school spirit? I try to stay involved in as many school activities as possible by going to after-school events, participating in spirit week, making sure the kids know our school song, and attending student’s sports activities. In addition, I always mention how our school is the best!
What is the most rewarding part of teaching? The most rewarding part of teaching is seeing students as they grow older and feeling good about what they’ve accomplished and having them tell me that they loved my class and how much they learned.
What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher? I wish everyone realized how much work a teacher puts into their career besides the actual hours we’re paid for. Many teachers come in early, stay late, take work home, and spend a great deal of their paychecks back on our students. I once had a student who lost their home due to a tornado. I was able to help the family with personal items. It felt really good to be able to help someone in the school community.
How do you recharge? This is something I’m currently working on. I used to make sure that I got a massage and pedicure once a month, but after enrolling in my Master’s courses, the recharging part has not been consistent. I vowed to myself this year that I would try and get back to my self-care.
How do you spend your summers? I normally spend my summers teaching summer school and visiting family that I don’t get to see as often. I try to take a trip over the summer or at least one of the breaks. I do quite a bit of working out, outdoor activities, and napping.
Tell us the interesting back story about your mother-in-law: My mother and my husband’s mother were best friends when I was growing up, but I wasn’t very fond of my (future) mother-in-law because of how strict she was. I once casually told this to my (now) husband, Derek, when we were dating, not realizing she was his mother. When he said, “That’s my mother!” I sank in my seat! We’d never met because Derek went to live with his aunt in Atlanta because his mom was so strict. We laugh at that story to this day.
What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? Your personal life? What’s most exciting about my professional life right now is that I’m almost finished with my master’s courses as well as being a part of this interview! The most exciting part of my personal life is that I just reached my 10-year anniversary with my husband, and my brother is getting married in two weeks.