There are two rules in Jennifer Gaskins’s first grade class: be kind and work hard.
Gaskins, who was born and raised in Horry County, wants her 22 students to focus on kindness each day.
She fondly remembers Ms. Chapman, her own first grade teacher at Waccamaw Elementary, and tries to make the year a fun one for everyone.
“First grade’s such a fun year and she made it very memorable,” Gaskin said of her own experience.
Gaskins’s interest in teaching began when she enrolled in the teacher cadet program while she was a student at Socastee High School.
When Gaskins went off to college at the University of South Carolina, she didn’t claim a major right away but focused on both education and science. She transferred to Coastal Carolina University her sophomore year, which is where she finished her degree, and chose education as her focus.
“I interned at St. James Elementary and was hired here the next year,” Gaskins said.
2020 marks her tenth year in teaching. Gaskins taught first grade for the first five years of her career. After she got her masters in literacy, she moved to teaching third grade for a short time. She is currently teaching first grade again.
Gaskins teaches all subjects in her classroom, with a large focus on teaching her students how to read.
“It’s really cool to watch them learn and to see their progress,” the teacher said.
Gaskins has a passion for science and it is one of her favorite things to share with her students.
“Science is very hands-on,” Gaskins said. “Everybody participates.”
Gaskins focuses on relationship-building with her students as well.
“We are a family,” she said.
Gaskins remembers her Socastee High School teachers Ms. Blackman and Ms. Wilson and tries to emulate their teaching styles.
“They both taught the person rather than the content,” she said. “They had a way of helping each student learn on a personalized level.”
Just like no two students are alike, Gaskins said no two days are alike in her profession either.
Instead of a behavioral chart, Gaskins has a kindness chart to track acts of good in her classroom.
Each student starts with a clip on the phrase “Today is going to be a great day” and they move up in levels based on their deeds and actions.
“The whole class has control over the clips. If someone does something kind for you, you can move their clip to the next level,” Gaskins said.
Upon reaching the top level, students are placed in the “Hall of Fame” and receive a certificate and a chance to go through the levels again.
St. James Elementary is a PBIS (positive behavioral interventions & supports) school, and positive attitudes and behaviors are encouraged school-wide. Students are rewarded with Dolphin Dollars and can use their tokens to purchase rewards in the Rocky’s Cove gift shop.
In her own classroom, Gaskins uses a marble jar to reward teamwork, good behavior and kindness.
Once the jar reaches 100 marbles, the class votes on a reward, whether it’s a pajama day, popsicles or a fun outdoor activity like sidewalk chalk.
“We have lots of celebrations throughout the year.”
Gaskins had an Elf on the Shelf in her classroom during the holidays and, with the help of some of Gaskins’s friends, the Elf and Santa delivered a special book for each child in the class.
In addition to teaching first grade, Gaskins is a co-sponsor for St. James Elementary’s tech club. She specifically worked with a robotics team last year. Tech club students participate in the Horry County tech fair each year.
Gaskins lives in Conway with her husband and their four boys, ages 7, 5, 3 and 2. The family enjoys going to CCU football games on the weekends.
Teacher of the Month is sponsored by Sparks Toyota. Nominate your favorite teachers online at myhorrynews.com/contests.