Voices From the Field: Interview with Natasha Brown-Willis and Kimberly Corkery

Preparing for the New School Year

Natasha Brown-Willis

Natasha Brown-Willis

Kimberly Corkery

Kimberly Corkery

For our Voices From the Field interview, we spoke with Natasha Brown-Willis and Kimberly Corkery, early childhood teachers in Michigan. They discuss preparing for a new school year.


Natasha Brown-Willis 

Natasha Brown-Willis was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. She is a devoted wife to her amazing husband who is her greatest supporter. She is also a mother and grandmother and has three social and emotional pets. Natasha currently teaches in a classroom that is part of Wayne Metro Community Action Agency in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. Caring for children is her superpower!


How did you begin your career in early childhood?Natasha Brown-Willis

My passion for early childhood education began when I volunteered at and elementary school in Detroit thirty years ago. I started as an aide and went on to become a paraprofessional and then an assistant teacher. I loved being a part of the children and teacher support team. I always wanted to give back, so I selected the time that my children were in school to further my career.

My father, who took education seriously, pushed me. He would always say, “Go with your heart, and if children are your passion, they’ll be blessed to have someone who cares so much about them.” It was at that time thirty years ago in those early childhood classrooms that I felt encouraged to continue in child advocacy.

How did you prepare to start the new school year?

This year I am serving as a teacher on the early childhood team at my school.

I spent the summer training, planning, building stronger team relationships, and having professional development discussions with my site manager. My site manager encourages me with development opportunities to build our capacity for high-quality learning experiences for our youngest and most precious learners.

As teachers, we are allowed to design our rooms to be a safe place for our children and that takes time. It takes all summer to come up with a plan, depending on the needs of the children, and also the age range of the new children coming into the program.

As early childhood educators, we plan and structure our new school year, and develop developmentally appropriate activities for small groups. I am always excited to be a part of this new and fresh start every school season.

What does the new school year look like in your school/classroom?

I’m excited to say that our classrooms are fully enrolled this school year. I’m also happy to say we survived the times of Covid-19 and we’re officially back to the pre- Covid-19 practices. We were able to keep our families and partnerships through those tough times, and they are all ready and excited to be back to what we consider standard times. Fostering close relationships with our Family Service workers is very beneficial because they’re the ones who deal with family enrollment and they continually reassure us of what’s to come. Hooray team!

What are some of the challenges you have experienced in this new school year and what strategies have you tried to overcome them?

One of the challenges this year is that there has been a shift in room assignments and partnerships. Yes, I’ll have to get to know the needs of new children and their families, but I’m excited at the same time. I’m a person who embodies change. Being open to change strengthens you and makes you resilient. My strategy going into the new year and stepping into my new room assignment is to listen to the previous teacher. I partner with her effectively, listening to her suggestions and offering my suggestions when we huddle. I’m the new person in the room so I want to follow the lead and practices of that room so that the children and families don’t have a hard transition welcoming me.

What suggestions do you have for others (e.g., parents, educators, administrators, researchers, etc.) who want to better support our youngest students?

As teachers we are planting seeds and I love being part of what makes the world grow.

I consider my profession to be one of the most needed because we are the first to introduce children to their twelve years or greater of education. Children are eager to learn but they can’t know how to learn effectively and intentionally without the teacher scaffolding good practices.

We must provide those choices, opportunities, and materials to aid them in their growth.

Children love to engage in their daily routines, so teachers have to be developmentally appropriate and intentional with activities needed for each part of the day.

Teachers have to stay unbiased, nonjudgmental, approachable, fair, warm, creative, supportive to families as well as children, and culturally relevant to all children no matter race, color, creed, or religion and that’s the joy of it.


Kimberly Corkery

Kimberly Corkery was born and raised in Michigan. She is a mom, a dog mom, and a lead teacher in a Great Start Readiness Program classroom for Wayne Metro Community Action Agency in New Boston, Michigan. This year begins her 22nd year of teaching and working in the early childhood field. Kimberly graduated from Ashford University with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood development. Her favorite part of teaching is watching the children grow individually and as a classroom family.


How did you begin your career in early childhood?

For as long as I can remember, I have always been drawn to supporting young children in their learning and development. Because of this interest, I started my journey in early childhood education by first obtaining my preschool child development associate credential. My desire to learn more about early childhood education motivated me to earn my associate’s degree, and finally, my bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. I also became a Highscope certified teacher. I have worked with young children in many capacities; private and corporate child development centers, as a nanny, and finally finding my home working in a Great Start Readiness Program classroom, where I have been investing in the lives of the youngest of learners for 13 years.

Throughout my journey, I have been mentored by some wonderful professionals in the field who have seen my passion for early childhood and have provided me with opportunities to share my strengths and ideas with others. My mentors have been very influential in my education and professional growth as they supported and helped me to become the early childhood professional that I am today. I am thankful for the support and encouragement that I have received from those who share my passion and love for early childhood education.

How did you prepare to start the new school year?Kimberly Corkery

I spent time over the summer planning for ways to improve my classroom layout and include new materials to support the children’s learning. I participated in professional development trainings to open me up to new ideas to implement in my classroom and with my teaching team. With my teaching team, we have taken time to meet and develop strategies to support the different levels of learning of the new children coming into our classroom to meet every child where they are and to support their growth. Every year is a fresh start with a new group of children and their families, and I look forward to growing our classroom community.

What does the new school year look like in your school/classroom?

The new school year is a very busy time of year as well as a very exciting time! This year will be our first full school year in our new site, and I am so happy to say we will be fully enrolled! I am excited for this new year with new children as well as a new teaching team. Building new relationships with the children and their families, learning all their individual needs, and supporting them is what drives me professionally.

What are some of the challenges you have experienced in this new school year and what strategies have you tried to overcome them?

One of the challenges I have experienced as the new school year is beginning is the shift in teaching teams. While I’m always ready to embrace change, I know that getting into a routine and supporting each other will have a transition phase. My motto is, “Without change, there is no growth.”

To get us all through the transition phase of coming together, I keep an open dialogue with my team and remind them that we are a teaching team for our children in the classroom. We are there to support the children as well as each other. We are all unique professionals who have something different to contribute to our classroom while having the same common goal of providing the children with an environment that meets their needs.

What suggestions do you have for others (e.g., parents, educators, administrators, researchers, etc.) who want to better support our youngest students?

Early childhood is so important for our youngest learners. We are the people who give children their first experience with a classroom setting, social interactions, and structured environment where they are safe to learn and explore everything it means to be in preschool. As a preschool teacher, it is so important to support our young children with their desire to learn. They are eager and inquisitive to discover and test out their ideas, work with other children, and be introduced to fun and developmentally appropriate learning.

Some suggestions I would have for others who want to better supports our youngest learners is to watch to see what a child is interested in and build on that interest. Be excited for their discoveries, and with them about what they are learning. Children learn best when they have someone encouraging and supporting them.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

3 Comments

  1. I want to thank Jessica M. Mays for the encouragement of this challenge in Jessica’s words “I entered you and i know you can do it”! That gave me great pleasure that somebody believed in me.
    Thanks to Ms. Jody for always supporting me where its needed and encouraging me.
    Thank you to my teacher partner Ms. AA I love you and thank you for being the partner you are!!!
    Lastly thank you to Ms. Susan who is always there to lend a helpful hand. These good humans are my work village and without them there is no village .

    Natasha

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