Adan Arroyo is not the kind of teacher that stands still.
His hands and feet are almost always moving. If he’s not explaining something to his students, he’s encouraging them to follow his example. He circles their work tables, checking their progress. In front of the class, he counts out syllables, asking the students to accompany him. He sounds out new vocabulary words, coaxing his students along.
“Piensa, piensa,” he said. “Think, think.”
It’s all in a day for Arroyo, a brand new NVUSD teacher.
This fall Arroyo, 26, started his first teaching job as first grade teacher of 23 children at Pueblo Vista Magnet School in Napa.
Over the past 15 weeks, Arroyo has settled into his new job, building a relationship with his students.
“I’m here to help the students be successful and for them to be lifelong learners, just like I am,” said Arroyo.
And he’s already seeing some progress.
“To see how they’ve grown from day one to now, in just a few months, it’s incredible,” said Arroyo in an interview on Wednesday. “They started off with one sentence. Now they can write a paragraph.”
How does that make him feel? “Accomplished,” he said. “Proud.”
Arroyo is more than just a new teacher, he’s also a homegrown educator. Arroyo grew up in Napa. He attended several elementary schools in town (although not Pueblo Vista), Silverado Middle School and graduated from Napa High School in 2010.
He then attended Napa Valley College and UC Merced. He received his teaching credential from Sonoma State University.
“I think teaching is a calling,” said Arroyo during an August interview. “It’s definitely my calling.”
Four months into his new job, Arroyo said things in Room 6 at Pueblo Vista Magnet School were going well.
“I think we’re learning a lot about each other,” he said. “I’m definitely learning a lot myself.”
Two key elements Arroyo has implemented are routines and classroom culture, he said.
A regular routine helps students know what is expected of them and gives them a feeling of security, he said. That leads to less stress and a better environment to encourage learning.
For example, when students enter his classroom each morning, there is already a task waiting for them to complete at their desks.
That way, “They go straight to work,” he said.
“Students thrive on structure,” he said. A regular routine helps the students know what to expect throughout their day, which helps learning.
For some students, “the classroom is only time they have structure in the day.”
Creating classroom culture helps the students build trust between students and teacher, which creates a safe environment for students to learn, he said.
His students are learning about him too, Arroyo said. “They are learning to trust me. I listen to what they have to say. They trust that what we are learning is beneficial to them. That I care about them.”
Arroyo is the only teacher in the classroom but that doesn’t mean he’s alone. He works with a grade-level team support group that includes two other teachers, Laura Roldan and Mindy Bañuelos. A resource teacher visits the classroom when needed. Parents volunteer. And an aide, Cecilia Barrera, also assists.
“That helps a lot,” said Arroyo.
But how does he manage a classroom of 23 first-graders?
“I practice effective management,” he said. “Take deep breaths. Try different management strategies.”
And sometimes none of that works, he acknowledged.
In that case, “I try to acknowledge the (students) that are doing a good job and following directions,” he said.
Arroyo said he’s also learning to remain flexible to his students’ needs, yet manage his time and stay on track with his curriculum.
“Pacing is a big thing,” he said. “I’m always looking at the clock.” Pre-planning is essential, he said.
“I’m constantly on. There is no time for a break when they are here.”
Because Pueblo Vista is a dual immersion school, 90 percent of the instruction in first grade is in Spanish. By fifth grade that percentage is closer to 50/50.
Speaking in Spanish, he encourages his students with comments like “excelente” and “perfecto.”
“Muy bien, niños,” he told the group on Wednesday after successfully completing one task. “Wow.”
Arroyo uses all kinds of techniques to help keep his students focused and on track. Calling groups by color, he moves students from desk to carpet and back.
When they finish a task, he asks them to “manos arriba” or raise their hands. When a student needs to go to the bathroom they use a crossed finger hand symbol instead of calling out.
To get a student’s attention, Arroyo may whisper his request, rather than raise his voice. Tapping on a bell or a hand clapping routine can also help refocus the class.
Arroyo said structure and routine in his personal life also help him keep up his energy and motivation.
“Outside of school I go to the gym. I try to get enough sleep.”
In December, Arroyo will have a three-week holiday break. He’s planning on going to Mexico to visit family for part of that time, he said. “And just relax and recharge ... to continue doing the best I can.”
Arroyo said he was surprised how many people read the Aug. 26 story about him in the Napa Register.
“You’re famous,” his students told him after the story ran.
“Yeah, because of you,” was his response.