By Mrs. Christie Bishop
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of three blog posts that trace the journey of a classroom teacher as she learns how to play chess and initiates a chess program at her school. Mrs. Christie Bishop serves as a Pre-K teacher and chess coach at Genoa Elementary, a Pre-K – 4 school in the Pasadena Independent School District (ISD) in Houston, Texas.
My Journey with Chess in School
My name is Christie Bishop and I have been teaching chess at my school in Pasadena, TX since 2013. I taught 2nd grade for 7 years and I’m currently teaching PreK. With the last name of Bishop, how could I not be involved with chess. Do you know how often a student tells me that my name is like the chess piece? It’s often. When I married my husband in 2013 and took on the name Bishop, we displayed custom made bride and groom bishop chess pieces on our wedding cake. My husband has been playing chess since he was young, but at the time I only knew that the bishop was one of the chess pieces. I didn’t know anything about how to play yet. I firmly believe in the power of yet. It’s never too late to learn something new. I teach all my students that you may not know it yet, but you will.
Teach to Learn
I learned how to play chess in 2013 by teaching my 2nd graders how to play. Our school and district had recently adopted the First Move program for 2nd and 3rd grade, and teachers were supposed to teach it every Friday for enrichment. Most of the other teachers were wary of this new thing we had to do, but I was excited. I can’t even explain it, it just felt right. Even though I didn’t know much about chess, I would teach myself first and then teach my students. Luckily, when I would teach them the lesson it would help me to understand it better. There are still things I learn about chess while teaching and watching my students play.
Chess Club Begins
In 2014, my principal asked the staff if anyone wanted to start a chess club at our school. I thought to myself, why not? Apparently, I was the only one that offered though. So, as it was now only my 3rd year teaching, I dove into running an after-school club as well. When I first started our school’s chess club, I was still new to chess, but luckily so were the kids. Our club was for 3rd and 4th grade, so luckily the kids I had taught chess to in 2nd grade were now 3rd graders that were ready for club. That first year of chess club we had about 20 kids and we played chess 2 days a week for an hour after school. The students came to club focused and ready to learn more. What was even more amazing was seeing some of the more antsy students find that focus for chess. They were overall just excited to be doing something new. My husband and I worked with them on basic moves and then expanded into the special moves and strategy. At that time, I never would have imagined our club would be what it is today.
Chess is Growing
Each year since our first year we have had an increase in the number of students that want to attend. During a normal year we have about 80-90 kids total with 40ish students attending each day. We’ve had as many as 100 students sign up and at that point had to do tryouts to narrow it down a bit. I continued to teach my 2nd graders how to play chess on Fridays to get them ready for chess club the next year. This evolved into me teaching all 7 of the 2nd grade classes on Fridays.
Our club is very popular at our school. We are also well known in our district and that has boosted the positive reputation of our campus. Each year at the district competitions we always have at least 2 students receive one of the top 5 medals. A couple years ago we branched out and started competing in USCF tournaments in our city. Our students again did very well and took home their own trophies and some team trophies for our club. Like I said, I never would have imagined when I started the chess club that it would be as successful as it is now.
Chess During 2020-2021
This year due to Covid restrictions we have had to get creative. When school went fully remote at the end of the 2020 school year, we recorded lessons for the 2nd graders to watch to learn chess at home. Then for our 3rd and 4th grade chess club students we offered zoom times to get on and work on chess puzzles on chess.com. We also helped them set up chess.com accounts to safely play with each other with guidance from parents.
Once school resumed face to face we knew they needed to touch actual pieces again, but with lots of new procedures. Our club also had to be way smaller than usual to help with social distancing. We went from our usual 80+ kids to starting with only our top 10 kids from the previous year. We are playing with lots of space between partners, masks, contact tracing, and lots of sanitizing.
Right now, we’re up to almost 20 kids, but still quite limited. We’re staying safe though and are hoping to expand as the year continues. I feel so bad this year as so many students keep asking to join the club and it’s so hard to turn them down. I make sure to direct them to helpful chess websites and the teachers are doing great at allowing them to play chess during free times.
Other links to Mrs. Bishop’s activities:
Mrs. Bishop’s personal website that includes her chess club information: https://lovelyladybugteacher.weebly.com/chess-club.html
Genoa Elementary School’s facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/GenoaElementarySchool
Mrs. Bishop’s twitter is @LadybugCJB