A Series Part 2
TERRIFIC TEACHERS IS AN EIGHT PART SERIES HIGHLIGHT SOME THE BEST TEACHERS IN EASTERN CHESTERFIELD.
Last school year, Susan Wilson, a third-grade teacher at C. C. Wells Elementary School, decided to boost the confidence of her students who were about to take the SOLs by mailing all 24 of them a handwritten, personalized letter. Each one highlighted her students’ strengths and abilities developed during the school year. They had no idea the letters were coming.
“I did not know she was doing this and one evening, my email started going nuts because the parents couldn’t believe she took the time to do that and the kids just loved it,” Debbie Weatherford, C. C. Wells’ principal, said. “One parent videotaped the child reading his letter and emailed that to me; another parent contacted the news and they came out and did a story. It was very cool and something the kids will never forget.”
Wilson said students sometimes get burned out by testing and believe a grade defines them so she wrote the letters because she wanted her students to know they were more than a test score.
“I feel like, especially in third and fourth and fifth [grade], there’s so much emphasis on testing and I feel like all we ever do sometimes is test, test, test, and I get that, but I feel like sometimes the kids get burned out and they just think ‘All I am is this grade, that’s all I am,’” Wilson said. “And I wanted them to know, ‘I know that you’re a big brother,’ and ‘I know that you’re a wonderful soccer player and I see your artistic abilities,’ and I wanted them to know I see that and I think you are wonderful for that, not because of a number that you get, not because of a grade that you get: you’re wonderful because of who you are, and as long as you try your best, then that’s all we can ask for.”
Wilson has been teaching at C. C. Wells Elementary School for seven years and her dedication to teaching and acts like the above resulted in her recent Teacher of the Year nomination, for which Wilson said she is honored to be recognized. Wilson also acknowledged her coworkers and said that it is a team effort.
“There’s five third grade teachers … and we work together pretty well, we take turns planning different things,” Wilson said. “If there’s something my kids are struggling with, I might go to another teacher and say, ‘What can I do’ or ‘What have you done before’ or if I’m out one day because my own children are sick, they’ll come over and pull my stuff to get my kids ready so it really is a team effort. You can’t do this job without having people helping you out, it’s too much and you really couldn’t.”
Though Wilson uses traditional forms of teaching, she said some of her methods may be unorthodox and a change from when she was in school.
“We do a lot of group work too so we might have a whole group lesson for math, for example, and then do something with partners and then break up into groups,” Wilson said, “and during that time, I’ll walk around and check in with my different groups so that’s a little bit different from even when we were in school, it was very much ‘This is the information, here’s a sheet to do it’.”
Wilson also uses a self-rating system at the end of her lessons: she gives them a question at the end to see if they grasped what they were taught and when students turn their answers in, she can discern whether they understood the lesson. Wilson said doing this is good for her students as it allows them to reflect on their own learning and to see whether they need help or not. She also talked about how she keeps her students engaged.
“We do a lot of collaborative work because you hang out with third graders for 30 minutes,” Wilson said, “you’ll see that their attention’s done after ten minutes so you kind of have to keep them on their toes, get them up and moving or else they’re gonna be zoned out.”
Though Wilson is certified to teach kindergarten through sixth grade, she said she has been a third-grade teacher for all her years at Wells and she prefers teaching that grade.
“I’ve been teaching third grade all my years and I really like it, I like this age group,” Wilson said, “they’re young enough where you don’t really have the attitude quite yet but they’re old enough where you’re not tying shoes and wiping snot. You can have conversations with them that are meaningful … so I like third grade.”