HRM Top Teachers




We put you to the test in our latest contest, and we have to say, you really aced it. Students, fellow educators, parents and readers all raised their hands to nominate and then vote on their favorite teachers. And everyone deserves extra credit for making it our most successful contest yet, with 9683 total votes received and our Top Teacher for 2011, Bevin Reinen, receiving 925 votes! Read more about these influential leaders, their teaching philosophies and what makes them successful as the heads of their classrooms on the following pages.


Compiled by Patti Hinson, Michael Jon Khandelwal, Ben Swenson and Karen Queen
Photos by Jim Pile

Virginia Beach Teacher Bevin Reinen2011 TOP TEACHER OVERALL
Bevin Reinen

School: Three Oaks Elementary, Virginia Beach
Years as an educator: Five years of full-time teaching
Grades and subjects taught: First grade, all core academic subjects
Special recognitions/ awards: I am a member of Virginia Beach Reading Council (VBRC), have been a mentor to practicum students [teachers in training], have been a sponsor and participant in the Girls on the Run and Shamrock races to support students in reaching their athletic goals.
Why did you choose teaching as a career? Since childhood, I have always been drawn to helping people. I knew I wanted to work in a profession where helping others played a significant role. Being an elementary school teacher allows me to work closely with children, parents and colleagues in a very meaningful way. I am truly passionate about helping children grow both socially and academically.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? Developing personal relationships with each child and being a key facilitator of their social and academic growth throughout the year.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? I believe that the classroom should be a place where children experience a trusting relationship with their teacher, a feeling of classroom community and a thirst for learning about topics that really mean something to them. I believe children learn best when they feel good about themselves. By maintaining a positive learning environment and building a personal bond with each child, I am better able to help each student reach their maximum potential.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I most want children to leave my class feeling a sense of self-efficacy. I want them to know that their ideas are valuable and important and to feel confident and stimulated for their next adventure.
What is one lesson, project or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? Teaching first grade is kind of like being on a Broadway stage 24/7. If I am passionate and excited about what we are learning, the kids will be too. I utilize a lot of cooperative learning structures and movement activities. We do reader’s theater, writer’s workshop and reader’s workshop. I set high expectations and offer frequent feedback. I want the children to feel personally invested in their own learning. I work with children individually and in small groups as much as possible to try to meet the needs of diverse learners.
From her nomination: “Mrs. Reinen was meant to be an educator. Her teaching style engages student knowledge through rigorous 21st-century lessons, assessments and expectations.” —Angela Carson, Reinen’s “Room Mother”

 

Hampton Roads Academy Teacher Patti GraysonPatti Grayson

School: Hampton Roads Academy, Newport News
Years as an educator: I’ve been at HRA since the 2005–2006 school year, and before that I was a teacher and aide at Trinity Lutheran.
Grades and subjects taught: I’m teaching fourth grade. I had these same students in third grade too and we followed each other up.
Special recognitions/ awards: I was asked to be on the school’s Digital Learning Team and now serve as the group’s mouthpiece, blogging about technology in the classroom. [See “Mrs. Grayson’s Garden” at http://mrsgrayson.blogspot.com, “Patti’s Ponderings at http://pgrays.edublogs.org and “Voices from the Learning Revolution” at http://plpnetwork.com/category/voices.]
Why did you choose teaching as a career? I was a career switcher. I was a communications major in college and had a career in that field. Teaching was always in the back of my mind, but for some reason, I just kept fighting it. But about 10 years ago, I realized it was what I was meant to be doing, so I made the switch.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? I’m proudest when parents contact me to let me know that they’ve really seen a turn-around in their child— they’ve seen some understanding or spark for learning an idea that wasn’t there before.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? Every child has an enormous amount of potential regardless of test scores. Categorizing a child by what kind of test scores he or she gets is extremely limiting. And test scores are only a fraction of who a child is. They are all capable of learning and growing.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I want them to know how to pursue their own learning. We have something called “Free to Learn Friday.” The students have an hour and a half to learn about what they want to learn about. If something is of interest to them, I want them to know how to take learning into their own hands. They can be lifelong learners into high school, college and beyond.
What is one lesson, project or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? Using technology in the classroom. A few other teachers and I gave up workbooks to have netbooks [small laptop-like computers] for the students this year. We have a Promethean board and have Skyped with other classrooms. We took part in a global read-aloud with 3,000 other students around the world.
From her nomination: “Mrs. Grayson makes learning fun. She is the best teacher. I was so happy when I found out that she was going to be my teacher for fourth grade.” —Becky Mills, HRA student

 

Suffolk teacher Farren WebFarren Webb

School: John F. Kennedy Middle School, Suffolk
Years as an educator: I’ve been teaching five years, right out of college, although when I graduated from high school, I served with Americorps in Atlanta, tutoring students and helping to run afterschool programs.
Grades and subjects taught: 6th grade English
Special recognitions/awards: I was Rookie Teacher of the Year at John F. Kennedy Middle School and now serve as the 6th grade English representative for the school’s steering committee. I’m also helping to mentor a new 6th grade English teacher this year.
Why did you choose teaching as a career? I think I always knew. Certainly my parents always knew. I was pretty bossy. As a kid, I would play school a lot, lining up my doll babies and stuffed animals. In retrospect, I was going toward teaching my whole life. After serving with Americorps, there was no doubt that teaching was what I wanted to do.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? Being able to problem solve. You have a group of kids, dealing with things, so many things, outside of these four walls. You have to be able to figure out how to get the information in their brains and to make it stick.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? If you provide information to students in a way that’s exciting and interesting, it’s meaningful for them, and they’ll be more likely to retain it. When kids walk into school, they expect it to be boring. Outside there’s so much stimulation: texting, video games, etc. When they walk into school it’s like they’re asking, “What are you going to do that’s going to excite me?”
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? Two things. Academically, a love of reading. Also, I want them to have a mutual respect and understanding of the people around them.
What is one lesson, project or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? Back to the challenge of making learning exciting, I make rap songs that correlate to the lesson. There are lyrics and they’ll sing them. Their heads are bobbing while they take a test and you know it’s in their head. Creating that learning environment is something I work on from the beginning of the year, with a “Reading Safari” theme for the classroom, which I decorate with grass, zebra stripes and a companion called “Harry Elaphonte.”
From her nomination: “The students in Ms. Webb’s class are very lucky to have a teacher that cares enough to think outside of the box and gives them a fun and safe place to enjoy being in the 6th grade.” —Leanne Webb, Farren’s mother
 

 

Saint Mary Star of the Sea School Teacher Jessica HamiltonJessica L. Hamilton

School: Saint Mary Star of the Sea School, Hampton
Years as an educator: 10
Grades and subjects taught: First grade (reading, spelling, grammar, math, science, social studies, religion and handwriting) and college (personnel/human resources management, training and development, labor relations, compensation and benefits, employment law for business.
Special recognitions/awards: Promoted to Lt. Col. in USAF Reserve in June 2009. Keynote speaker for 2011 St. Mary’s Veteran’s Day commemoration event.
Why did you choose teaching as a career? After 16 years in the active-duty and Reserve Air Force, I made a life-changing decision to become an elementary school teacher and completed ODU’s Career Switcher Program in November 2007. I have a passion for learning and teaching, love children and strongly feel that I have a calling to teach. I believe in the potential of every student, and I want to play a crucial role in building the knowledge and confidence of those entrusted to my care.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? Seeing the children excited to learn and to try different things. I love seeing their sense of pride and accomplishment when they have worked hard and achieved a goal. I love seeing the kids’ sweet faces and funny expressions, hearing their laughter and interesting stories and all of the other priceless, non-scripted moments that happen in a day of teaching first graders.

The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? Every child who enters my classroom is a treasure and has unique talents and skills that I must build upon to help realize his or his true amazing potential.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? That they can be successful in school in all subjects, love learning, are confident and tackle all challenges they face. To know that if they try their best and put forth their best effort, they will be successful in school [and in life].
What is one lesson, project or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? Organizing the school-wide forensics tournaments over the past three years. Participation has grown from 44 percent of the student body to 60 percent. I am also proud of my role in upgrading technology at St. Mary’s. Through my ties with Langley AFB, I coordinated the transfer of 100 computers and 75 flat-screen monitors to our school as part of the DOD Computers for Learning Program.
From her nomination: “As a parent, I am truly impressed by her classroom management, use of online resources and technology and that she is always looking for new ideas of ways to keep the kids engaged in whatever they are doing.” —Kelly Riley, parent

 

Hampton teacher Michele Nicole VinnieMichele Nicole Vinnie

School: Syms Middle School, Hampton
Years as an educator: 3 1/2
Grades and subjects taught: Mathematics including pre-algebra, algebra I and geometry
Special recognitions/awards: 2009–2010 and 2010–2011: three classrooms passing the SOL with a 100 percent pass rate. School year 2010–2011: nominated for Teacher of the Year at Syms. Back-to-back champions and undefeated seasons: Syms girls’ basketball, 2009–2010 and 2010–2011.
Why did you choose teaching as a career? I love building relationships and being an inspiration. Every day I have the chance to make a difference. The unexpected outcome of each day adds a thrill to the journey.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? Being with the students. We have so much fun in class. Once you set the proper safe environment, the classroom becomes a place that sets you free from the worries and stress life can sometimes put you through.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? Be very selective in what you teach and how you teach it because despite what most people think, students are listening.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? How to think for themselves, be independent learners, have great character and to never be afraid to try something new and take on a challenge.

What is one lesson, project or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? SOL Pep Rally (coplanned with Felicia Tolliver-Johnson) to get students prepared and pumped for their SOLs. At this pep rally I did a spoken word performance to motivate students on every grade level to pass their SOLs. It was an awesome experience. I truly believe this event gave students the confidence and motivation they needed to perform to their best ability.
From her nomination: “My greatest memory is watching her bring a crowd of almost 1,000 middle school students and staff to their feet to celebrate the importance and joy of striving and achieving academically. Ms. Vinnie is best known for challenging, thought provoking and inspiring raps that speak to the hearts of our students and staff. She has an incredible gift for connecting with students on a personal level and for finding ways to connect what students are learning to real-world problems to which they can relate.” —Sharon Slater, principal at Syms

 


Chesapeake Teacher Erin Coninx

Stefanie Erin Coninx

School: Hickory High School, Chesapeake
Years as an educator: Seven years
Grades and subjects taught: Biology—typically 10th grade
Special recognition/awards: I was awarded both the Chesapeake Foundation Award and the Science Teaching Tools Award last year. I completed my master’s degree in biology in December of 2011.
Why did you choose teaching as a career? I love helping people learn and grow. My hope is that I am inspiring students to try their best and to enjoy learning.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? My favorite part of teaching is that moment when you see the light go on in a student’s eyes and you know they finally understand a concept that they’ve been struggling with. Or when I am able to tell students that they’ve done a good job and they just get that smile on their face. I am so happy I found that teaching is my calling. I love my job!
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? Every new semester, I still get butterflies on the first day. One thing I’ve learned is that things are much easier once you have the children’s parents on your side.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I want my students to know that they can accomplish anything they put their minds to. I also hope they leave my classroom knowing that a good work ethic will take them far in life.
What is one lesson, project or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? Dr. Mary Hing-Hickman and I started a Meaningful Watershed Experience for all grade levels. Together with the Environmental Science Club, we raised more than $300 to purchase naturally occurring marsh plants, which we planted near the Hickory High School pond.
From her nomination: “She is the best teacher that I have ever been associated with. She has a special connection with her students that keeps them motivated, focused and interested and that brings out the very best in their abilities. You can tell that she really enjoys teaching.” —Robert Lake

 

Chesapeake School's Teacher Phil BergeyPhil Bergey

School: Butts Road Intermediate, Chesapeake
Years as an educator: This is my 12th year teaching.
Grades and subjects taught: I initially taught fourth grade. I have been teaching third grade for the last nine years. I teach English, math and social studies.
Why did you choose teaching as a career? I have always enjoyed working with children, but my parents were the main reason that I chose teaching as a career. They were both teachers, and I saw how much they enjoyed their jobs and how significantly they impacted their students’ lives.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? Working with the kids. It is rewarding to see the positive influence that you can have on your students.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? That I can really make a difference in a child’s life. With encouragement and motivation, your students can succeed.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? That they can meet their goals if they have a positive attitude. I also like for them to remember to treat others the way they would like to be treated.
What is one lesson, project or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? That most of my students genuinely enjoy coming to school. They know that they can learn and grow as a student and have fun at the same time.
From his nomination: “He would eat lunch every Friday with the winning table that had the best behavior for the week, and he would provide a cookie or dessert for them. He asked each of us questions about our week and took the time to reach out to us and learn more about us at these lunches. I loved being in Mr. Bergey’s class!” —Aaron Riggs, student at BRI

 

Great Bridge Primary School Teacher Heather BallHeather Ball

School: Sparrow Road Intermediate School and Great Bridge Primary School, Chesapeake
Years as an educator: 10 years Grades and subjects taught: I currently teach general music to grades 1, 2, 4 and 5. I have taught general music in grades pre-kindergarten through 5th and middle school chorus.
Why did you choose teaching as a career? I loved participating in music and drama classes while in school and enjoyed helping others learn. I knew early that I wanted to be a teacher of the arts to help students develop their musical abilities.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? I love watching the moment of success after a student has been working hard to master a concept. When my students feel good about their accomplishments, I know we have succeeded.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? I have learned that students don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Students will work much harder when they know they are a valuable part of your classroom family.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? My goal is to arm students with the tools necessary to be able to perform a new piece of music on their own. The ability to read music will open many opportunities for my students in both academic and community settings.
What is one lesson, project or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? I teach soprano recorder for five months out of the year in 4th grade at Sparrow Road. The recorder unit teaches students to play an instrument and serves to develop self-discipline, teamwork, responsibility and pride. Music is not only artistic but mathematical, scientific, tactile and fun! Students participate in playing tests to earn their recorder “karate belts.”
From her nomination: “While the typical primary and intermediate teacher sees the same 20–25 students every day for an entire year, Ms Ball sees the entire student body in the course of a week, and she’s able to remember the names of the 300–500 kids she sees each year. Additionally, she is responsible for organizing concerts that typically involve 100-plus children performing. Each year, she pulls off outstanding concerts with lots of hard work and many hours spent after school. She is an asset to the Chesapeake school system and to all of the students she has touched over the years.”

 

Mount Lebanon Christian Academy Teacher Janice FleetwoodJanice Fleetwood

School: Mount Lebanon Christian Academy, Chesapeake
Years as an educator: More than 25 years Grades and subjects taught: Pre-kindergarten through 1st grade, basic skills subjects
Special recognitions/awards: Four-time Teacher of the Year; certificates of appreciation
Why did you choose teaching as a career? As a young child, when we would play “school,” I was the teacher. At 15, I took “Exploring Childhood,” which gave me the opportunity to interact with children. This only heightened my desire to teach. Although I was unable to go straight to college after graduation, I always had a job working with children. Years later, God’s grace willed me the time and perseverance necessary to allow me to earn my degree; it only solidified what I was born to do—teach.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? To see my students gleam as they accomplish something that they were unable to do. Those “aha” moments cause their little faces to light up like Christmas trees and bring me a sense of joy and fulfillment. Not only do they want to do the amazing feat over and over again, but they also want to share this new knowledge with everyone who will listen.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? What I do is important because I am responsible for molding students during their formative years. I have found one of the biggest challenges is trying to figure out how to best engage each student because today’s learners are a product of an ever-changing environment.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? In my classroom the words “I can’t” are not to be used. The children learn early the Philippians 4:13 scripture, “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me.” I share with them that sometimes things become difficult and seem unattainable, but if we continue to put forth effort and trust in God, we can do anything.
What is one lesson, project or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? I understand that every child is a unique individual with different learning styles. With this understanding, I tailor classroom instruction in such a way as to engage all students, so they may become successful learners, as well as to develop and mature emotionally, physically, spiritually and socially.
From her nomination: “I was able to observe, first hand, her passion for teaching and her love for growing young minds.” —Darlene Northam

 

Hampton High School Teacher Joyce CorriereJoyce Corriere

School: Hampton High School
Years as an educator: 32 years Grades and subjects taught: High School: earth science; IB environmental systems and societies; AP environmental systems
Special recognitions/awards: Outstanding Earth Science Teacher for State of Virginia (VAST), 2011; SSP (Society for the Science & The Public) Fellow ($25,000 grant for school), 2011; Hampton City Schools High School Teacher of the Year, 1992 & 2010; University of Virginia: Outstanding High School Teacher for the State of Virginia, 2003; Virginia Governor’s School Outstanding Educator, 2002 & 2003; Heroes in Education (Nominated by former student), University of Virginia, 2009; National Honor Roll’s Outstanding American Teacher, 2006 & 2007; Thomas Jefferson Medal: Outstanding Contributions to Natural Science Education, 2004; HCS, School Board Certificate of Recognition for Environmental Excellence, 1993 and 1994
Why did you choose teaching as a career? Neither one of my grandparents completed school past the fifth grade, but they instilled in my mother their belief that education was the key to a future, and she passed that belief to me. That is why I teach—because I need my students to know my grandparents’ words are true and with education anything is possible.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? It is when I see that “ah-ha” moment in my students’ eyes. I know at that moment the knowledge will be theirs for life.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? Each student needs to be looked upon as an individual—that each student comes to the table with their own experiences and needs. I hope to unlock those doors that may need fostering so my students can achieve their dreams.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I want them to know that they are leaders in the community and they determine their future. They must never lose their passion for learning no matter the subject. I see myself as a role model to my students, and I hope that I have demonstrated and instilled in them a strong work ethic.
What is one lesson/project/or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? I was awarded a $25,000 grant from the Society for the Science & the Public to help underserved students conduct independent scientific research with the ultimate goal of having students present science research in the VA Junior Academy of Science and the National Intel Science Talent Search. This initiative has made connections with mentors from universities, NASA and the Virginia Space Grant Consortium. This has been a wonderful real world experience for my students.
From her nomination: “Ms. Corriere was able to have me excel both in the classroom and on the tennis court as my coach. She is capable of explaining everything in depth, using visuals to help teach an idea when most teachers would say, ‘It just happens that way because ... well, it just does.’” —Thao Tran, student

 


 

2011 Top Teacher Honorable Mentions

Carrie Barbier, E.W. Chittum Elementary School
Meredith Blumling, Thoroughgood Elementary School
Tiffany Byrum, Grassfield High School
Donna Collins, Gloria Dei Lutheran School
Julie Dashiell, Norfolk Collegiate School
Pat Doty, First Presbyterian
Carolyn Gordon, Norfolk Christian School
Allison Graves, Ocean Lakes High School
Angelita Hines, Alliance Christian Academy
Cathy Merritt, First Presbyterian
Leslie Peate, Ocean Lakes High School
Allison Sansone, Three Oaks Elementary
Carolyn Scullion, Cape Henry Collegiate School
Eric Tyson, Heritage High School
Lisa Wood, Cape Henry Collegiate School