2014 Top Teachers
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Photos by Jim Pile
Everyone remembers one special teacher who touched their lives and went above and beyond to inspire impressionable young minds. These teachers work tirelessly, both inside the classroom and during their “off time” at home. These teachers make a difference and truly enjoy what they do. After tallying nearly 7,000 votes this year, we are honored to profile 10 of these special types of teachers below.
2014 Top Teacher Overall
School: Linkhorn Park Elementary School, Virginia Beach
Years as an educator: 5
Grades and subjects taught: Fifth-grade math, science and social studies
Special recognitions/awards: Linkhorn Park Elementary’s 2015 Teacher of the Year, Compass Keeper, October 2014
Why did you choose teaching as a career? I am a teacher, a counselor, a fixer of boo-boos and broken hearts, and a statistical analyzer to make individualized plans for each of my students to be successful. I am an ear to listen, a familiar face in times of crisis, an empowerer of self-confidence, “funtertainment,” school event planner, and an advocate for children. I am a representative for teachers, a coach, and a life-long learner. I am a kinesthetic learner and a visual, kinesthetic, and auditory teacher. There is no other profession that touches all people no matter which career path they chose to partake.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? I love that I get to make an impact on people. I am a teacher for the reward of that “one child” who was the most difficult leaving a letter on my desk at the end of the year about how they are going to miss me and how I made their life better.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? I have learned to listen—to my peers, to my children, to parents. I step back and let others talk. I learn a great deal more that way.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I read a speech every year to my kids that lets them know they can be whatever they want to be and I will always be in their corner. Should they ever need me, now or later down the road, I am here for them. I want them to know that they are loved and cared for and that they can be whatever it is that they aspire to be. I want them to know that I always have and always will believe in them.
What is one lesson/project/or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? I have incorporated physical activity into my innovative classroom practice. Students take statistical analysis of their physical activity and log it over time. I make learning real life and something that they want to improve upon. They know that not only will I be pleased with them and their work, but they will be proud of themselves as well.
From her nomination: “Her positive attitude spreads to her students and made her classroom a productive and engaging place to learn.” —Kieran Poulos, parent
School: Granby High School, Norfolk
Years as an educator: 18
Grades and subjects taught: All levels of Spanish language and culture, including International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement
Special recognitions/awards: An 11-year breast cancer survivor who is currently in treatment; ambassador and top fundraiser for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Granby High School Teacher of the Year, 2011.
Why did you choose teaching as a career? I wanted to be a teacher since I was in second grade because I had great teachers. When I was younger I had a speech impediment, and I met some wonderful speech pathologists, and I really wanted to be like them. I was inspired even at that young age.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? No two days are ever the same. Every day is a new day. I like that intrinsic gratification when the students are learning and when they want to learn for themselves.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? To be flexible. Not everyone’s brain works the same. You learn how to modify and manipulate lesson plans and activities to reach as many students as possible. Your kids will recognize and read you, and they can tell if you like what you do. If you show them that you love to teach, usually they will want to learn out of respect for you.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? Besides passing their exams, I also want them to know that they must work hard in life. They see me and that my cancer has come back. They see my struggle. I want them to know too that they must keep fighting. Life is tough, but you have to be tougher. You will have good and bad days, and you need to make the best of the good ones.
What is one lesson/project/or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? When I was diagnosed with breast cancer the first time, we started the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure at Granby, and it was just three of us. Within this past year we’ve been acknowledged as the leading school in the region. I am proud that we have raised thousands of dollars for the support, awareness and hopefully the eradication of breast cancer.
From her nomination: “She makes class very entertaining and fun to be in. She has battled cancer three times. She had to take last school year off, but now she is back teaching, still with that infectious smile of hers.” —Kay Lyliston
School: St. Gregory the Great Catholic School, Virginia Beach
Years as an educator: 23
Grades and subjects taught: Kindergarten and Pre-Kindergarten
Special recognitions/awards: Article published in the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) magazine focusing on communication with Pre-K parents through various platforms including Edmodo and others; co-presenting the Power of the Hashtag# at the NCEA Convention in April 2015; EdCampVaBeach Co-organizer in September 2014
Why did you choose teaching as a career? Teaching chose me. I never felt pulled to do anything else. I am blessed each day to see the joy in children as they learn new things. As a Pre-K teacher, I get the amazing opportunity to build a foundation of learning that will last a lifetime for my students.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? My favorite part of being a teacher is the people I have the opportunity to work with every day. Each student and family has a unique story to share.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? I have learned as a teacher you must make a sincere connection with each and every child. Each child must be treated as an individual. They all learn and grow at different times and in different ways.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I want my students to leave my classroom knowing how very special they are and to embrace their individuality. I also want them to know how much God loves them.
What is one lesson/project/or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? For my students, I am very proud of the Dr. Seuss Day for Pre-K. Dr. Seuss said, ‘You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.’ We spend the day celebrating Dr. Seuss by welcoming special guest readers, tasting green eggs and ham, making hats, and celebrating Dr. Seuss. The teachers have also been known to dress up as The Cat in the Hat. For myself and my fellow educators, I am very proud of being one of the organizers of the first EdCamp in Virginia Beach, EdCampVaBeach, last September and look forward to organizing it again next September.
From her nomination: “As we all know, Pre-K sets the foundation for a child’s learning future. Mrs. Crish makes this experience for the students a creative, fun, and very meaningful learning year. The children love her, look up to her, and seem to thrive while in her care.” —Lisa Booth, parent
Kelli L. Caras
School: John Yeates Middle School, Suffolk
Years as an educator: 4
Grades and subjects taught: Middle school science
Special recognitions/awards: STEM club creator and sponsor; John Yeates Middle School Rookie Teacher of the Year; 2011, 2012, 2013 STEM Teaching Tools Award (STTA) from AFCEA Hampton Roads Chapter; Curriculum Development Committee; Hampton Roads Top Teachers 2012
Why did you choose teaching as a career? I enjoy learning and was fortunate enough to have great teachers as a child, who inspired me to pursue teaching. It’s a privilege to be able to pass on a love of learning to students.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? Every class is different. Some days it’s discussion and the other days labs or research. The students are always bringing new ideas and questions to work with as well.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? No matter how prepared you think you are, you are never fully prepared. There is always a part of the lesson that won’t go as planned, or a question asked that you are not sure of the answer to. Also always, always have a back- up plan—those internet outages and fire drills can ruin the best lesson plans.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I want them to be able to think for themselves, know how to find answers to their questions, and how to be open to new ideas.
What is one lesson/project/or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? A new project I have introduced this year is an animal reflection. The assignment allows the students to identify with an animal and explain their relationship with the world through each unit covered. This not only helps them to see the lesson applied in the real world but to practice writing and research skills.
From her nomination: “Ms. Caras brought great humor to the classroom. I loved learning in her class, and she always taught us everything we need to know. She always made sure we had it down. If we ever had trouble, she would make sure that was taken care of.” —Nicolas Emmanuel, student