Ten Top Teachers in Hampton Roads
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School: Kemps Landing/Old Donation School, Virginia Beach
Years as an educator: 7
Grades and subjects taught: Kindergarten, second, third and fourth grades
Special recognitions/awards: Teacher of the Year, Mary Lee Clark Elementary, 2014
Your favorite part about being a teacher? That no day is ever the same. My students teach me new things all of the time, make me laugh, make me smile, warm my heart and inspire me every day. It’s not possible to be in a bad mood around them. I see things through the eyes of children every day, and I am fortunate to be able to do so.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? Teachers cannot control everything. Sometimes things don’t go as planned, but it will always be OK if you have your students’ best interests at heart.
Technology in the classroom: Helpful or hindrance? Planning meaningful technology-based tasks are essential in preparing students for the world today. It is not a magic cure-all for student difficulties. It is important to define what skills students need to be successful, then use that information to plan accordingly. By providing opportunities for exposure to “real world” uses of technology, we are creating a population of global thinkers.
What is the biggest challenge teachers are facing today? Balancing the needs of students, schools and communities. Each requires time and attention, which can be difficult to manage. Each student enters my classroom with different levels of knowledge. Planning and allotting time for one-on-one instruction for 25 students gets tricky. Teachers also have to meet specific school goals that are equally important. As a teacher, understanding, communicating and networking with the community are essential to ensuring student success. With all of that being said, teaching is a work of love, and it is my honor to do it for my students.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I want my children to exercise a growth mindset. It is OK to fail. It is not OK to give up. I strive for each child to learn that with hard work, no goal is unattainable. I want them to understand their value. It is imperative that they understand that mistakes and imperfections are what make you who you are.
From her nomination: “Mrs. Kimbro is a top teacher because she is caring, enthusiastic, accessible, smart and absolutely loves her job! She creates a sense of community and respect in her fourth grade classroom—a place where everyone can express their individuality while working toward the same goals. She collaborates with other teachers regularly, sharing ideas for the benefit of the school.” —Kieran Feggans, parent
School: Norview Elementary, Norfolk
Years as an educator: 34
Grades and subjects taught: Fifth grade
Special recognitions/awards: Teacher of Year, Norview Elementary, 1994; Grade Chair, Technology Lead, Cooperating Teacher, Lead Teacher Mentor
Your favorite part about being a teacher? Seeing the sense of pride and accomplishment in a student who has mastered a concept or skill. When that "aha" moment comes, there is no better feeling. I think I get almost as excited as the student!
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? All students may learn differently, but all students can learn. It is my responsibility as their teacher to instill in them the confidence to push past any obstacle that might keep them from reaching their full potential.
Technology in the classroom: Helpful or hindrance? I feel that balance is the key. We live in a technological world. Our students are exposed to it in almost every aspect of their daily lives. I feel we have to embrace it. But, we also need to recognize that nothing can replace that one-on-one connection between teacher and student. Technology should supplement and complement good teaching, not replace it.
What is the biggest challenge teachers are facing today? For me, the biggest challenge comes from the aforementioned technology. I find that over the years, the attention span of my students has shortened partly because they are so used to the "instant everything" that technology brings. I constantly strive to find ways to engage students on a level that is stimulating but also rooted in good teaching practices.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I would like my students to leave me knowing that I have given them the foundation they need to be successful in middle school and beyond. I have high expectations for all of my students, and it amazes me how they rise to my challenge! I want my students to know that I truly care about them and I am so proud when they succeed. Each year I have former students visit me to thank me for giving them the push they needed. A few years ago, I was even honored at the wedding of two of my former fifth graders. (I told them they would eventually marry because they couldn't stand each other that year.) It is said that you only get one chance to make a first impression. Well, with teaching you get 180 chances to make a lasting impression. I hope I have done that.
From her nomination: “Mrs. Feggans has a special rapport with all of her students. She fosters a community in her classroom, and all students are able to succeed.” —Barbara Batchelor
School: Butts Road Intermediate School, Chesapeake
Years as an educator: 10
Grades and subjects taught: Third grade Math, Social Studies and Language Arts
Special recognitions/awards: Math Lead Teacher, 2015
Your favorite part about being a teacher? My favorite part is the students. I enjoy really getting to know each one of them, finding ways that I can relate to them and hearing from them that my class is a lot of fun or that I am a student’s favorite teacher. Whether it is sharing an interest in superheroes, discussing a favorite book series or just playing soccer with them at recess, I truly enjoy getting to spend time with my students.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? It’s important to get to know the students on a personal level. Students are much more likely to want to come to school and be interested in learning when they feel that the classroom is a warm and inviting space. And by showing an interest in their hobbies and things they enjoy outside of school, I can create a special bond with my students.
Technology in the classroom: Helpful or hindrance? Technology is definitely helpful. Whether using online manipulatives on the Smartboard, playing a review game on iPads or using computers to access content-related materials, technology has made it easier to find information, keep parents informed, collect important data and engage students.
What is the biggest challenge teachers are facing today? I’ve found that keeping students’ attention in the digital age is the biggest challenge facing teachers today. Children nowadays are so accustomed to all the technology readily available at home that it is hard to keep their attention for any significant period of time. It is hard to find the balance of teaching all the information that needs to be taught while still capturing the students’ attention and keeping them engaged.
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 learning is fun. While not every lesson can be the most exciting, there are certainly ways to learn new content and skills that are fun and relatable to a kid. Whether it is playing fantasy football to practice addition and subtraction, using Battleship to review grids or having our own classroom Olympics to learn about ancient Rome, learning can be exciting.
From his nomination: “Mr. Branch loves his students and makes learning fun!” —Becky Gould
School: Poquoson High School, Poquoson
Years as an educator: 23
Grades and subjects taught: AP U.S. History; U.S. and Virginia History
Special recognitions/awards: Member, Delta Kappa Gamma; Nominated for National History Teacher Award
Your favorite part about being a teacher? The kids! I primarily teach 11th graders, and it’s such a fun age—they’re starting to become more aware of the world around them. It’s so satisfying to work with the students and see them have those moments when they “get” something. I love it when they’re able to think through an historical scenario and make the connection to the larger picture.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? When I first started teaching, a colleague named Bonnie Fay (who happened to be my senior English teacher when I was a student at PHS) told me that students will not necessarily remember what you taught them, but they will remember how you treated them. I have always tried to take that to heart and let my students know that I care about them as a person while trying to give them an appreciation of American history.
Technology in the classroom: Helpful or hindrance? Helpful. Kids are so technology savvy these days, so it plays to their strengths to have technology in the classroom. With technology, students are more engaged and active in the learning process.
What is the biggest challenge teachers are facing today? Sometimes I feel bogged down by paperwork, which takes time away from contact with the students.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I tell my students that participation in history class is not optional, just like participation in life is not optional. Failure is not acceptable, and they can be successful if they work hard. I hope my students view me as a person who loves her job, and I want them to walk away from my class with a desire to follow what they have a passion for in life. Each year on the last day of school, I read a book to them called Mr. Griggs’ Work, which is about a postman who’s sad because he has to take a sick day from work, and he misses his post office. My students understand that I’ll never get rich from teaching, but like Mr. Griggs, I believe I have the best job in the world.
From her nomination: “Mrs. Morrison excels in all areas of her job. She consistently utilizes best practices in the classroom and has excellent communication skills with both parents and students. She is a teacher that all students would like to have while at PHS, and her students consistently score very high on both advanced placement tests and SOL tests. Mrs. Morrison is a top teacher in all aspects of her job.” —Brandon Ratliff, principal, Poquoson High School
School: Poquoson Primary School, Poquoson
Years as an educator: 17
Grades and subjects taught: Kindergarten, First grade, Reading Specialist K–2
Special recognitions/awards: Teacher of the Year, Poquoson Primary School, 2011; Islander Award Recipient, 2015
Your favorite part about being a teacher? There are many aspects to teaching that I love, but my favorite part is being able to witness a child finally grasp a concept—their face lights up, they smile and sometime sigh a big sigh of relief. Learning to read is hard work, and I love that I get to watch children navigate that complex process throughout the year. That is what keeps me in teaching. I know I’m helping young children learn a critical life skill, and I love that.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? Over 17 years, I’ve learned a lot from other teachers, administrators, parents and children. I feel it’s most important to form strong relationships with children and parents for a child to be successful. If a child knows you love and care about them, they will try that much harder. I take great pride in getting to know my students, and I feel they appreciate that and try not to disappoint me.
Technology in the classroom: Helpful or hindrance? It’s important to prepare children for the world we live in, and technology is a big part of our world. Technology can be very helpful for children; however, it should never replace the face-to-face relationships and connections that children need.
What is the biggest challenge teachers are facing today? Time! There never seems to be enough time in the day. Teachers have so many standards and expectations placed on them and want to be the best they can be and provide the best instruction for their students. Teachers are fighting against time to accomplish everything.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I want my students to have a love for reading and to be curious. If they love to read, then they will read more and learn more. If they are curious, they will ask questions and never stop learning. Reading and curiosity are an awesome formula for future success.
From her nomination: “Wendy has consistently been an amazing, gifted, patient and dedicated teacher. She’s an innovator and is constantly on the lookout for new and better approaches to teaching. It is evident that she loves what she does and loves her students—she impacts the lives of our children, parents, professionals and the Poquoson community daily. Her dedication to improving not only education but the lives of others is evident in her daily life and practices. She is more than deserving of this award!”
—Janet Harper, principal, Poquoson Primary School
Jennifer Alberto, St. Matthew's Catholic School, Virginia Beach
Darrien L. Beal, Bruton High School, Williamsburg
Julia Coltrain, Georgetown Primary School, Chesapeake
Megan Edwards, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, Suffolk
Cindy Fencil, St. Matthew's Catholic School, Virginia Beach
Carolyn Harris, Carver Elementary School, Newport News
Amy Hatfield, Nansemond River High School, Suffolk
Joleen Neighbours, Nansemond River High School, Suffolk
Susan Nye, Southeastern Elementary School, Chesapeake
Erika Reed, Linkhorn Park Elementary, Virginia Beach
Kelley Rhodes, Central Christian Academy, Portsmouth
Erin Richburg, The Visual & Performing Arts Academy at Salem High School, Virginia Beach
Kathryn Sutter, Mary Calcott Elementary School, Norfolk
Kathy Troy, Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, Newport News
Laura Walters, Virginia Beach Middle School, Virginia Beach
Pamela Wentz, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, Suffolk