News-AZ Republic

3 Phoenix educators named Rodel Exemplary Teachers

Arizona Republic – November 26, 2012

Three Phoenix teachers were named Rodel Exemplary Teachers.

Maria Henry is an elementary special-education teacher at Justine Spitalny Elementary School in the Cartwright Elementary District, Jennifer Thornton teaches kindergarteners at Village Meadows Elementary School in the Deer Valley Unified District and Michelle Perryman teaches fifth grade at Larkspur Elementary School in the Paradise Valley Unified District..

They are among seven educators in Maricopa County and five others statewide to receive the honor.

The Scottsdale-based Rodel Foundation of Arizona annually selects outstanding teachers from around Arizona to mentor new teachers. The winning teachers receive $5,000 and agree to mentor student-teachers over the next three years.

The foundation partners with Arizona colleges of education and teacher preparation programs to pair Rodel Exemplary Teachers with promising student teachers. The idea is to provide soon-to-be teachers with role models who are succeeding in the classroom.

The Rodel Foundation provided insights from the winning teachers.

Maria Henry

Maria Henry, 2013 Rodel Exemplary TeacherShe has 17 years’ experience in special education from kindergarten through sixth grade.

Henry said that former students who come back and visit and assure her of how well they are doing, are her greatest source of pride. “This is something I model every day with my students striving to convey to them that you can achieve whatever you want if you have the right attitude and never give up,” she said.

On engaging students

“I keep my students engaged in learning by making learning meaningful and relevant to them. For example, if I’m teaching a lesson on fractions, I bring in pictures of food or even the real food item. I make learning a novelty, not a chore. In addition, I keep my students constantly moving during a lesson using a strategy such as Total Physical Response.”

A tip for new teachers

“Start every new day as a fresh new start. There are going to be some difficult challenges in teaching that you will face but you can always have a fresh start the next day. I would also reiterate that you must have a sense of humor while in this business. Teaching is such a rewarding job, but you must also have a sense of humor to survive. In addition, it’s always important for new teachers to understand that there are never enough hours in the day and as teachers, we only have control of so many factors. We only have our students for six hours a day, but their outside influences are beyond our control.”

On learning from a mentor

“One lesson that I learned from my mother, my mentor, is to never give up on a child, no matter how difficult or challenging the situation. I teach students who have extreme academic difficulties and school is often not a place of comfort or an enjoyable experience for them. Therefore, it is my job to ensure that my students experience success in school so they will have positive school memories. Daily, I model to them that it is so important to never give up in school and to seek out available resources when experiencing challenges.”

Jennifer Thornton

Jennifer Thornton, 2013 Rodel Exemplary TeacherShe has 15 years in education including 13 years as an ESL kindergarten teacher and two years as a regional program manager for a private-school system and currently is a member of the school leadership team as the K-2 mentor teacher.

Thornton takes the most pride in her students and the classroom culture they create. “I have always told my students that we are a family of friends, and I believe in creating a warm, safe and enriching learning environment where all are accepted,” she said.

On engaging students

“Especially in kindergarten, it is important to develop and adhere to a daily routine. This routine helps students feel at ease, knowing what will come next. With that said, it is also important that students participate in their learning in a variety of ways. This variety can include individual, partner, small group and center activities. The manner and topic may change from day to day, but the overall schedule remains the same. It is also critical that students understand the teacher expectations, not only for their learning but also for their behavior. Again, this helps promote a safe environment whereby all have an opportunity to succeed.”

A tip for new teachers

“When speaking to first-year teachers, I think of the scene in ‘Gone With the Wind’ when Scarlet states that “tomorrow is another day.” The first year is hard, but it will get better with time. Mistakes are going to happen, but you cannot let them prevent you from moving on or trying new things. I also would tell a new teacher that balance is key. It is important to have balance in your professional and personal life. If you are not happy and healthy, you most certainly will not be the best teacher possible for your students.”

Michelle Perryman

Michelle Perryman, 2013 Rodel Exemplary TeacherShe has 26 years in education teaching third through fifth grades.

Perryman called Larkspur a community of learners who pride themselves on all students achieving goals.

“Our school community views us as extended members of their families,” she said. “My pride is directly tied to my students’ academic success and how it contributes to the quality of their lives and the community at large.”

A tip for new teachers

“When preparing a lesson, the data will tell the teacher exactly where to go and how to teach each student. Then the new teacher can refer back and check on the progress of each child. The students should also keep a graph of how they are progressing in each subject. Reviewing their individual graphs once a week helps them to track their own progress. This lets them see their growth and think about where they need to improve.”

On collaborating for student success

“Collaboration has helped me to improve student attitude and student scores in my classroom. Students know they can talk to me about challenges in homework and together we will work out a solution.”