Using song to teach, completing jigsaw puzzles like a master, and riding a unicycle may be the hidden talents of our extraordinary educators this week, but what’s not hidden is their talent for teaching. Meet Chris White, Andrea Rauber, and Wendy Young, three High Point teachers who use their talents daily—leading by example as they encourage their students to find their own talents and voices. Read on to discover the ways these HP teachers have inspired and motivated their students.
“The only thing anyone owes you in this world, the only thing you ever have the right to demand off-gate, is respect. In that same spirit, the only thing you owe anyone in this world, the one thing you must give without receipt, is respect – the basic respect of a person’s humanity.”
Chris White, who teaches seventh grade English and language arts at Allen Jay Prep Academy, was nominated as an Extraordinary Educator by his principal, Dr. Kevin Wheat. Dr. Wheat says of Chris that he “engages students through music and maintains high growth recognitions consistently.” Chris himself says his “hidden talent” of music was soon discovered and encouraged in his classroom by his leadership at AJP.
“My hidden talent used to be that I could sing. That changed once I started teaching at a school that not only allowed but encouraged me to use singing if I thought it would enhance instruction,” Chris says. As a teacher, he cites his love of music as one of the influences on his teaching style.
“I would say in particular that my teaching style is the result of my extroverted personality, love for music, and cultural experiences in the African American church.” Today, he uses his background to bring positivity and creative thinking to his classroom. He wants his classroom to be a place where his students can momentarily put aside their stressors—from home, their online interactions, and even their peer-to-peer relationships.
When asked what his most memorable teaching moment was, Chris says: “Seeing a student who struggled to participate in class, complete assignments, pass exams, or work in groups fully commit to memorizing and performing a Langston Hughes poem as part of a partnered project, and then seeing his face light up at the applause he received from his peers and other teachers who had come to class to view the presentations. He was proud, a bit embarrassed, but most of all, elated.”
Allen Jay Prep draws students from all over Guilford County. Chris says it stands as proof that “when innovative instruction is combined with a clear school-wide mission that puts equal focus on a child’s social development as it does his academics, supported by the buy-in of parents, faculty and staff, students grow and thrive!” He recounts the success stories of students graduating the eighth grade with well above average proficiencies, and students who were timid and shy who go on to win public-speaking competitions.
“I want the High Point community to know that it works,” Chris says, “and that their support is the most important component of that success.”
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“In my classroom, there is a simple statement at the front of the room. ‘I can. I will.’ I believe all children can and will be successful, not only in my classroom, but in life. As teachers, we help lay the foundation for who children will become. I work to empower my students to take ownership of their education.”
Third-grade teacher at Triangle Lake Montessori, Andrea Rauber, was nominated by her principal, Pamela Ford. Her principal describes Andrea as a teacher who possesses the “remarkable ability to uncover a child’s true talent and potential.”
Andrea unlocks that potential in her students by remembering that each one comes with their own stories, unique interests, and individual abilities. And she calls Triangle Lake Montessori more of a home than just a school. She says each day starts with her past and current students filing in and out of her classroom to say good morning.
“They come with smiles, stories, and hugs. There is no other job in the world that begins each day with such love,” Andrea says. “Not a day passes that I do not know my purpose in their lives or recognize the impact they have made on mine.”
Andrea stresses, “As a Montessori school, we provide our students with a unique method of learning that allows them the opportunity to make choices based on their interests and abilities. Teachers observe, guide, and provide a learning environment tailored to the needs of the children.”
But Andrea admits, sometimes in the smallest ways, she sees how her students are often the ones teaching her. She recounts when a bird once flew in the open window of her classroom, startling her and causing her to escort her students into the hallway.
“I was a bit scattered in my thoughts about what to do, when one of my nature-loving girls came up very matter-of-fact and said, ‘Mrs. Rauber, it’s just a bird. I’ll get it out.’ I reluctantly followed two fearless little girls back into the classroom, where they swiftly turned out the lights, pulled up the blinds, opened all the windows, and guided the bird towards its freedom. All while I ducked for cover and squealed with angst. The class had a good laugh that afternoon!”
Andrea’s hidden talent is being a master jigsaw puzzler. She believes putting together a puzzle is a lot like teaching. “It requires you to have patience, pay attention to the most minute details, look for patterns, but be willing to change your angle,” she says, “and to think creatively, especially when you’re missing a piece!”
Check out Andrea’s Amazon Wishlist!
“Perhaps the greatest lesson I want my students to learn is that they are responsible for themselves. No adversity dictates their future. If there is a will to be successful, they will find the way and I hope that I can motivate them to persevere even when such a way is not obvious.”
Wendy Young, fifth-grade science teacher at Union Hill Elementary School, was nominated by her principal, Shayla Savage. Wendy has proven her dedication and excellence by increasing the proficiency scores of her students from 39% to 75% over the course of four years. Wendy attributes much of her success in the classroom to her administrators at Union Hill, and their dedication to seeing students succeed beyond their test scores. Plus, Wendy also makes use of her own recipe for classroom success: inspiration from real-world experiences, collaboration with their peers, and motivation to never give up.
Wendy says that every student requires a different kind of connection and inspiration. Even their demeanors first thing in the morning are different – ranging from wide awake and ready to engage to still a little sleepy from the bus ride in.
“Whatever the case, smiling at them and wishing them a good morning will brighten most students’ mornings,” she says. “The challenge of inspiring all of them to have a love of learning is an amazing reward. To show them that science is everywhere and that they use it every day is my goal and my passion.”
Wendy has made science as hands-on as possible, going so far as to have a menagerie of class pets including a turtle, a hamster, some fish and several mice. She remembers one particular season when the class was studying genetics, that she kept a brown female mouse and a white male mouse.
“I was busy teaching when my students noticed that the pet mouse was giving birth,” Wendy remembers. “My lesson came to an abrupt stop while the class looked on as eleven little pink babies emerged from the bedding.” Wendy had planned for the mice to arrive to teach a lesson in revealing dominant and recessive genes. She had no idea the mice would be born during class. The students’ fascination and retention of the lesson was proof that science can and does overlap with the real world.
Wendy also knows that children learn best through varying types of stimulation, so she uses everything from experiments, to computer programs, to group projects to keep them engaged.
“Fifth graders are no exception to the human instinct to be social, so I take advantage of this by having them complete work in groups,” she explains. “This not only benefits their current learning, but also teaches them how to collaborate and reach consensus with peers.”
And it doesn’t hurt that Wendy’s hidden talent – riding the unicycle – came from years of hard work. She hopes the same kind of hard work impacts the way she teaches.
“I learned to ride when I was eight years old because my older brothers rode the unicycle and I was determined to learn, too. It took many hours of falling off and getting back up again before I was able to go more than just a few feet,” she says. Eventually she learned to ride. “I always tried to keep up with my brothers which was a great motivator to persevere when I was younger. I try to teach my students the same.”
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Photography by Maria West Photography