janice raper feature
By Holly Fesperman LeeSalisbury Post
She’s a seasoned teacher but her colleagues say you’d never know it. She embraces change, she’s got the energy of a first-year teacher and she’s 100 percent about her students.
Janice Raper doesn’t like a lot of recognition, but scores of school officials will stand in line to tell you why she deserves it.
This is school year number 31 for the Hurley Elementary teacher ó and she’s not done yet.
“Even though I could retire, I just don’t want to,” Raper says. “I love it. I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t teaching.”
State officials recently recognized Raper’s passion for teaching and her commitment to students when they chose her the Northwest Region’s Teacher of the Year.
Raper was named Rowan-Salisbury School System Teacher of the Year in May, and she competed against top teachers from 15 other systems for the regional honor.
Regional selection committee officials surprised Raper with the award at her school just before Christmas break.
Brenda Huggins, a retired teacher from Catawba County, was part of the selection committee.
While most teachers with Raper’s years of service are on a countdown to retirement, she’s counting how many more years she can stay, Huggins said.
“She’s such an inspiration for her co-workers, students, parents and beginning teachers,” Huggins says.
Raper started her career in 1971, teaching fifth grade at Enochville Elementary. Now she teaches fourth- and fifth-grade Academically/Intellectually Gifted classes at Hurley.
“I’ve always known this is what I wanted to do,” Raper says.
Raper’s fifth-grade teacher, Ollie Parrish, was her inspiration.
“I loved that woman to death. She was the type you wanted to do for her,” Raper says. “I can remember thinking ‘I want to be like Mrs. Parrish.’ ”
In the mid-1980s, Raper developed an economics curriculum for the county.
She started teaching the basic economic principals in her own classroom. Students had their own money, ran their own stores and paid taxes.
“I felt it was important for students to learn how to handle and manage money,” she says. “You don’t just get money from mom and dad. … Everything comes with a price.”
Raper still uses innovative techniques in her classroom today, and there are no ordinary days.
One minute, children are reading silently to themselves. Later, Raper asks, “Does McDonald’s serve cheeseburgers?”
Children immediately answer “Yes,” and Raper takes out her cheeseburger hat to go with the math lesson on division.
The sentence is an acronym to help students remember the steps to long division ó divide, multiply, subtract, compare and bring down.
The hat just helps get them excited.
“If they don’t enjoy learning, they’re not going to learn,” she says. “I try to find things that will stick in their minds to help them remember.”
Later in the lesson, a big red button on her desk speaks up with the familiar “That was easy!” from the Staples commercials.
Raper said the “easy button” didn’t start as a teaching tool, but that’s how she uses it now.
“I really have a hard time finding things and I said, ‘If I just had one of those easy buttons I could find anything,’ ” she says.
She saw one in a Staples store and bought it.
Raper asks her students to complete the first two division problems in their textbooks and let her check their work.
If they work the problems correctly, they get to hit the easy button.
“It’s amazing, just pressing it can mean so much to these students,” says Raper.
When school officials announced Raper as the system’s Teacher of the Year, her principal, Kim Walton, had the button in her pocket.
“Don’t you want to hit the easy button?” Walton asked, holding it up.
Walton said that when she learned Raper was voted Hurley’s Teacher of the Year, she knew she had a shot at the systemwide honor.
“She embraces change. She’s a leader in our school. She shares with other teachers,” Walton says. “She’s humble and she doesn’t like a lot of recognition, but she’s a team player and she wants everybody to feel successful; not just the students, but her colleagues, too.”
Walton cried when she heard Raper was Regional Teacher of the Year.
“I’m so happy for her,” the principal says. “She so deserves this. She deserves so much recognition.”
Raper is a true leader among the faculty, according to Walton.
About this time last year, Walton says, she told the staff a state assistance team would visit the school. She went over what the team would look for and raised her expectations for teachers.
“Janice stood up and yelled, ‘Bring it on!’ ” Walton recalls. “That carried us throughout the rest of the year last year, because of her positive attitude.”
While some items like the easy button do play a part in the lesson, Raper says she does some things “just to keep the spark in here.”
Students were working on a chart to go with the novel, “Tuck Everlasting” when one group made a mistake and asked Raper if they could use the white correction fluid.
She took the fluid from her desk, came over to the group and raised her right hand.
The three girls repeated after Raper as she recited what she calls “the white-out oath.”
“I solemnly promise I will not eat the white-out. So help me Mrs. Raper. Amen.”
Raper says teachers aren’t supposed to leave correction fluid on their desks, especially around younger children, because they may swallow the toxic fluid.
“It’s one of those no-nos,” she says.
Will Steinman, a fourth-grader, says he enjoys being in Raper’s class, “because we get to do stuff we can’t do in homeroom.”
“My teacher doesn’t have white-out,” he says.
Will also says he enjoys the Shakespeare festival that Raper helps organize every year.
During the festival, children dress up, eat a special meal without a fork and act out plays.
“I want to instill the love of Shakespeare before they get to high school and have the drudgery of Shakespeare,” Raper says.
The boy and girl with the highest average in the class on the Shakespeare work get to be king and queen during the festival.
“That takes away the problem of anybody not doing their homework,” she says.
“You’ve got to make learning fun. You don’t have to entertain, but you must have a purpose for the work, make them see you’re not giving busy work,” Raper says. “I think they also need to see you as a person. They hear my stories and they tell me theirs. If you can tell a story, you can write a story.”
Contact Holly Lee at 704-797-7683 or firstname.lastname@example.org.