Teacher of Year bonds with students

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 3, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Theresa Pierce can’t walk down the halls at Overton Elementary School without students waving, calling out her name or running to hug her.
“They are always so excited to see her,” Jennifer Sheppard, the school’s Title I coordinator, said.
Pierce was recently named the Rowan-Salisbury Teacher of the Year, an accolade Sheppard said is well-deserved.
“I’m not surprised at all,” she said. “She always has a smile, she always puts kids first.”
Pierce, a curriculum coach who works with children in kindergarten through fifth grade, said her No. 1 teaching philosophy is to have a relationship with every student.
“I get to know their name, their interests to show that I actually care,” she said. “Because kids don’t care what you know if you don’t know them.”
And Elizabeth Sloop, a recent Catawba College graduate who participated in the Catawba-Overton Partners in Education mentoring program, said Pierce doesn’t just build strong bonds with students, she also reaches out to her peers.
“She’s always positive, always lifting other people up,” she said. “I don’t know what I would have done without having her here.”
Pierce, 53, said forming bonds is so important to her that she found her prior role as the history specialist at Horizons Unlimited to be less fulfilling.
“I was teaching lots and lots of children, but I missed the relationship piece,” she said. “So I decided to reapply for the classroom and ended up being a curriculum coach, which is the best of both worlds because I get to teach the teachers and teach the students.
“Every day is an adventure.”
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Pierce said she’s wanted to be a teacher ever since starting kindergarten.
As she continued through school, interacting with inspiring, and, in some cases, not-so- inspiring teachers solidified that choice.
Pierce said she tries to make sure her lessons are relevant to students by thinking outside the box to find ways to grab their attention.
“She really gets on their level,” Kathy Green, the school’s media coordinator, said. “She does whatever it takes to help students learn.”
Green said when she collaborates with Pierce to teach lessons, they brainstorm ways to reach every type of learner ranging from the artistic to the athletic.
“She really tries to meet every child’s need,” Green said.
Sheppard said Pierce engages students by making “everything fun and interactive.”
“She brings in real world things so that they can have unique experiences,” she said.
But Pierce doesn’t take much credit for her successes. Instead, she attributes them to the staff at Overton.
“It’s all about collaboration,” she said. “We team up to make sure students get what they need.”
But Sheppard said Pierce stands out.
“She’s very genuine,” she said. “(The students) know she’s here for them and they respond to that,” Sheppard said.
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Pierce said watching her children Jessica, Ashley and Dean grow up molded her into a more nurturing educator.
“They love you unconditionally,” she said. “We’re a very tight-knit family who celebrate everything about each other.”
When Pierce decided to attend Catawba to earn her master’s degree at age 50, she said her husband, Brad, and co-workers at Overton were behind her 100 percent.
And when she wanted to give up on trying to obtain her certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Brad pushed her to keep going.
“He would not let me give up,” she said. “He’s smart and wise and just my very best friend.”
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Pierce said the most rewarding part of her job is helping children learn how to read.
“I really enjoy working with children and seeing them grow,” she said.
And she said technology makes the process easier than ever before.
Now, students can read a book while Pierce assesses their skill level on a handheld device. When they finish, Pierce simply clicks a button that provides instant feedback.
“We know exactly how to help a child improve their reading in just a matter of minutes,” she said. “That’s incredible.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.