'As a teacher, my heart is full'
Maggie McCracken jumped right in with a striking insight when a group of students in Amanda Wells’ fifth grade class at Clyde Elementary School were asked if they like to be challenged by their teacher.
“Our education continues,” she said with a sparkle in her eyes. “We’re learning information we will need later — expanding our knowledge.”
The students understand they are learning good study habits for their future.
Give credit to Wells and her fellow fifth grade teachers who work as a team to design a creative environment for these young people.
“Mrs. Wells makes it fun,” agreed Brandon Steppleton and Jesson Jones. “We even made ice cream as a science lesson one day.”
“If we get confused, she knows it and takes a step back and reviews. She asks us to raise our hands if she is going too fast for us,” added Chloe Maier.
As a teacher, “my heart is full,” said Wells, who rarely sits down during the school day.
“When you are doing something you feel God has called you to do, no matter how hard it may be, you do your very best and you feel at peace," she explained. "I hope my students will gain confidence to learn new things and recognize their strengths in order to become the most successful people they can be. I want them to feel loved and respected in our classroom and to learn that they can be proactive and in charge of themselves. I also hope I plant a little seed in them so they will grow to be excited, life-long learners.”
When one visits Mrs. Wells’ classroom, her hopes become visible as students work on an assignment to create a multi-media biography of an explorer. As the children work to download photos and text, she reminds them that they can also speak into the tablet computers as part of the presentation.
“I will come around to help you,” she said, “but remember there are many of you and only one of me.”
And that is where teamwork among the students comes into play as the children show each other how to search and download material about their chosen explorer.
“Always make sure you credit the online source,” Wells reminds them.
The day has a stimulating atmosphere of interactive learning as students study the required material and also learn to think and express themselves as they learn. During a reading comprehension session, Wells frequently pauses and asks questions to see if the students listen and understand the story.
“What does the word illuminate mean?” she asks. “Find a partner and talk about the word.”
After a couple of minutes, she asks for quiet and the children share their ideas.
After graduating from Wofford College in Spartanburg with a degree in biology and then teaching at the high school level in South Carolina, Wells moved with her husband Matthew to Silver Spring, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, where she taught at a science magnet school and earned her master’s degree in human development from the University of Maryland. Following the birth of their first child, the couple moved to Clyde to be closer to family, and they now have three children.
“My graduate work in human development added another dimension to my teaching — how to motivate children, how they think and what are they developmentally capable of?" she said. "As educators, we should never stop learning. I am constantly trying to find better ways to meet the individual educational, psychological and emotional needs of my students.”
That is where the team of teachers cooperating together becomes a source of excellence. Wells does not operate her classroom in isolation. She and the other teachers of fifth grade, Alison Lipham, Jessica Long and Ashley Pace work in a collaborative fashion, each drawing on the expertise and ideas of the other. Clyde principal Clint Conner asks his teachers to always begin with the question, “What is best for our kids?” and that is the question the team explores as they create lessons and share effective teaching strategies.
“I’m a better teacher because of their (her teaching colleagues) minds,” said Long. “It’s a very demanding job but also very rewarding as we see a child who struggles at home and in school become successful because of our work together.”
The four meet regularly to work out lessons plans and evaluate those that are most successful.
“We are advocates for creating successful young adults,” added Lipham.
“You see the children loving to learn. When I read aloud to them, they usually say, ‘Please, just one more chapter,’” Pace said with a smile.
The fifth grade students also have a responsibility to create a positive atmosphere in their classroom. At the beginning of the year, Wells told her kids to create an honor code by which they would operate this year. What do you consider to be my responsibilities as a teacher? she asked them.
“Teach us, help us, keep it fun and interesting, be respectful of us and help us build strategies to solve problems,” the kids answered. Their words are now posted in the classroom.
And what are the students' responsibilities? “To pay attention, be respectful of our teachers, not talk back, be proactive, be a leader and most importantly, to try our best!”
It is apparent that Wells and the teachers and staff of Clyde Elementary are building young people with intelligence and integrity. Her students point to a saying they often hear from her: “Leadership is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.”
For Wells, her hopes are summed up with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”