What makes a great teacher? Take a look at these local leaders in education

2013-08-04T00:00:00Z 2013-08-06T16:59:10Z What makes a great teacher? Take a look at these local leaders in educationChristine Bryant Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
August 04, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Ask anyone, and most can remember their favorite teacher.

Several studies show the most important factor determining a student's quality of education is the quality of the teacher.

Whether it's the strong relationships teachers build, the amount of time they put into their classrooms or the unique teaching methods that catch the students' attention, many teachers leave a lasting impact on their students.

As most students prepare to head back to school this month, area teachers are gearing up as well. Here are three local teachers who are known within their districts as being leaders in the education field and for capturing the imaginations of their students.

Stephanie Truitt

4th grade teacher at Flint Lake Elementary, Valparaiso Community Schools

After Stephanie Truitt's parents divorced when she was young, "school became for me a really wonderful place," she said.

As an elementary school teacher now, she wants each of her students to feel secure in the classroom - just as she did when she was their age.

"I chose to not focus on the scars of the past, but attempt to connect with each student in a means and manner that - sometime in their lives, be it a year or 10 - they remember that Mrs. Truitt was my teacher and she knows that I'm something special," Truitt said.

Using technology to aide her classroom instruction, Truitt has found a way to engage her students by blending technology with more traditional school activities.

She said students deserve the opportunity to work at their highest levels, and she enjoys the challenge of discovering what pushes students in the most beneficial manner.

"At the same time, I believe in creating a safe surrounding for students to be able to flounder - to know what frustration looks like and feels like, and working through adversity to achieve their goals," said Truitt, who has been with the district for 17 years.

Each child, she said, enters the classroom with a wide variety of strengths, weaknesses and backgrounds.

"It really is not uncommon for a child to live in Northwest Indiana without having been to Chicago or even the Indiana Dunes," she said. "Some have homes that don't have or lack importance on appropriate work habits. It takes effort to develop and instill those habits."

Her favorite memory of teaching is one that repeats itself each year, she said.

"There comes a point in time where the students learn the safety in questioning and taking risks, and when that happens, the experience goes way beyond learning standards," she said.

Ramona Callahan

7th and 8th grade teacher at St. Thomas More, Munster

Ramona Callahan loves math.

"There are so many ways you can solve a problem, but there is only one answer," she said.

As a math teacher for 28 years, she knows students don't always share her love for the subject, but she sees that as a challenge.

"Students are always urged to find the easiest way for themselves to solve the problem," she said. "I hope my students see that they must use math everyday throughout their lives, so they must be comfortable with it."

To catch the students' attention, Callahan incorporates real world problems into every lesson.

"Students always say, 'Why do we need to learn this?'" Callahan said. "I take an everyday situation and wrap the concept into it. Sometimes it's very silly, but most of the time, the students can see and understand the correlation."

Callahan also believes in the concept of reassessment - allowing a student who has done poorly on a test or who has missed just one concept to reassess the concepts he has not mastered. The student sets up an appointment outside classroom time to reassess the missed concepts.

"This way, I know they have mastered the missed concept, and the student feels confident to move on," she said.

Callahan said her biggest challenge as a teacher is remembering the people she teaches are children.

"There is so much expected from students in our world today, so much competition to be the best, and they are so much more advanced because of the technology that surrounds them than I was at their age," Callahan said. "But they are still children. They have the same insecurities, problems, hopes and dreams that I had so many years ago."

She approaches her students each day from the place they are at as individuals, Callahan said.

"I need to be aware of what is going on at home, of what is going on with their friends, of what is going on with their mind set," she said. "It changes every day. I must change every day and be flexible to each child."

Tim Krieg

English teacher at Hobart High School, Hobart

As a teacher, Tim Krieg's ultimate goal is to enable his students to be more intelligent and successful than he is.

"I want my students to take what I've taught them and run with it," he said. "If I can help my students gain confidence as users of the English language and to appreciate education, the opportunities for them in life are limitless."

Although Krieg knows he can't control how students feel about the English subject before they step foot into his classroom, he can show them that his class is important enough for them to invest their time and energy into what he asks of them.

When he has students who are indifferent toward the class, he said he tries to be deliberate about showing them he's human and can relate to their concerns and opinions.

"I'm not above purposely embarrassing myself and using all different kinds of resources to make my class relevant and engaging," Krieg said. "In the big scheme of things, students may not always like what we do in class. My goal is ultimately for my students to appreciate what they learned in my class."

Educational research shows human beings learn considerably more by teaching others than by being lectured at, Krieg said. Entering his fourth year of teaching, Krieg said although it's his natural tendency to lecture, he is learning how to be in control and simultaneously release the reigns - allowing his students to take control of their learning.

Allowing students to pair up or work in groups to share ideas and debate allows students to learn new concepts.

"When students are given the opportunity to be the teachers, authentic learning takes place," Krieg said.

The idea is based on the concept of brain-based education - figuring out the most natural way for students to learn based upon how the brain functions. It also encourages teachers to be conscious of students' emotions and to get more students involved.

"Teaching is a challenging occupation, but it is also one of the most rewarding occupations," Krieg said. "I get the opportunity to meet hundreds of new people every year, and I get the chance to learn everyday."

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