DIS, PSMS and CES select 'Teachers of the Year'
What does it take to become Berkeley County “Teacher of the Year?” Certainly it’s a distinction that requires patience, persistence, a passion for working with young students, and the seemingly magic ability to unlock a lifelong love of learning. The Daniel Island News sat down with the recently named “Teachers of the Year” at Daniel Island School, Cainhoy Elementary School and Philip Simmons Middle to find out what special qualities they bring to their classrooms.
Cainhoy Elementary School
Lead CDEP (K-4) Teacher
Heather Zack grew up in Maine where she earned her B.S. in Elementary Education from The University of Maine at Farmington, a nationally ranked teaching school. After graduation she moved to Charleston, where, six years ago, she joined Cainhoy Elementary (CHE) as an assistant teacher, got married, adopted a puppy, bought a house, and, last May, completed her Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education at University of South Carolina’s Upstate Online program. As Aidra Shaw, CES Principal points out, “Heather Zack is compassionate, friendly and always wants what’s best for her students. She truly has a heart for teaching.”
Q: Why do you think you won “Teacher of the Year?”
Heather (HZ): “Good news got around CES about the hard work - and a big success - happening in my classroom. This past January, all my students met a benchmark on the PALS test (Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening) five months ahead of schedule. I was ecstatic - and so proud of my class. We had a big celebration!”
Q: How did you help your students to achieve that success?
HZ: “This year, we’ve been doing a lot more work in smaller skills-based groups. I’ve been continually analyzing the kids’ scores, assessing the specific letters and sounds each child needs to work on, then I group the students according to their competencies and create specially designed lesson plans.”
Q: What special qualities do you bring to your classroom?
HZ: “I am very patient. I use assertive but very kind language. I also get to know my students on multiple levels so that they feel comfortable, valued and able to take the necessary risks to learn.”
Q: What is your favorite part of the day?”
HZ: “Seeing those little light bulbs turn on when my students solve a problem all by themselves. For most of these kids, this is their first school experience. They have to learn how to walk in a line, sit still on a rug, write their names and work together. I talk them through the process and we practice a lot. When they get it right the first time all by themselves, we help them celebrate! It’s a great journey to be on!”
Q: …And the most challenging part?
HZ: “Every day is fun, but it’s a lot to pack in, between teaching the standards and fitting in all the other small group lessons. We are always learning!”
Q: How would you define the word “teacher?”
HZ: “Teaching is not just about academics, it’s about social and emotional skills as well. As teachers, we need to model everything we ask the children to do. If we say ‘use your words,’ we need to show them what that means. We’re responsible for teaching our students how to be successful not only in the classroom but in everything they do in life.”
Patricia “Patty” Fisher
Daniel Island School
Second grade teacher
With 27 years of experience, Patty Fisher has been teaching second grade at DIS since the school opened 11 years ago. Born and raised in Myrtle Beach, she earned her B.S. in Elementary Education at Winthrop University. After one year of teaching in Greenville, Fisher, longing to be back by the sea, returned to the Charleston area to raise a family (daughter Jules, a DIS graduate, is a senior at Bishop England) and teach at schools in Summerville and Mt. Pleasant before coming to DIS in its inaugural year. DIS Principal Kori Brown observes, “Mrs. Fisher is enthusiastic, dedicated and demonstrates a passion for teaching. She has high expectations of her students and constantly searches for ways to make her teaching more interesting and engaging so she can contribute to creating lifelong learners.”
Q: Why do you think you were named “Teacher of the Year?” What special qualities do you bring to your classroom?
Patty Fisher (PF): “The staff and administration know that I love my children and I work hard to teach them to think for themselves and build a life-long love of learning.”
Q: What’s your favorite part of the day?
PF: “I love to hear my students exclaim ‘Oh!’ when they figure something out on their own. That kind of enthusiasm comes from feeling in control of their learning environment. They know that they are successful whenever they think through a problem on their own. We also have a lot of great conversations in the classroom, drawing on real-life situations to illustrate concepts like cause and effect, figurative language and math.”
Q: … And the worst part of your day?
PF: “Going to a really noisy lunchroom everyday, but my kids do a great job there.”
Q: What’s unique about your classroom?
PF: “It’s really not ‘my’ classroom as much as it’s ‘our’ classroom. All my kids feel loved and secure in the knowledge that its ok to make mistakes because they learn from them. Each of us has a special gift and we work to find out what those gifts are, even if it takes a little while to uncover them.”
Q: How would you define the word “teacher?”
PF: “A teacher wears a lot of different hats: guidance counselor, nurse, mother and, above all, a mentor. You need to have a lot of patience, be very prepared and recognize that you’ll make a lot of mistakes but you learn from them and move on. And accept the help that’s offered. The parents, my teaching team and the DIS staff are all so incredibly supportive. They want the best for our students. I feel blessed to be a part of a really wonderful community.”
Philip Simmons Middle School
7th/8th grade English teacher
Dylan Hudson, in his third year as a classroom teacher, grew up in the small South Carolina town of Belton. He graduated from the University of South Carolina with a BS in Secondary Education and was subsequently hired by the university as an undergraduate admissions recruiter. After returning to Anderson County to teach school for two years, Hudson moved to the Charleston area where he lives with his wife, a reading coach at St. Stephens Elementary. PSMS Principal, Anthony Dixon, observes: “Dylan Hudson is a dynamic, creative teacher who knows how to motivate his students to want to learn and collaborates with staff and administration to make our school the best it can be!” Hudson has also been named a finalist for district-wide Teacher of the Year award.
Q: Why do you think you are being honored as “Teacher of the Year?”
Dylan Hudson (DH): “First of all, I have to say that I love working here. There’s a real family atmosphere at PSMS. There’s also a lot of energy, which I feed off of. I tend to find the positive in everything. I want to fill my students with that positivity. I hate negativity. It’s toxic and contagious.”
What special qualities do you bring to your classroom?
DH: “I make a point of saying ‘good morning’ to every student, because kind words can change a kid’s day. People forget what it’s like to be a teen; they’re right in the middle - struggling to grow out of childish tendencies but not quite fitting easily into adult responsibilities either. It’s tough.”
Q: What’s your favorite part of the day?
DH: “Interacting with the kids. No matter how tough a day is, the students are still able to come in and make me laugh.”
Q: …And the toughest part of the day?
DH: “The biggest challenge is getting through to reluctant students. I build relationships with each one of them by learning about their hobbies and interests. It’s a way of showing them respect and, in turn, they respect me and want to learn from me.”
Q: When did you realize you wanted to be a teacher?
DH: “My 8th grade teacher, Mr. Bramblett, changed my outlook on education, showing me that you can like English and still enjoy sports and music. My parents, both educators, influenced me as well. While they didn’t push me into the field, they taught me the importance of having solid character, good morals, a strong work ethic and compassion for children.”
Q: How would you define the word “teacher”?
DH: “As a teacher, I see each student as more than just a test score and I care about my students as if they were my own children. As teachers, we are influencers and role models who need to give students lots of verbal reinforcements, words of praise and encouragement. The enthusiasm and hard work my kids are putting into their learning every day is all the testimony I need. I’m really proud of them.”