Richland 2 Teacher of the Year: 'Born teaching'

Catherine Griggs / Pontiac Elementary

February 11, 2010 

What inspired you to choose teaching as a career?

In many ways, I feel like I was born teaching. My mom taught third grade and my grandmother was an elementary school principal. As a child, I spent hours playing school with my neighborhood friends. When I grew older, I volunteered as a camp counselor, taught Vacation Bible School, and worked in an after-school program.

While working, I met the mother of a precious preschooler. She struggled to make ends meet and aspired for her son to go to college. She put him on the bus to school each morning and trusted that his teacher was providing him with the tools he needed to create a better future. And at that moment, the power of the teaching profession was clear to me. I was more certain than ever that I wanted to be a part of it.

If you were not an educator, what would you like to do for a living?

If I were not an educator, I think I would like to be a nurse. I would want to be in a profession where I felt like I could make a difference. I recently had my second child and was in awe of how wonderful my nurses were. They attended to all of the needs of my family in such a compassionate and professional manner.

When my grandmother was sick with Alzheimer's, the nurses treated her with dignity until her very last days. Like educators, nurses have a profound impact on the lives of others.

What one thing have you borrowed from your favorite teacher that you use in your classroom?

My favorite teacher, Beth Simmons, was my third-grade teacher. One of the things I remember the most about her class was going to the listening center and listening to music. I particularly loved James Taylor's "Jelly Man Kelly."

Since I started teaching, I have incorporated music into my daily activities. We sing songs of friendship and love together during our morning meeting. We make up new lyrics about subjects we are studying to the tune of our favorite songs. We have song books that we use to practice our reading skills. Most often, we just enjoy listening and singing together. And one of our favorites is, of course, "Jelly Man Kelly."

Describe how you learned you were named Teacher of the Year in your district, and how you celebrated.

After an intense day of observations and interviews, I went home and crashed on the couch. It was such a wonderful day, but I was exhausted. I put my son to bed and promptly dozed off myself. Around eight o'clock, the phone rang. I answered it and it was Dr. (Steve) Hefner, our superintendent. He told me that I had been named Richland 2's Teacher of the Year. I was shocked.

I think I was probably speechless for a minute and then let him know how honored I was. My husband and I went to dinner to celebrate. That weekend was also my school's annual beach trip, and my colleagues surprised me with a celebration there.

What recognition did you receive for being named District Teacher of the Year?

The day after I received the call from Dr. Hefner, we had an assembly at school. I was called up to the stage, and my principal announced it to the school. It was amazing to look out and see so many of my wonderful colleagues and students, both present and past, clapping for me. I will never forget it.

Along with the other Teachers of the Year, I also was recognized at a district board meeting and reception. We were each escorted by our principals and presented with flowers. Later this month, the district, Richland Two Education Foundation and sponsors will host a formal reception in our honor at the Capital City Club. I am looking forward to enjoying the event with the other teachers of the year.

What would your students say you are best known for?

My students would probably say I am best known for having fun. We spend a majority of our waking hours at work, so I believe we should enjoy it to the fullest. I love to throw on a hat and pretend to be someone totally different. I often "forget" how to read, and have my students teach me.

Sometimes my twin sister, Mrs. Wigs, comes and does everything backwards. Of course, the students love correcting her and teaching her a thing or two. Last year, I dressed up as a baker named Mrs. Cookiesworth. I sent a video message to my students requesting that they help me sell my delicious cookies by writing jingles about them. Just a little bit of acting makes things fun for me and excites and motivates my students.

How do you see current economic conditions affecting your classroom, and how do you try to counteract that?

The current economic conditions have certainly affected all of our classrooms. Many parents are losing jobs and some of our children do not have what they need to be successful at school. As a teacher, part of my job is to recognize the needs of my students and enlist the support of the professionals around me to help my children.

Our schools have become so much more than just a place with students and teachers. We have guidance counselors, social workers, mental health counselors, school nurses, resource officers and many others who provide support to our students during these tough times.

With so many changes going on, our schools can provide a constant, stable, healthy environment for all of our children during these tough times.

What one item could you never do without in your classroom, and why?

One item I could not teach without is my SmartBoard, an interactive whiteboard used with a computer. Children these days are surrounded by technology.

Whether it is a computer, Nintendo DS, Playstation 3, or Wii, my students spend a great amount of time using technology. Teachers have to become increasingly tech-savvy to keep up with our students. With the SmartBoard, I can create engaging lessons for my students that resemble what they love about their game systems. I can take a math skill like addition, introduce it with a short video clip, and create an interactive game to play for practice.

What has been your most memorable classroom moment over the past year?

My most memorable classroom moment over the past year was "Meet the Teacher" night. This is probably my favorite night of the year.

Even now, about five minutes before the families enter my room, I get butterflies in my stomach. I cannot wait to meet the new crew that I will be spending the next year with. I love watching them come into the room, some hiding behind parents and some comfortably strolling around as if they have been in there forever. I love getting to know the parents I will be working with and the siblings I will be hearing so much about. "Meet the Teacher" night is always the kick-off to the exciting new school year.

If you are named a finalist for S.C. Teacher of the Year, who will be the first nonrelative you call?

My first nonrelative call will definitely be to my principal, Beth Elliott. Almost nine years ago, I was fresh out of college, naive and inexperienced. I was so thankful that she took a chance on me and hired me as a first-grade teacher. In the past nine years, I have grown so much and I attribute most of that to her.

She looks for the best in everyone and taught me to build on my students' strengths. She believes in educating the whole child and taught me the power of partnering with parents. She is self-reflective, always encouraging our faculty to have meaningful professional conversations. She also knows the importance of having fun, and she keeps our work environment positive and joyful.

I would love to be able to make that phone call and to let her know how grateful I am for the impact she has had on me.

CATHERINE GRIGGS

Age: 31

School: Pontiac Elementary

Years at Pontiac: 9

Years as an educator: 9

Family: Husband, John; son, Jack, 2; daughter, Ellie, 3 months

Academic credentials: Bachelor's and master's, University of South Carolina; National Board Certification, Early Childhood Education (2005)

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