Teresa Smith

AGE: 44. JOB: Kindergarten teacher.
DID YOU KNOW? Smith took violin lessons from first through eighth grade.

Teresa Smith is second in seniority among the staff at Lucas Elementary School only to Alfreda Dixon, who will retire at the end of the year. Smith taught first grade for 16 years and this year was moved to kindergarten because of a numbers crunch. She’s worked with three principals and countless students.

Smith teaches at a critical stage in children’s development. Not only are they beginning to learn the alphabet and to read and write, but they are exposed to a much wider world of children and adults than they have known before. Socialization is really the first step to learning at this level.

Thus Smith has to combine the skills of a traffic cop, the patience of a 1950s sit-com mother, the gung-ho enthusiasm of Big Bird and the organizational skills of Martha Stewart to prevent chaos from reigning.

“For some, this is their first experience because they may never have been to preschool,” Smith said. “You are teaching them how to get along with each other.”

Smith always wanted to teach growing up in Wayland, even though neither parent attended college and she had no relatives who taught.

“My teachers, I guess, were my inspiration,” she said. “I did work with kids at Bible school.”

She graduated from Iowa State University, and her goal was to teach at the lower levels in elementary school.

“I was OK with fourth-graders,” she said. “They were independent, where the first-graders needed more support. You could just see the joy in the first-graders. They really wanted to learn.”

She student taught at other schools but says Lucas was her favorite.

“Once people got to know you and the word got out, they’d keep calling you back,” Smith said. “Everyone was friendly here. They made you so welcome. They would stop and ask, ‘Can I help, or if you need help please come to me.’”

Lucas’ diversity is a strength that teachers such as Smith embrace. The diversity isn’t just racial but socio-economic, language-based and among differently abled kids.

“We learn from each other that we all have differences,” she said. “The differences are great. When you get out into the real world, everyone is different and you have to learn to get along.”

— Susan Harman


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