Educator of the Year | Teen Ink

Educator of the Year

May 8, 2018
By EJ0139 GOLD, Hartland, Wisconsin
EJ0139 GOLD, Hartland, Wisconsin
14 articles 0 photos 0 comments

As a 10-year-old, moving isn’t an easy task. When I moved from Virginia to Wisconsin after my fourth grade year, I was nervous. I was forced to leave my friends, house, and school behind and start fresh in an unfamiliar place. To make matters worse, I was incredibly shy. I worried I wouldn’t be able to talk to my classmates and make new friends.
Within a couple weeks at Swallow Elementary School, however, all my fears vanished. This was in large part because of my fifth grade teachers, Mrs. Olenchek and Mrs. Mallow.
Unlike any class I had been in, in my fifth grade class, each teacher taught for one half of the school week. At first, I was unsure of how this would work. With it being my first year at a new school, I wanted to make sure I had the time to become comfortable with my teacher. To my surprise, however, the system worked perfectly.
For the first half of the week, I had Mrs. Olenchek. She was stern and straightforward, and challenged the class to do their best work. Then, at around lunchtime on Wednesday, Mrs. Mallow arrived. She brought the opposite personality ?–  softer and more gentle ?– taking the time to know each student. Together, they were like a perfectly balanced two-course meal ?– you could enjoy just enough of each one.
Even though I was new to the school, Mrs. Olenchek and Mrs. Mallow gave me the confidence to meet new kids and make new friends. They encouraged me to join the basketball team, where I met friends that I still talk to today. They exposed to me to unfamiliar experiences, resulting in me being much more willing to try new things. In my first three years of high school, I have gone out of my comfort zone in numerous ways. My eagerness to join the cross country team, participate in clubs, and take a broad range of classes has been a direct result of the confidence and curiosity I developed in fifth grade.
Most importantly, my teachers emphasized the value of first-person experience over “learning from the book.” Working together with the other teachers, they planned activities for the entire grade. The class trip to Camp Mackenzie was the first time I had been away from my parents for more than one night. Not only did I make new friends, but I also took some of my first steps in becoming more independent. Another lasting memory was the end-of-the-year bike ride. We rode the entire length of the Bugline Trail and had a picnic. Finally, there was the Battle of Bunker Hill reenactment. Our simulation of this famous Revolutionary War battle is the reason I never forget about it today. Although Mrs. Olenchek and Mrs. Mallow didn’t directly coordinate every activity, they did the planning and scheduling that made them all possible. With all the fun activities, I almost forgot about the friends I had left behind in Virginia.
My two teachers created an environment where everyone, no matter their personality, could grow as a person. Still today, six years later, I can thank Mrs. Olenchek and Mrs. Mallow for welcoming me in and impacting my life for the better.

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