Growing up, Lauren Smith’s brother might have described her as “bossy,” but she would be quick to clarify, “I was just teaching him.” Like many of our Extraordinary Educators, Lauren knew from a young age that she wanted to be a teacher.
“I have always liked teaching, whether it was my stuffed animals or my little brother,” she says. “As I got older, I had an amazing third-grade teacher who made going to school fun and exciting, and I knew that I wanted to be able to do that for kids.”
Now as a fifth-grade math teacher at Northwood Elementary School, Lauren works hard to make school fun and exciting for every one of her students. And in the words of her principal Susan Steen, Lauren is
phenomenal at making that kind of classroom a reality.
“Ms. Smith is a phenomenal math teacher, as well as a leader in our school,” says Principal Steen who nominated Lauren as an Extraordinary Educator. “She is great with technology and is always willing to help other staff members, and she goes above and beyond whenever she is asked to do anything.”
Lauren is equally grateful for Principal Steen and the faculty at Northwood, saying that the school is full of dedicated teaching professionals, who were quick to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With the ending of last school year, we had many struggles and challenges, but with amazing leadership from administration, as well as teamwork and persistence from our teachers, we were able to make the end of the year as successful as possible,” says Lauren. “We did our best to make sure all of our students knew that we were still there for them and cared about them even though they weren’t getting to be in the classroom with us every day.”
After all, even in the midst of the pandemic, it’s the interactions with her students that get Lauren the most excited for each new day.
“I love knowing that they will see a smiling face and feel safe in my classroom,” she expresses. “I enjoy seeing the excitement when they have mastered a concept, and I enjoy helping them become better citizens as well.”
It was in a moment when these two highlights of teaching – concept mastery and becoming a good citizen – converged that Lauren remembers feeling certain her work was making a difference in her students’ lives.
“When I was teaching first grade, I had a student who came into my classroom and didn’t even know his letters,” Lauren recounts. “He was way behind the rest of my class, but I was determined that he wasn’t going to feel left out or like a failure.”
While she worked with him every day to ensure he caught up to the other students in his grade level, the student continued to struggle. Finally, in class one day, Lauren gave him just two letters of the alphabet to practice over and over while she worked with several other students. And that’s when she noticed something special happening.
“I noticed that a girl had scooched over close to him, and they were talking,” Lauren says. She almost separated the children, as they had been assigned independent worktime. Instead, she hesitated and observed as the children worked quietly together.
“All of a sudden, the friend gave him a high five and jumped up and down clapping,” remembers Lauren. “I asked what was going on, and she informed me that he knew those letters now. She then showed him the letters, asked him what they were, and he told her the letters correctly.”
Soon, Lauren’s entire first–grade class was cheering for the student, and as Lauren held back tears of joy for her student, she saw him beaming, proud of himself for overcoming this challenge alongside a friend.
“I was proud of the boy for sticking with it and mastering those letters, the girl for deciding to help him, and the rest of the students for being proud when he learned it. Not a single child made fun of the fact he was in first grade learning his letters. They were genuinely proud that their classmate had accomplished a goal.”
And with an educator like Lauren at the head of her classroom, it’s easy to see where her students learn to be helpful, supportive teammates, cheering each other on in their educational journeys together.
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