Re-2 teacher of the year loves students’ energy and humor
Other than being a mom, teaching is the most amazing thing Mary K. Richardson has ever done, she said as she held back tears.And she hasn’t always done it.”I’ve only been a teacher for 11 years,” Richardson said. “I used to work in a dental office. I used to help in my kids’ schools and one day I thought, ‘I’m going to go back to school and change professions.'”That’s just what she did. She went to Mesa State College and got degrees in English and teaching. It turns out, she’s pretty good at it.Richardson is this year’s L.S. Wood Teacher of the Year for Garfield School District Re-2. The L.S. Wood Charitable Trust has awarded the teacher of the year award to one Re-2 teacher and one Roaring Fork School District teacher every year for the last 22 years.
The awards recognize excellence in instruction, community contributions and the capacity to inspire a love of learning. The trust honors teachers with $2,000 and gives the school another $2,000 to spend in whatever way the teacher of the year designates. Other nominees receive gift certificates from an area business. Krista Espelein, a band teacher at Rifle Middle School, was also nominated for the award.L.S. Wood Trustee John Reeves noted that, although the L.S. Wood foundation was funded through mining coal, a more valuable resource exists in the minds of students.Richardson taught in Grand Junction for one year before she started working at St. Stephens School in Glenwood Springs. She took a position at Riverside Middle School in 2000. She teaches seventh-grade language arts now.”I love it,” Richardson said. “Every day is a new day. I love (the students’) energy and their sense of humor. It is a hard time for them. And I think of it as a challenge. I really don’t think I’ve had a single day that was like any other day since I’ve started teaching.”Richardson is close with her students. She gets to know them in class and outside of class. She said she loves going to their sporting events and extracurricular activities. She even enjoys running into them at the grocery store.She’s has several students come into her classroom to visit long after they’re finished with her class. Stewart Stapleton, a senior at Rifle High School this year, stopped into her classes recently.
“Some of the girls were falling all over themselves,” Richardson said.Stapleton isn’t the only former student who keeps in touch. Danny Kramer graduated last year and holds the honor of bestowing Richardson with her nickname.”The very first year I had him, he was in third grade at St. Stephens, he called me Mrs. R and it stuck,” Richardson said.Richardson advanced to the fourth grade with Kramer and had him two years in a row.Now everyone, including parents, call her Mrs. R.”It’s a lot easier to say than Richardson, especially for some of the Hispanic kiddos who don’t have a real strong foundation in English yet,” Richardson said.
When she first started, Richardson taught first grade.”Teachers say, ‘to teach is to see a light bulb go on,'” Richardson said. “In first grade I saw that all day every day. And we all held hands everywhere we went. Now we’re in seventh grade and we don’t hold hands any more. But the energy and the enthusiasm is still there.”Richardson’s favorite thing to tell her kids is to “think outside of the box.” She assigns a lot of hands-on projects and likes to have kids apply their knowledge in creative ways.”Humbled,” is the word she used to describe her feeling upon receiving the L.S. Wood award.”There are so many dynamic teachers,” Richardson said. “I was flabbergasted.”She credits her co-workers and teaching team for much of her success.”In order to be a great teacher, you have to have great support,” Richardson said, tearing up again. “I’m sorry I get so emotional – this is my heart.”
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