Teacher has seen change, sad and exciting
By Annette C. Silva
After 27 years of facilitating fifth graders in learning at Woodbridge Elementary
School on Governor's Avenue in Greenwood, district teacher of the year Sherry
Holmes has learned about change. "Some changes in education are exciting," said
Holmes, "and some are sad."
"Elementary education is now very interactive," said Holmes, who sees this change
as a positive. "Children do learn better by doing," and anyway, this change was
probably inevitable, she said. "With the advent of TV, video games and the
Internet, the way children learn has changed dramatically."
Team teaching is an educational tool introduced since Holmes began teaching in the
early 1970s. In her fifth-grade classes, there are now three teachers who are
responsible for specific subjects throughout the day. Holmes teaches social studies
and history to three fifth-grade classes, Cindy Whaley teaches the same fifth
graders language arts, spelling and math, and Pamela Vanderwende teaches science.
"This gives us all more time to focus and prepare in our particular subjects,"
"Another way education has evolved is that we're more sophisticated in terms of
what we expect of our students," she added. Schools now follow state standards.
Holmes, for example, is teaching her fifth graders aspects of the U.S.
Constitution, formerly a subject addressed in sixth or seventh grade.
"By the end of the year, fifth graders should know about the three branches of
government, a brief history of the Constitution, be familiar with the Ten
Amendments, the Bill of Rights, and know generally who their state and national
A uneven playing field
While Holmes believes it's good that students are learning more at younger ages,
there is an increasing disparity among the children's socio-economic and
acculturation levels that makes teaching standardized material a challenge.
"We have so many kids with baggage today - so many single parents or grandparents
who are raising the children," she said. Some children receive minimal
socialization and little positive reinforcement, she said, and "a lot of the time
we serve as parents."
Teachers are asked to do more with less.
Holmes said she believes a county-wide educational district would provide a more
equitable distribution of support for areas like Woodbridge. "What is more
important than raising future citizens of a society?" she asks.
"I became a teacher because I've always liked helping people. My dad was active in
community service and he was my role model," said Holmes. She also praised teachers
who made a lasting impression on her life, such as a third-grade teacher who visited
her in the hospital when Holmes had a kidney infection and missed a lot of school.
"She came to the hospital to prepare me for fourth grade. And I have to mention
Norman Reynolds, my high school English teacher, who made sure we were prepared in
English and literature no matter what we went on to do.
"I'm putting a lot more energy into my teaching now that my children are grown," said
Holmes, whose daughters Amy, 27 (a teacher), Jennifer, 21( recently graduated from
High Point University in North Carolina), and Heather, 19 (a student at Old Dominion
University in Virginia, are on their way. Husband "Marty," who works at Delaware
Electric Cooperative, "looks forward to summers when I'm more relaxed."
Questions for the teacher
What are the keys to holding a child's attention? "You have to establish rules,
including manners and behavior limits; you need to be actively involved in the
classroom; the children need to know that you care about them, and you have to
project a sense of each child's self worth and build on those good qualities."
What would teaching in a perfect world include for you? "A maximum of 22 students in
a classroom, the help of a teacher's aide or volunteer, a new school building, more
technology for our classrooms and more public support." "I'm proud to teach at
Woodbridge Elementary and I respect our teachers and administration," Holmes said.
"Many days are really good when you feel like you're accomplishing something. At the
end of the day, I always hope that I've touched a child."