Greenwood Events
Thursday, June 29th, 2000

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," Holmes said.
"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 legislators are."

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.

Personal observations
"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."