Margie Thompson's second-grade classroom blooms. Dancing bears proclaim the longness and shortness of vowels. Colors swirl, and pep-talk art tells children that they can excel in math, in literature, in social studies. This space at McWillie Elementary School is all about learning and is one of the reasons Thompson was selected Jackson Public Schools' Teacher of the Year for 2004.
This morning, Thompson interacts with a group of five. "I like working with small groups. That way I can pay more attention to each student," she says. Thompson guides her group through a story, teaching them how to use context clues to figure out words that they don't know. She has to pause to quiet the nearby purple group as they listen to a story on tape and write a paragraph. Later, her color-coordinated groups will rotate. Thompson seems to anticipate which child will do what.
Second grade is the most challenging because students are at that in-between stage, Thompson says. "I never know which one is going to show up each day," she says. "The child that wants to be babied or the child who wants to be grown-up."
Thompson never tired of playing school with her friends when she was little. Her third-grade teacher called to check on all of her students at home on a regular basis. That impressed Thompson so much that, two decades later, she wrote an essay about her teacher as part of her entry application for Teacher of the Year.
Thompson's stats are the best of any second grade teacher at McWillie Elementary School. Last year, 93 percent of her students were proficient or advanced in reading; 85 percent were proficient or advanced in language; and 85 percent were proficient or advanced in math.
Principal Christi Hollingshead raves about Thompson. "Where do you want me to start?" she asks. "She knows where the kids are, and she knows where they need to go. She has a good rapport with parents and her room is all about learning." And, "Margie seeks constructive criticism. She wants to know how she can improve."
Thompson believes teachers should be demanding. "They know I expect a lot, and they give it," she says of her students. But she still tries to use that personal touch that her third grade teacher had. "I treat them all like the special individuals they are," she says. " Each morning, I try to spend a little time with them. I can tell what kind of day they are going to have."
"When they leave, they are readers and writers and mathematicians," Thompson says. "And all of them don't come in that way."