Teacher stories 10: V is for a teacher’s vision

Note: Today’s teacher story focuses on Jeanne Percival, who teaches third grade at Huth Road Elementary School. Jeanne is the organizer of the school’s Relay for Life team. I have known Jeanne for more than ten years, as we are both members of the choir at Saint Martin in the Fields Episcopal Church in Grand Island. In addition, Jeanne is playing the role of a plate in Beauty and the Beast with the Saint Stephens Players. Showtimes: Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday (sold out), and Saturday at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Jeanne shared with me her experiences and her vision of education. Here is Jeanne’s story.

Did you have
any other career dreams or did you know from an early age that you wanted to be
a teacher?
an early age, I wanted to be an actress but my mom wouldn’t let me go to
California. I wanted to go to Pepperdine University because that’s where “Battle of
the Network Stars” was being filmed.
my dreams were dashed, I decided to go to Niagara University, and I tried Hotel
Management until I realized that I had to work weekends. Then I transferred to
the theater department, where I did one show. We did “Oklahoma” at Artpark.
However, I transferred again to the education department, and I found my true
calling. Then I had to move back home and transfer to Buffalo State College because
Niagara University was too expensive.
graduated from Buff State in 1992 and got a job at Holy Cross Head Start in the
city of Buffalo. I was a teacher in a pre-K classroom, and I absolutely loved
it. I worked there for four years, and I learned an awful lot about the
difference in cultures. It was a multicultural environment. I learned about
life outside of Grand Island. I also developed an interest in working with
students with special needs while I was working at Head Start. When I was
working at Head Start, I went to get my master’s degree in special education at
Buff State.
that, I worked at LaSalle Middle School in Niagara Falls as a special ed
teacher. It was a difficult jump because I just had my second daughter five
weeks before school started. I had a brand new baby and a three year old and I
had jumped from pre K to sixth grade. While I was in the Falls, it opened my
eyes again to inner city life and the struggles that students and families
have. I was able to work with a lot of families that had domestic violence
issues and families that lived in poverty.

I worked with students that were illiterate. In middle school, they couldn’t read or write at
more than the first grade level. They felt like the forgotten kids because
nobody seemed to care about them, not even their own families. They were kind
of on their own. It was very sad. Many of them turned to violence or other
inappropriate behaviors to find where they could fit in.  So I became their mom at school. I would make
them cookies, feed them breakfast, give them any kind of encouragement that
they needed to find out that they were valued and had worth. 

One of the things
that we did was that we would close the classroom door when we did reading
lessons because the kids were embarrassed. But they worked hard for me because
they knew that I cared. I was the only one who had full attendance on half days
because they knew that I would feed them breakfast. So those two experiences
made me the educator that I am today because I learned so much about life and
that there’s more to students than just test scores. We have to look at the
whole student and nurture the whole student and not just focus on the
academics. I worked in Niagara Falls for four years.
next step in my journey was putting my love of theater and teaching together. I
was doing the musical, “Mame,” at Niagara Falls Little Theater. Frank Cannata
was the accompanist. At the time, he was the principal at Sidway. So we got to
talking, and he told me that they were having a big recruitment day on Grand
Island for teachers. So I went. While I loved my career in Niagara Falls, my
heart was in Grand Island because I grew up there.
got hired in 2001. My first year was when September 11th happened,
and that was terrible. I was teaching first grade at Sidway Elementary School.
I’ll never forget my first year for many reasons. The biggest was the jump from
eighth grade inner city to first grade suburb. One thing that I wasn’t prepared
for was the amount of parental support on Grand Island because I had none in
the Falls. It took me a while to understand the idea that the parents here want
to help the kids. That was a huge difference. I was an island of one for four years. Grand Island is more of a community learning experience. I was at Sidway
for two years. I piloted the inclusion program there. It was a kindergarten
inclusion class. At the time, there was a self-contained class, and the kids
were ready to be integrated into an inclusive setting. There was no classroom
available for them. The program is still going strong. However, I got
transferred to Huth after the initial year of the inclusion program. I was at
Sidway for two years.
How do you
feel about teaching at Huth Road School?
I went to Huth Road school as a child so I was thrilled to return as a teacher.
I loved Sidway but when you get to the new experience, you love that, too. I was
a second grade teacher for seven years.
liked how excited the kids were to learn new things, and the content starts to
get a little more involved and just watching them grow. It’s a big growth year
from second to third. An opportunity came up to switch grades with another
teacher. So I came to third grade. I absolutely, positively love third grade.
The students have a desire for learning, and they get my corny jokes. My
motto is a day without laughter is a day wasted. Part of my personal mission is
to nurture the entire child and foster a love of learning. Kids are more than
just test scores, and watching them learn new things is indescribable. It
makes me happy. I also try to remind them that there is a bigger world than Grand
Island, so we try to give back to the community as much as possible.
How do you
and your class give back to the community?
make fleece blankets for Project Linus in the spring. At Christmas, we donate
to various charities, instead of a teacher gift. In the past, we’ve donated to
the SPCA and to Children’s Hospital. One year, we donated a Target gift card to
a family that lost everything in a fire. At the end of the year, my hope is
that my students leave third grade remembering how much they enjoyed school,
loved learning new things, and are ready to take on whatever fourth grade or
the world throws at them with a smile.
What gives
you the most joy as a teacher?
a lot of things that give me joy. One is when they accidentally call me Mom.  Another is that spark in their eyes when they get what I’m teaching or when we have a dance
Describe a
typical day in school.
come in and get to their morning work. They each have jobs assigned, so they
work on their jobs. Agenda checker, lunch counter, calendar person, things like
that. After announcements, we start our day with math. Then we transfer into
writer’s workshop, which they love more than math. After writers workshop, we
have our special for the day and lunch. After lunch, we always have a read
aloud, which is my favorite time of day. Currently, we are reading
Little House on the Prairie, by Laura
Ingalls Wilder. The kids are amazed by how life was different in the late 1800s
than it is today. For example, in the story, Laura and Mary in their stocking
got one penny, a candy cane, a tin cup, and a pastry, and they were thrilled.
The kids were like, “What?” It was funny. No electronics? 

After that, we have
literacy stations, where the kids work in small groups with the teacher or
independently on a variety of literacy skills. I think that’s their favorite.
They really like that time. When we can’t do literacy stations, they are
disappointed. We follow that up with free time because it is so important for
the kids to have a chance to unwind and just play. They work so hard during the
day. I think that kids really need play to learn social skills, turn taking,
and how to get along with others. We end the day with our social studies or science
unit, which is currently Egypt and simple machines.
What have you
observed in the students in the course of this school year?
have observed lots of growth in a variety of areas, both academic and social.
They’re not the same little kids that they were when they started in September.
Now they tell me corny jokes. They’ve really developed strong relationships
with each other, and they truly enjoy coming to school every day.
afterschool activities do you coordinate?
am the team captain of Huth’s Heroes. I started being the captain five years
ago when my dad passed away from bladder cancer. I wanted to do something to
honor his memory and to give back to the community. We have about fifteen team
member. We involve the students by having a mini relay, where we raise money
for Relay for Life and the playground fund. I find relay very inspiring to
listen to the stories of the survivors. Watching the survivor lap brings me to
tears every year. I also love the luminaria lighting ceremony and how the track
looks when it is lit with the luminaria bags. We’ve been a silver or bronze
team for the last five years.
What do you
like to do when you’re not at school?
am active at St. Martin in the Fields, and I sing in the choir. In the past, I
directed the annual Christmas pageant for twelve years. I am active with the
St. Stephens Parish Players. You can see me as a plate in “Beauty and
the Beast” this weekend. This is my third show with them. Being a plate is
liberating. I get to dance and sing and be silly.
What would
you like to tell parents?
would first like to tell parents how much I appreciate their support for their
children and much I truly care about their kids. I always tell my parents and
the kids that, once you’re mine, you’re mine forever. I want to hear about all
of their successes. Keep bringing me birthday cupcakes. And I just want to stay
in touch with them. I love to hear everything they’re doing in their lives,
where they’re going to college and how school is going. I will always be there
for the children, even when they are not in my classroom anymore.

6 thoughts on “Teacher stories 10: V is for a teacher’s vision”

  1. Just another reason I can so admire my good friend Jeanne and call her my hero. Thanks for writing this, Alice.


  2. It's good to know about Jeanne through your blog. It's a great journey of her as an educator. Her interview is very inspiring.

  3. I was so fortunate that I grew up in a family that treasured and supported education. How would my life have turned out if it was otherwise? Thank heavens for devoted teachers. My late best friend was a retired fourth grade teacher so I've seen some of the "inner workings" of devoted teachers.

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