School: Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy
Teaches: Fourth grade
Years at school: Five
Total years teaching: 15
City of residence: Gainesville
Denise McConnell remembers a lot about her childhood.
She remembers helping her grandmother, a teacher, grade papers after school over snacks and Coca-Colas. She remembers how hard it was to sit still and be quiet in class, how much she hated boring worksheets and how quickly her teachers were able to contact her parents after a bit of mischief.
Now as a teacher herself, she draws on her childhood experiences to help her students learn.
“I remember teachers I liked and teachers I didn’t like,” McConnell said. “The people I didn’t like were the ones that just showed me what I did wrong and didn’t really help me figure it out. ... In reflection, I want to be one of those teachers they want to remember.”
McConnell has worked as a teacher in Gainesville for 15 years. She has taught fourth and fifth grade students and all subjects at one time or another.
McConnell is currently a fourth-grade reading, language arts and social studies teacher at Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy. She was recently named Gainesville City School System’s Teacher of the Year.
“Its been very humbling because I work with fabulous people, and the kids just make it fun,” she said. “I think it’s fun to come to work everyday. So to be honored for something I already love — and I think it’s a privilege to be able to work with other people’s children — it’s been good for my ego.”
McConnell has a lighthearted style of teaching and makes it her mission to build individual relationships with her students.
She said she enjoys supporting her students outside of the classroom, often attending basketball games at the Boys & Girls Clubs or going to watch soccer games.
“They are a whole person,” McConnell said. “Not just a person in my room who has to pass a test, but a whole person. That’s the fun part to me; I get to see them grow up.”
She said it’s important to find out what a student’s individual strengths are before worrying about what their weaknesses might be or how to correct them. She said students need to understand the value of their own strengths and learn to believe in themselves.
Principal Matt Maynor said it’s her ability to build such positive relationships with her class that makes her a wonderful teacher.
“She has great instruction because of that relationship,” Maynor said. “They just love her. I can’t say enough good things about her. She goes above and beyond with the parents, too.”
In the classroom she refers to her students as her “sweet treasures.” And when the class gets a little too rowdy she simply asks the students to “do the right thing” and thanks them for doing it.
During a small-group reading lesson, one group asked her a question. She suggested they keep reading to find the answer and told them she knew they could do it “because you’re brilliant.”
“A lot of times everyone is so busy that we forget to say positive things to each other,” McConnell said. “Once they believe they can do it, even if it’s hard, they work through the steps to do it. In order to do something that is harder than you’re used to, you have to build in those moments and go ‘OK, I can stop and take a deep breath. But I can still think and I can do it.’”