Walking into Cyndy Crites’ bright and busy kindergarten classroom, one of the first things you’ll see are the large words printed across the far wall: “If nobody told you they love you today, you remember I do and always will.”
Students in Crites’ class hear every day that they are loved.
The Chicopee Woods Elementary School kindergarten teacher said she was struck at a young age by what struggles her classmates faced at home.
“Just seeing dysfunction in families, my friends dealing with things that I hadn’t dealt with in mine necessarily,” she said. “And then seeing them at school, and you would never know what they were dealing with at home. When I first started teaching, I never imagined what elementary school kids were coming to school with weighing on their shoulders.”
This inspired her entire method of teaching, Crites said. She wanted to support students on more than an academic level.
Crites was named the school and the Hall County School District 2017 Teacher of the Year.
“The students in my class, if they didn’t have the family at home that I thought in my head they should have, then I was hoping to provide that in my classroom,” she said.
Showing them love is the goal, Crites said.
“One of the things that drives me is wanting the kids to know we love them,” she said. “Not that parents don’t intentionally tell their kids, but we are trying to also provide a family here where they will feel safe and loved.”
Crites has been teaching for 18 years, the last three of which were at Chicopee Woods. She called her career in education “rough at times,” making the Teacher of the Year award all the more special.
“To even be nominated and one of the six nominees in my building was a shock,” she said. “I had never even been nominated before, so when they said I was one of the finalists I just thought, ‘No way, because look at all these other people here.’”
It’s an honor she didn’t expect and still doesn’t feel she deserved.
“I can really see how great teachers are,” she said. “So when it was announced, I honestly just cried.”
Crites credits her fourth-grade teacher for first inspiring her to teach.
“She believed that every student in her class had some sort of gift or something they were good at,” she said. “If you didn’t think there was something, she would help you find it. She was a champion for every student in her class.”
Class with Crites is a balance between structured education and carefree fun.
Last week, her students gathered on the carpet in the far corner of the room, ready to dance the chicken dance and practice “tapping out words.”
Crites used a magnet board to arrange three letters into words for the kids to sound out. She spelled out the word “tag,” and helped the class sound it out.
“Tag! Like playing tag,” one child exclaimed.
“I can do this at home,” another said.
Kindergarten is Crites’ favorite age to teach, though she’s taught nearly every elementary grade level.
“They just come in here so open,” she said. “If you word things right, it is awesome. They are hilarious, and they crack us up on a daily basis.”
Though Crites didn’t expect the honor as teacher of the year, she’s grateful for the opportunity to network with more teachers in the state and share her passions with others.
“I can use the opportunity to share my experiences,” she said. “That part is really cool for me. And I hope I’ll also be able to help teachers build relationships, because I think we’ve gotten away from that with all our technology. Teaching is a team effort — that’s how you help each other to grow, and it’s how you do the best for your students.”