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Lanier Elementary 1st-grade teacher makes lessons come alive
DesPres incorporates props, activities into lessons so class will enjoy them
Lanier Elementary School first-grade teacher Ashley DesPres works with students Reanna Campbell, left, and Kayleigh Godfrey. - photo by Tom Reed

Ashley DesPres

School: Lanier Elementary School

Teaches: First-grade special education

Years at school: Four

Total years teaching: Four

City of residence: Dahlonega

Ashley DesPres knows how important it is to be excited about the lessons she’s teaching her students.

Otherwise her first-grade class might let out a collective groan instead of a “silent cheer” when she announces the next math test.

“They’re trained enough now that I get to say ‘We get to take a math test’ and they’ll be thrilled,” DesPres said.

DePres was recently named Teacher of the Year for the Hall County School District.

She said she couldn’t believe she was given the honor and feels very humbled.

For the last four years, DesPres has worked at Lanier Elementary School in Murrayville. Her first year she taught special education part time. She said her first teaching position was rewarding and taught her a lot about how students learn differently from one another.

She now teaches first grade and calls it her dream job. She said she fell in love with first grade while working as a student teacher in college.

“They change so much in that first year,” DesPres said. “I get to teach them reading, the most foundational skill that they will use for the rest of their lives, and I get to teach it.”

DesPres likes to incorporate items and activities into her lessons that the kids already enjoy.

“We’ll be adding but maybe we’ll use a song. We’ll use dance. We’ll use drawing or objects,” DesPres said. “I just try to apply things to what they love and reach every type of learner.”

DesPres said she tries to connect lessons to the real world so the students will enjoy what they’re learning about and want to know more about it.

In her class, she said, the students all understand that each person learns in their own way. One person may be a visual learner while another may learn best through listening.

“Every single student that walks in here is different,” DesPres said. “They learn differently. So in my teaching I try to present each concept in a different way.”

As a high school student, DesPres said she didn’t really enjoy reading at school until one teacher decided to make a lesson more real.

Her 10th-grade teacher removed all the desks and chairs from the room and taped a huge square on the floor. She told the students that they all had to remain inside the square while they read from Anne Frank’s diary.

She was able to appreciate how confined the young Jewish girl must have felt with so many people hiding inside a small attic from the Nazis. And DesPres said that unusual approach made the story much more real and she was actually interested in what she was reading.

DesPres said that lesson is what inspired her to become a teacher. She wanted to be able to make learning real and relevant to students, too.

Principal John Wiggins said it’s

DesPres excitement about teaching and learning that makes her such a great teacher.

“She tries to make learning fun and interesting,” Wiggins said. “She just goes above and beyond with everything she teaches. You can just see the energy and enthusiasm and all the knowledge and compassion you want in a teacher. She’s great.”

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