Relationships make all the difference, says teacher of the year

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Rebecca Poole, a second-grade teacher at W. O. Lance Elementary School, felt shocked and very honored when she found out her peers had chosen her as W. O. Lance Elementary’s teacher of the year. She found out when Principal Donna Bell made an announcement over the intercom, and her students cheered.

Poole is in her third year of teaching at W. O. Lance Elementary and her 34th year of teaching total. She taught at West Point Elementary School from 1988 to 2019. While there, she taught grades two through five, participated in piloting a second and third-grade multi-age classroom and piloted a fourth and fifth-grade multi-age classroom.

Even after all these years, teaching is still Poole’s passion. She aims to make sure her students do their best every day.

“My favorite thing about my job would be, of course, the kids,” she said. “Getting to know them, building those relationships with them and just watching how they mature and grow and learn.”

What makes her teaching style special, Poole guessed, is the relationships she builds with her students. In fact, Poole’s teaching philosophy is based on her belief that students don’t care how much their teacher knows until they know how much she cares.

“That’s my first priority when school starts, is getting to know those children and building that relationship where they trust being in my classroom, and they’re not afraid to take risks,” she said.

Poole hopes that what her students know her for is being kind and encouraging.

Naturally, getting to know her students makes it painful for her to say goodbye when they move on to the next grade.

“The last day of school is always bittersweet,” she said. “You know they’re ready to go, but you’ve invested so much in them until you want to keep them as yours.”

Fortunately, she said some students keep in touch with her. She sometimes sees adult former students of hers from West Point Elementary when she goes out into the community.

“There have been times they’ve reached out to me through email,” she said. “I’ve had opportunities to teach parents and then their children, and in some cases their grandchildren. And that’s very special, to have that connection. And since I’ve been here at Lanett, I realize there are still so many connections between these two cities that are so close together. Some of the students I’ve taught here are related to some of the students that I taught over in West Point. And that’s a way to keep in contact with each other.”

The height of her career, Poole said, has been successfully teaching students how to read.

“As children mature, everything comes back to reading,” she said. “And if a child leaves my classroom being a good reader, I know they’re going to be OK.”

Poole said she had many experiences working with children before she even thought about going to college to become a teacher.

“I worked summers when I was in high school, in junior college,” she said. “I taught swimming lessons to four and five-year-olds, and that was one of my first interactions with kids. And I just absolutely loved it. And of course, I had taught some Sunday school classes with younger kids during that same period of time. And I think that it was just meant for me to be a teacher.”

Poole earned an associate’s degree from Jefferson Davis Community College in Brewton. After that, she moved to Auburn and received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Auburn University.