Mustang Creek Elementary’s Teacher of the Year, Becky Armstrong, was content for years to be a stay-at-home mom and a pastor’s wife. She substituted in the schools, but while her children were growing, they were her job. For the past nine years she has spent her week days with a room full of elementary students and believes she is exactly where God wants her to be.
“Initially, I started as a long-term sub. I taught second, fourth and first. I went to Valley Elementary and taught a year of second grade,” she said. “I came back to Creek to teach second grade and I could not get my heart into setting up my room. The principal called me three days before school and asked if I was willing to teach kindergarten.”
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It was a perfect fit. It is the first year where parents leave their children all day, and Armstrong has a heart for the plight of the kids as well as the parents who struggle with the transition. When she was a child, elementary school was brutal for Armstrong. Kindergarten was fine, but from first grade through fourth she cried every single day.
“I would throw up, my mom would change my clothes and then send me back,” she said. “I wanted to be here for the children who struggled leaving home. And I wanted to be here for the parents who had trouble putting their children in an academic or all-day setting away from them. That’s probably where my heart is and where it started.”
Besides her innate empathy for their difficulties, Armstrong also recognizes the day-to-day joys.
“You can do anything and they love it,” she said of the students. “They love you no matter what. You can be silly, you can get excited and they get so excited. They have compassion for one other. They are just amazing little creatures who absorb it all. One of them today hugged me and said "I miss my mom so I can just hug you, can't I?’ Where else do you get that?”
Armstrong tends to have a few children in her class who have challenges. She believes the ones who are assigned to her are meant to be there.
“Each year I pray that I get the kids I’m supposed to get,” she said.
Armstrong will never forget one little girl who came in knowing nothing at the beginning of the year and left reading words.
“Even now when I see her, I tell her, ‘You can be anything you want to be.’ She’s a prime example,” Armstrong said. “I want to see her overcome what she has to deal with. I hope every teacher along the way will believe in her and encourage her because with that, she will make it.”
Some years, there are children in her kindergarten class whose lives up until now have given them reason to be angry. Armstrong picked out a “reflection spot” by the window where they can go when their emotions overwhelm them. The children chose a second one, in a corner of the room by the coat rack. One child has a notebook he writes in. Sometimes Armstrong accompanies a child to the back of the room to just jump for a minute or two.
“I pray for wisdom,” she said. “I pray for peace in my classroom. One boy today, I just held him and we concentrated on taking some deep breaths. And sometimes you get teary and think, ‘Am I helping at all?’”
Armstrong doesn’t allow her students to say they can’t do something when they haven’t tried. Kindergarten, above all else, is about trying.
“That's the bottom line believing in themselves,” she said. “It’s so much fun to watch a child grasp something and they say, ‘I can read this, Mrs. Armstrong! Look! I made it! I DID do it!’ They just beam and they get so excited.”
Armstrong is honored to have been chosen Mustang Creek Elementary’s 2017 Teacher of the Year. She will compete with 13 other site Teachers of the Year for the honor being named District Teacher of the Year at a special banquet in March.
“I’m just so honored and humbled that my peers would even think about this,” she said. “I look around the building and there are so many who deserve this.”