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Block named Teacher of the Year for Mustang Elementary

Melissa Block teaching

 

When Mustang Elementary’s Teacher of the Year, Melissa Block, graduated from high school she was headed for the medical field. She played “school” as a child, but her mother was a nurse and it was familiar. Block reasoned it would be a good career with good money where she would be respected. 

“I knew how it worked with my Mom but I was dreading clinicals. So when you’re dreading  going to clinicals one day a week so badly that my stomach would hurt, that was a sign.” 

Block took a break from school and entered the work force. She tried the insurance industry and working in medical records, but a sense of fulfillment was missing.

When she made the decision to return to school, Block’s daughter had started kindergarten and was a struggling reader. There seemed to be a personality disconnect between the teacher and Block’s daughter. Requests for extra learning activities they could do at home went unanswered so Block set up her own system to help her child learn to read. 

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“I just thought, ‘What about these kids who don’t have someone at home? What if they only have the teacher and the teacher appears not to care?’ I thought, ‘I want to be this for somebody else. Not everybody has this system at home. I want to help people and to be there for the parents who come to me. I try to be what she didn’t have at school and what some kids don’t have at home.” 

Block’s first teaching assignment was a kindergarten classroom in Shawnee, followed by kindergarten in Mustang. 

 Block remembers one boy and his parents who hated school.

“When he showed up the first day, I knew I had to make this kid change his mind about this, to help the family change their minds about school,” she said. 

Block makes it a point to send pictures via an app of what students are doing in class. His mother hadn’t signed up, so Block would text her pictures. Block made it a point to text the mother something positive at least once a week. Years later, they still keep in touch. 

“He was a rascal, but he wasn’t what I expected,” she said. 

Block said his behavior wasn’t perfect, but instead of possible punishments during recess, she makes students who act out help her in the classroom. They talk about the behavior and set goals. The boy was able to choose his rewards and punishments. 

“By the time school ended, he did not hate school. By the end of the year she (his mother) cried when school was over, and he cried because they were going to miss me. They’ve become the family I will never forget. I still check on him. I think it made a difference for him to know I cared.” 

She loved kindergarten, but she knew an older grade would be a better fit.

“The best thing I have ever done is move to second grade,” she said. “The students are much more independent but they still need me.”

Block said she doesn’t have a traditional classroom. 

“Last year I had an awesome group of kids. Their personalities were amazing but they were a little tough,” she said. “I could get them to be quiet for one minute but then the next minute it was back to chaos. I thought, ‘Okay how am I going to fix this?’” 

She discovered whole brain teaching. She began implementing it last year, and believes it was a game changer. She’s been to two trainings and it has given her classroom new life. It’s a way to integrate classroom management with techniques that use multiple ways to learn. 

“I teach one new thing and then they teach each other. We use hand motions. So they’re watching me, repeating what I say, they’re moving and then they’re teaching. Every single student is engaged. There is no room for misbehavior.” 

Block said even the hardest concepts, like subject and predicate, they’re learning. Her students who struggle the most are making greater strides with the new teaching style.  

“It has changed my whole approach to everything,” she said. “I can’t believe I went this long without it.” 

Block said in some ways teaching is harder than she expected. There are students in her second-grade classroom who are reading the Harry Potter series and other who are still learning to read the simplest books.

“But teaching is better in some ways,” she said. “I didn’t anticipate the relationships. I didn’t anticipate the feeling I was going get when a struggling student suddenly grasps a difficult concept. I don’t make a lot of money, but I love my job. I can’t see myself doing anything else.” 

Block is one of 14 site Teachers of the Year for Mustang Schools. The District Teacher of the Year will be announced in March.