In early June, Suffield Public Schools Teacher of the Year Committee chose Danielle Bennett, fifth grade teacher at McAlister Intermediate School, as Suffield’s 2022-2023 Teacher of the Year. Danielle is starting her 25th year as a teacher in Suffield, and except for her first year as a math coach helper, she has been a fifth-grade teacher ever since.
Danielle was in the middle of a read-aloud in class when several members of the select committee and others came in carrying balloons, flowers and good wishes to announce to the class and Danielle that she was the new Suffield Teacher of the Year! She was totally shocked. Her class was excited, as would be expected. One student who was not surprised was heard to say, “Obviously, she won.”
She enjoys fifth graders very much. Their curiosity, their desire to explore varied interests while practicing becoming more independent are several of the reasons she enjoys this age.
At the beginning of each school year, she looks forward to seeing what her students are interested in. There is a lot of student direction in Danielle’s teacher toolbox. For example, this year as a reward for the work they did on their Boosterthon in April (a fundraiser that benefited McAlister and Spaulding Schools) the students chose to turn their classroom into a giant fort with sheets, pillows and stuffed animals. Danielle conducted some class work in the fort that day, too. The students loved the experience so much they did it again in June.
Danielle feels her successes are working to find strategies to help students reach their potential and build self-esteem. She enjoys using peer mediation techniques, facilitating communication skills. She loves working to build a classroom community where everyone feels respected and heard. Working on building and revising math curriculum and working with teachers who have math questions is also something she enjoys. She sees kids as creative mathematicians and encourages them to find different ways to figure out math problems.
One of her challenges is making sure to diversify work each day to reach each student and make sure they are getting the resources and opportunities to accommodate their needs.
Some of the people who have influenced Danielle as a teacher include Sister Mary Antonia, her 5th grade teacher, who was warm, cheerful, caring and energetic. Her student teaching in grade 4 at Spaulding School was with Shirley Ryan. Mrs. Ryan taught her how to love the kids first and how to have fun, and that you can also have strong discipline, organization and fairness.
Danielle feels strongly that having a supportive administration helps her be able to take risks, to try new things and to improve. Feeling supported sustains her enthusiasm for teaching, and she really appreciates this. “My colleagues have been so supportive over the years, and I have learned so much from them,” Danielle shared.
She is happy and blessed to be in this community of families for so many years, being a part of this wonderful school system.