When Diana Schmiesing is faced with the question of which grade she enjoys teaching most, she can’t come up with an answer. What she does say, though, proves that she loves her job and she’s proud of each and every one of her students, regardless of their age or grade level.
“It’s all for the kids,” she said.
The 2006 USA Today All-Teacher Team included Schmiesing, a second grade teacher at Providence Elementary, on its 20-person list of outstanding teachers from around the country. The national recognition surprised Schmiesing, who quickly points out that her classroom operates so well because of the entire second grade teaching staff’s team work.
“Couldn’t they give [the award] to everyone,” she said.
Schmiesing, originally from New Jersey, has been teaching for about 25 years, with the last 10 years in Fairfax. She taught middle school grades in Arizona for a few years, and has taught elementary grades the rest of the time.
The award is representative of outstanding teachers across the country, said Tracey Wong Briggs, coordinator of the All USA Teacher Team program and a reporter and editor at USA Today. The list isn't to say that these teachers are the absolute best, instead it recognizes excellence from an "all-star sports team" standpoint, said Briggs. They're all excellent, but the 20 chosen are representatives of that excellence, she said.
"The idea is that lots of people are doing outstanding work in a variety of situations," said Briggs. "Just like you wouldn’t have an all-star team of all quarterbacks."
The teachers are from a variety of grades and situations, from rural and urban schools, to special needs and gifted teachers. Judges pick the winners from a pool of nomination applications, and while there are no set guidelines on making sure the teachers come from different backgrounds, Briggs said they hope the teams turn out that way to show the diversity of outstanding teaching.
"We’re looking hard at how do you perceive your students’ needs, how effective you are at this, and what impact you‘re having on the community and your school," said Briggs.
Principal Joy Hanbury nominated Schmiesing and said the school is very proud of her.
“It's just a delight to see her with children," said Hanbury. "She's very relaxed with her mannerisms; she makes it look so easy."
SCHMIESING'S CLASSROOM is precisely organized, and the children learn respect from day one. Her class rules are posted on the chalk board: respect yourself, respect others and respect our classroom and our school.
When Schmiesing asks her students to quiet down, they listen to her immediately. When the noise level gets a little high, she dims the lights and whispers, causing the children to have to pay attention more to what’s being said and done.
“She’s so nice,” said Franki Brodkorb, 7. “She lets us do fun stuff.”
Some of the fun tasks Schmiesing recently incorporated into a science lesson included making homemade bugs. The students crafted their own insects with paint, paper and pipe cleaners. They named the insects, and even had to come up with a habitat and diet for the make-believe creatures.
“The main thing is they had to have six legs and three body parts, like real insects” said Schmiesing.
Part of her insect lesson included a lot of interaction between the students. They went around the room and asked questions about each others’ bugs during one phase of the project. Their imaginations guided the project, and their interactions with each other help make the lesson unforgettable.
“Kids need to be actively engaged,” said Schmiesing. “If they’re sitting there just listening, they’re not really learning.”
Schmiesing then asked each of the second-graders to describe their insects to the whole class. Some of the imaginative answers showed her students enjoyed the project and took it seriously. One student, Charlie Flynn, named his insect “the man bug.” He said he got the idea from the Lady Bug. He chose multi-colored legs so the man bug “can make the predators think it’s poisonous.”
More fun lessons await the students each day. Schmiesing has different learning centers set up around the classroom. Franki and her friend, Lana Short, like the listening center the most. Students can get a tape recorder and pick a book to read. Each of the listening center books come with follow-along audio tapes. Lana said she also likes that Schmiesing is such a nice teacher.
“She gives us a little more time if we’re behind,” said Lana.
Schmiesing said she was already on a team of outstanding teachers: the second grade team at Providence Elementary. After nearly 25 years as a teacher, Schmiesing still looks to her colleagues for support, as they look to her.
“It’s so hard to get one person [as the winner] when we all feed off each other,” said Schmiesing. “We all work so well together.”
Schmiesing and another second grade teacher, Cindy Howe, co-hosted a teachers’ workshop in Schmiesing’s classroom, Monday, Oct. 30. As part of the county-wide mentor program, veteran teachers meet with new teachers to share advice and ideas, and to make sure they’re getting the support they need, said Schmiesing.
"Her impact is above and beyond her classroom," said Hanbury. "She works very well with her team. The strength she brings makes the team stronger."
Hanbury said Schmiesing is always willing to take on leadership responsibilities and always contributes her knowledge and experience to the school at all levels. The main quality Hanbury sees in Schmiesing is that she knows each and every child in her classroom. She differentiates the strengths and needs of each child, said Hanbury, which "leads them to exceptional performance."
“It’s a challenging job. It’s [about] what’s going to work for the kids,” said Schmiesing. “What can I do to engage every child. I find what’s special about that child and try to bring it out.”