As a child, Amy Walsh was inspired by an excellent teacher. Today, Walsh has become one.
A 2013 finalist for Illinois Teacher of the Year, Walsh was been with Bensenville District 2, since 2010, and was nominated by Leah Gauthier, the district’s Director of Instructional Services.
“She’s definitely a go-getter and not afraid to try new things. Amy’s on the forefront of implementing new ideas and committed to helping others,” says Gauthier.
Walsh, who has taught at Tioga and Chippewa Schools, felt that the honor extended to all of her Bensenville colleagues. “We all work hard, so I felt like it was representing all the Bensenville teachers. I’ve been a teacher for only seven years, so to have an honor like this early in my career was very exciting,” she says.
An Arlington Heights native, Walsh attended Eisenhower Elementary School and found early inspiration in her fifth grade teacher.
“Mrs. Warden was in her last year of teaching and she had so much energy and passion. I’d thought before about being a teacher, but seeing that she still had so much love for it was the clincher for me,” Walsh says.
Walsh was particular impressed by her teacher’s interest in her students’ lives beyond the classroom. “If we had a concert or sporting event, she’d remember to ask us the next day how it went. It made us feel like we were an important part of the classroom community,” says Walsh.
She studied elementary education at Augustana College in Rock Island, then after graduation in 2006, joined Carol Stream District 93, where she taught second and third grade. In 2010, she took a fourth-grade teaching position with Bensenville District 2.
“I found out that I love teaching fourth grade the most. The kids are independent but still need you. The goal is to build their capabilities. I love watching that moment when they realize they can do something themselves. It’s a real shift to independence,” she says.
Bensenville fourth graders work in broad thematic units covering the American Revolution, Animals and Recycling, which integrate many subject areas. For example, while learning about the American Revolution, Language Arts lessons would include reading stories about children living in colonial times, and writing about them. Social studies would focus on history. Math and science might touch upon figuring distances soldiers marched to battlefields, or important scientific discoveries of the day.
“It’s not always a neat fit, but we try to integrate the subjects as much as possible,” Walsh says.
The shift toward integrated learning took place four years ago, with the introduction of the new learning standards known as Common Core.
“The Common Core represents a shift toward developing thinking skills,” Walsh says. “It’s not just about teaching students to find the main idea, but once they find it, what do they do with it? What impact does it have?”
Under the direction of Assistant Superintendent for Learning, Dr. Kay Dugan, Bensenville teachers learned to integrate the new learning standards in the classroom. “The standards are the foundation of what we teach, but it allows a lot of individuality,” Walsh says.
Her success and enthusiasm resulted in an invitation to serve as a demonstration teacher, where she not only taught students, but also her peers.
“Our demonstration program highlights what teachers in our own district are doing in the classroom. Sometimes teachers go out for professional development, but find it difficult to implement what they’ve learned. We look for teachers right here, that are doing good work and invite others to see them in action,” says Gauthier.
Observing teachers are able to watch, then ask questions about how to tailor new ideas to fit their students and teaching styles. “The follow-up is so important, and the demonstrating teachers become a resource that’s right in our district,” says Gauthier.
Walsh’s role as a peer teacher expanded further last year, when she became one of two District 2 consulting teachers. Consulting teachers do not have a class of their own, but instead rotate into the classrooms of newly-hired teachers, to demonstrate and mentor.
“It was a hard decision because my passion is with working with students but it was the best decision I could have made. I’m taking my passion for the job and passing it along to other teachers, so now I feel like I’m working with all of their students too,” she says.
Walsh still lives in Arlington Heights the neighborhood and sees occasionally sees her old fifth-grade teacher out in the community.
“We sent the article about me being a finalist to her old district to pass along. I hope she read it and knows how much she inspired me,” Walsh says.