The 2014 Salem School Division Teacher of the Year is a special recipient for a number of reasons, including her desire to help boys and girls in special education become success stories and her passion for positively molding elementary school students at G.W. Carver.
“Personally, I hope that I provide a caring and forgiving environment in my classroom,” says Debbie Hughes, Salem’s Teacher of the Year. “I strive to build my students’ confidence and self-esteem and encourage participation. I try to instill in my class that it’s important to learn from your mistakes and treat one another with respect, and I try to never forget that I am taking care of someone else’s children.”
Hughes has taught third graders at G.W. Carver Elementary for the past 14 years and she considers that somewhat ironic since that particular age group was by far her favorite during her year-long student teaching requirement as an undergraduate in college.
“I love that third graders are still very excited about learning, and I enjoy the curriculum,” she says. “Even though it is quite rigorous, most students achieve great success and growth, which is very rewarding.”
Third grade is the first year in which students actually receive letter grades in the classroom and experience the SOL tests. It’s also a time when Hughes works extremely hard to build self-confidence in her young pupils.
“Third graders are still young enough to where they want to please you all the time, yet they can be very independent at this age,” she says. “Sometimes they are very afraid of the third grade and it’s my job to show them they can do it and that everything is going to be alright.”
Hughes was born in West Virginia, but spent most of her life in Arlington before she headed off to college and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from Virginia Tech.
“While I was interviewing for my first job with the assistant superintendent in Warren County, the Special Ed. Supervisor overheard our conversation as I was talking about my interest in special education and my work at Camp Easter Seals,” she says. “They were desperate for special ed. teachers back then and they hired me without a degree and then paid for me to get my Master’s in special education.”
Hughes would teach during the day and then ride with other teachers back and forth from Front Royal to James Madison University to take classes at night. She did the majority of her course work at J.M.U. and then finished her requirements and graduated from Marymount University in Arlington. After a couple of years of 7th and 8th grade special ed. instruction in Warren County she taught middle school special ed. students in Fairfax before eventually moving to Salem.
By the time she and her husband, Jack, arrived in Salem in 1996, she had left the classroom to raise their four children. She did some tutoring and eventually began helping as a substitute teacher at all Salem’s six schools. Fourteen year ago, she returned to the classroom full-time in the Salem School Division as a third grade teacher and she’s been shaping young lives ever since.
“I always wanted to be a teacher,” she says. “I think all little girls play and pretend to be teachers and it just never left me, plus I always loved school.” At Carver, Hughes believes she is truly making a difference in the lives of young people.
“G.W. Carver provides the perfect climate for any student,” she says. “It is a beautiful, spacious school with a very caring and diverse group of people. We have a supportive administration and staff members who truly care about what is best for our children.”
Hughes is a firm believer in the African Proverb that says “It Takes a Village” to raise a child and she credits not only the administration, but her fellow third grade teachers. “Mrs. May, Mrs. Raines, Mrs. Travitz, and I have worked together for six years now and we collaborate daily sharing ideas, successes, and frustrations,” she says. “As a team we produce tremendous results and do all we can to bring out the best in our students.”
“Debbie has been an asset to the third grade team at Carver from the beginning,” says Joe Coleman, G.W. Carver Principal. “With 25 years of experience, her knowledge of curriculum, differentiation, developmental needs of children and her true understanding of special education provide the foundation needed to effectively reach all students.”
The administration at Carver has high praise for Hughes’ creativity and flexible thinking as well as her exemplary professionalism and her desire to follow her students’ successes as they move forward. “There are days I can sense my students are just not with me and then there are times when I am teaching and all eyes are on me and hands are raised with enthusiasm to answer questions or to give some input into a discussion,” she says. “That’s when I stop and think that this is a wonderful job and I truly love it.” Debbie and her husband have four grown children who graduated from Salem High School. All six teachers will be honored by the School Board during a special reception on March 25. The five Teachers of the Year representing the other five Salem schools are:
Carol Shields - Andrew Lewis Middle School
Laken Harrell - East Salem Elementary
Grant Smythers - Salem High School
Sandra Kelley - South Salem Elementary
Marcie Flinchum Atkins - West Salem Elementary
H. Alan Seibert
City of Salem
Superintendent of Schools
(540) 389-0130 - office
City of Salem