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2008-09 Teacher of the Year

Ronald C. Wooden

George D. Lisby Elementary School at Hillsdale, Fifth Grade, Nine years of service in Harford County

Ronald C. Wooden, Teacher of the Year
Raised by his grandparents in a tough Philadelphia neighborhood, Ronald Wooden lost his brother recently as a result of his sibling having made “bad choices.” It’s a story Mr. Wooden shares with his Lisby/Hillsdale fifth graders to inspire them to pick their friends wisely and stay in school. His positive attitude and zest for teaching and learning inspires his students, according to his nominator and fellow teacher Francine Higbee. “Every summer, Ronald writes letters to his former students to encourage them to do well as they journey to middle school,” wrote Mrs. Higbee of the personal connection he makes with students. “He also writes to his new class to introduce himself (and) each morning as students enter the fifth grade corridor, Ronald is waiting to give each student a handshake or a high five.”

It’s the same with colleagues and with parents. First year second grade Lisby/Hillsdale teacher April Inman says simply, “Ronald Wooden is the most amazing teacher I have ever seen.” As a student intern working under him, a Title 1 program substitute and, now, a teacher, Ms. Inman has a unique perspective from which to judge Mr. Wooden’s capabilities. “I once watched Ron crawl beneath a student’s desk to vividly explain how much room each African slave had on the ships to America – the students were riveted and will take that image with them,” she said. “Ron is the perfect example of the key to working in a Title 1 school, building relationships with your students, and holding them to high expectations in all situations.” Principal Alice Breault is just as impressed with her “do all” teacher. “Ron continues to be a positive force in the school with his positive attitude and sense of humor – he always treats others with respect and helps in any way he can,” Mrs. Breault said. “He is definitely a role model for students, student interns, novice teachers, parents/guardians, and staff members at his own school or across the county – he has touched the lives of many people (including) staff, parents, community members, but, most of all, his students.” Coordinator of the school’s “21st Century” after school program since its inception seven years ago, he recently spoke at a national Title 1 conference on the Lisby/Hillsdale successful experience and serves on several countywide committees that are impacting the way instruction is delivered. Lisby/Hillsdale Assistant Principal Patricia Chenworth calls Mr. Wooden “the epitome of dedication and commitment to teaching and learning,” adding, “As a team leader and role model in our school for his colleagues, Mr. Wooden always seeks new and better ways to improve his craft of teaching.” Recently, Mr. Wooden helped found and meets with regularly a group of fourth and fifth grade at-risk boys called “Acorns to Oaks,” providing them with guidance for productive futures. He is also on the school’s Playground Committee, raising funds to build a new play area for students.

Current sixth grader Allie Haag was in Mr. Wooden’s class last year. “He, honestly, is the best teacher I have ever had – his dedication to his job and students were astonishing,” Allie said. “He took his lunch time to meet with a book club, he spent most of his free time at school helping students (and) in after school programs – he made the year fun, taught us a lot, and we all hated leaving him.” Allie said, the next to last day of last school year, he sat the class down and told them how much he was going to miss them. “It was so emotional that, literally, everyone started to cry, including him,” she said. “He truly loves his students and cares about them and wants them to learn and be prepared for the next level of their education – I love Mr. Wooden, he is an excellent teacher and friend.” Patty Wassin met Mr. Wooden seven years ago when she was enrolling her children at Lisby/Hillsdale, her daughter in his fifth grade class and her son in kindergarten. Seven years later, her daughter is a senior at Aberdeen High School with fond memories of that year with Mr. Wooden and her son was in Mr. Wooden’s class last year. “Mr. Wooden brought my son out of his shell and has made such a huge impact on his life – my son started participating, asking questions, making new friends and was even confident enough to write a speech and read it in front of a crowded room during his graduation,” Mrs. Wassin said. “My family was so proud of him and, you could see the look on Mr. Wooden’s face and easily tell that he was, too.”

The slogan Mr. Wooden uses with his students – ‘Excellence is expected, Distinction is our goal’ – goes to the core of high standards he sets in his classroom. As grade level chair, School Improvement team member, Professional Learning Community (PLC) activist, Middle School Ad Hoc Committee member, Mr. Wooden contributes to the progress of his school and school system. Active in his church, Mr. Wooden works with a youth group where he mentors at-risk boys and teaches an adult Sunday School group. Recently, a father of a Lisby/Hillsdale student who lives in North Carolina and who had never been to the school, drove the several hundred miles to see his son take part in the Black History Assembly which Mr. Wooden sponsors and students put on. Mr. Wooden wrote a letter to the father expressing how much the visit has meant to his son. Teachers, both from Lisby/Hillsdale and throughout the county, have come to depend on his expertise and caring attitude. He has presented at many countywide staff development sessions. Mr. Wooden earned a master’s degree last December with a 4.0 GPA and has twice been named Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year. William Paca/Old Post Road fifth grade teachers – Carol Armiger, Lauren Duell, and Christopher Navin – say he is a team player who has volunteered his time to help each of them and especially those new to the profession. “For years, Ron met with us and aided us in understanding and implementing the fifth grade curriculum – these meetings were at his school, our school, or one of our homes on Friday evenings, Sundays, or days off, and summer days,” the three wrote in a joint letter.

“It takes a great teacher, such as Ron Wooden, to go beyond his own school to support good teaching practices.” Current Riverside Elementary Assistant Principal Kimberly Kron co-taught with Mr. Wooden for five years when she was at Lisby/Hillsdale, calling him a “model educator,” adding, “His dedication to teaching is remarkable – beginning during the early hours of the morning and extending into the late hours of the night – to know that, years later, stories of Mr. Wooden’s teaching style and classroom experiences are still being told can only begin to help you understand the impact his instruction has on the ‘lucky’ students who have had the opportunity to experience learning through Mr. Wooden’s energetic, passionate, and child-centered approach.” In one area, even Mr. Wooden comes up short. When asked to describe what his vocation would be if not a teacher, he concluded, “Being a teacher is the only profession in which I can see myself that gives me complete fulfillment,” he said, remembering the first day of summer vacation in 1983 when, as a youngster he ignored others playing in the schoolyard to dig through a trash can, collecting left over worksheets and a broken easel he planned to use in his “teaching” during the summer. “Being able to help students succeed and work with other educators collaboratively to improve and refine our craft is the only place I want to be,” he asserted.