Kindergarten Teacher Named Teacher Of The Year At Hillcrest Elementary
by James Coulter
Last summer, Tera Dent, kindergarten teacher at Hillcrest Elementary in Lake Wales, witnessed as several hundred Lake Wales High School seniors garbed in graduation robes and hats accepted their diplomas. Several of them had been her own students when she first started teaching kindergarten nearly 14 years ago.
Being able to teach kindergarten long enough to see her own student’s graduate high school was nothing short of an honor for her. But perhaps her greatest reward was the many relationships she had formed with students and fellow staff members.
“I love the relationships, not only with the administrators and staff, but the kids and parents too,” Dent said. “It is fun seeing them grow up and seeing them graduate.”
Of course, her biggest award as of yet undoubtedly was being named Teacher of the Year at Hillcrest Elementary, an honor she was recently conferred earlier last week.
Aside from teaching kindergarten for 14 years, Dent also serves as the director of K Academy, a new program started last August to give “a little extra boost” to kindergarteners by offering them instruction through one-on-one and small group interaction, according to their website.
More than two dozen kindergarteners from across the Lake Wales Charter School system attend the program, which starts before the rest of the school day, through which they participate within hands-on activities to help develop their reading and math skills.
Amber Johnson, who works alongside Dent within the K Academy, attests to her dedication and willingness to go above and beyond her role as a teacher to provide the best educational experiences, not only to her own students, but to all students within the school.
Dent has attended proffesional development courses to learn the latest teaching methods, and has secured grants and other additional learning tools to enhance her lessons within her own classroom, Johnson said.
“Tera goes above and beyond the call of duty from staying late, to taking initiative on projects without being asked,” Johnson said. “She is a quiet leader, and encourages others. She brings out the best among her peers. She is the definition of love.”
While Dent remains humble and rarely brags about her own accomplishments, her own colleauges cannot say enough good words about her and her efforts to provide her students with a quality education, Johnson said.
“She is the heart and soul of her Kindergarten team,” she said. “She makes everyone feel included. She looks out for each person and helps support their needs. She is a wealth of knowledge, and never minds staying late to help another teacher or student. Her compassion and love for teaching is evident in the way she treats others at work.”
When Hayley Turner, an intermediate lab development member, started as a new teacher six years ago, Dent was right there to take her under her wing and help her get settled within her new career.
“[She] was there to answer any silly questions and mentor me through my first couple of years,” Turner said. “She is set apart from her peers for her willingness to help new teachers just as she does her students…I really appreciate Tera’s positivity! Being a teacher can be tough at times and Tera always remains positive and inspires those around her to do the same.”
Kim Griffiths, a support staff department member, considers Dent a model teacher, one that every other teacher should strive to be. As such, only someone like her could be the most ideal teacher of the year.
“She is has an endless amount of energy, loves all her children, and continues to educate herself on best and current practices,” Griffiths said. “Her classroom always has engaging hands-on learning activities that make their learning fun. Tera is an inspiration to her fellow coworkers and continues to model best practices.”
While Dent has experienced many challenges in her career, she simply continues to do what she does and strives to be the best person she can be for her students, not only teaching them academic skills, but also life skills.
Being able to teach students and work with colleauges for as long as she has allowed her to develop relationships at her school, allowing it to become almost a second family to her. Her own son even attends her school.
“I love it here, it is my home, and my kindergarten team is my work family,” she said. “I love them to death. We have a great staff, they are very supportive. Our resource staff is great. It is my home.”
Though humble about her own accomplishments, she was more than honored to be named this year’s Teacher of the Year, and she hopes that she will be able to continue her career long enough to see more of her students graduate high school.
“I love their eagerness and love to learn,” she said. “They are amazing kids. I walk in the classroom and you are greeted with hugs and smiles every day, and that is what it is about.”