January Teacher of the Month at Pocahontas County High School is English teacher Samara Mann.
While she didn’t dream of being a teacher from a young age, Mann has found that she is where she is meant to be.
“It kind of started as a ‘for now,’ kind of thing,” Mann said. “I was good at English and I loved literature, and I wanted to be able to do something with it. I started to really love it, so it actually paid off.”
It may not have been her goal to be a teacher from the very beginning, but it became natural because she entered the classroom with a love for her subject and the students she taught.
“I really care about my kids,” she said. “There’s a genuine compassion. I’ve worked with a lot of troubled kids – specifically in Spring Mills [in Berkeley County]. It’s interesting because I took the highest level of everything I could and I would resent it if it was too easy, but now I teach the kids who are at a lower level and I have more sympathy for them because of my experience through teaching.”
A self-proclaimed nerd, Mann enjoys including her favorite books and subject matter in her curriculum.
“I’ve actually had the good fortune to pick books that I love,” she said. “I love The Book Thief. I’m looking forward to doing True Grit. I have in-class writings for College English and their latest prompt was ‘which should we fear more, a Tyrannosaurus Rex or a Velociraptor?’ They had to spend a class period writing which is more intimidating and convince people which one is scarier. I got some really cool things from that.”
Along with studying classics and some more modern literature, Mann’s students are expanding their writing to other cultures through a type of pen pal program with schools in France and Romania.
“We’ve tried to do cultural things where we send them writing and they send us writing, and we compare them and talk about them,” Mann said. “It’s been really hard, though, with our snow days, and the attacks in France really threw off their courses.”
Being in touch with students in France and Romania has given Mann’s students a chance to learn about current events from kids their own age. With the French students still reeling from the terrorist attacks in Paris and both countries welcoming Syrian refugees, the students are getting a more intimate perspective.
“We sent them [the French students] some sympathetic messages,” Mann said. “They’ve had to back off because they noticed in the French schools that the kids couldn’t focus. There were attacks in the school that happened between Syrian refugee kids and the other people and Muslim kids. Now, they’re working on getting back on track.
“The Romanian school, the teacher had a kid who was a Syrian refugee – he and his aunt were the only ones in their whole family who made it out of Syria,” she continued. “In the same class, they had a kid who was anti-Muslim. She’s had some issues with getting forums initiated and doing free thought writings.”
The program may have had its hiccups, but Mann said her students have enjoyed writing back and forth with the other students.
If she could implement another program or special section in her curriculum, it would be mythology.
“I taught mythology for four years at Cabell-Midland and I loved it because I’m a nerd and I taught myself all kinds of mythology,” Mann said. “The thing that really got me, it was a uniting factor for kids. It would pull the students together. It was just a really great class.”
With seven years of teaching under her belt, Mann is proud to say she received her National Board Certification – a year-long effort she worked hard to earn.
“You have six tests and four portfolios,” she said. “The six tests are basically half-hour essays. The four portfolios you work on all year long and so that really showed me what my teaching practices were. It really helped me understand what I’m doing in the classroom and where I should be.”
The year was grueling, but successful. A low percentage of teachers pass the certification process and even less do so in the first year they try.
“I think it changed who I was as a teacher,” Mann said. “It gave me that confidence to say, ‘I really worked hard for this. I know my stuff.’”
In her seven years of teaching, Mann has taught at three schools and says there is something special that sets PCHS apart from them all – the students.
“The first school I taught at had eighteen hundred students and then the next year it was a brand new school with nine hundred students,” she said. “This school – the students have a lot of respect. It’s a neat dynamic. At each school – kids are kids – but here there’s more politeness and courtesy. You always have a couple who are a little problematic, but here, overall – they’re sweet, they’ll work for you and so it’s been a blessing.”
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org