After being brought to tears of disbelief, 5th grade teacher at Perry Hill Elementary Melissa Fenstermaker said she still hasn’t fully come to terms with the fact she won Teacher of the Year for 2016.
Overwhelmed with joy, Fenstermaker said above all she is honored to have been selected among a variety of other influential teachers at Perry Hill and other local schools alike.
“I work with amazing teachers, so this to me is very special. I am still not quite sure why I was selected when I look around,” said Fenstermaker.
Along with the relationships built with students, staff and parents over the course of the school year, Fenstermaker said she loves that no two days are the same.
“Let’s just say there will never be a ‘Groundhog’s Day’,” said Fenstermaker. “Everyday brings a new challenge and adventure with the kids, and everyday brings a new success that I see within one of my students. I learn about myself, someone else, I grow, and watch them grow. I feel lucky to be able to do that everyday.”
She said her role as a mother to a child of her own has brought out a “softer side” in her teaching style and has influenced the relationships she builds with her students’ parents.
“After I became a parent I began to see everything from a new point of view,” said Fenstermaker. “It’s always a partnership between the teacher and parents. I always say, ‘my kids are my kids but their parents are their parents,’ and if I don’t have a relationship or friendship with their parents or they don’t trust me, students don’t grow to the level I would like.”
Fenstermaker said the growth among the students happens through a collaborative effort of the teachers, kids, and their parents.
“When the kids and parents trust me, that’s when the magic happens. That’s when we can really see their growth throughout the year. I can’t do it alone and they can’t do it alone. When we’re all on the same page, that’s when we win games,” Fenstermaker said.
Following the announcement of winning the award, Fenstermaker said she’s still getting used to no longer being, “under the radar.”
“I’ve put myself in a place where I am the radar,” said Fenstermaker jokingly. “Now I think I have to be a role model for new teachers coming in.”
She credits teachers such as Bruce Sandberg for showing her the ropes when she first became a teacher.
“Now I feel more comfortable giving advice to upcoming teachers and feel as though I’ve earned the right to do it,” said Fenstermaker.
Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet was one of the people who surprised Fenstermaker with the award at Perry Hill and said she’s been an asset to the education system in Shelton.
“I am very proud to be a colleague of such a creative and committed teacher. We are fortunate to have her on our team,” said Clouet.
Fenstermaker said she has always wanted to become a teacher. She recalls when she was little organizing class in her basement with the kids in her neighborhood.
She graduated from Central Connecticut State University but didn’t initially didn’t get into the education program. She graduated with a degree in child psychology and became an insurance agent for 5 years.
In the years following, her father had a brain aneurysm and before entering a successful surgery that she told her that she had to become a teacher. It was her destiny.
She wasted no time and enrolled in a summer of core courses to better her GPA and then ended up getting to the Master’s Degree Program for education at Sacred Heart University. Within 11 months she had her teaching degree and her Master’s degree.
She said her mother, dad, and husband were most proud of her and she couldn’t have achieved all she has without her family’s support.
“I’m beyond lucky,” said Fenstermaker.
When she’s not in the classroom, Fenstermaker said she loves to spend time with her family, write children’s books, and being outside. Currently her six year old son is teaching her how to golf.
She and her students said she mixes humor into learning, whether the jokes are good or bad is still up for debate. Fenstemaker said as times change she is constantly adopting and learning to infuse different tactics into the learning regiment to build a better learning experience.
“The kids get to know me, I’m not afraid to let them a little into my life because I think when they can say they know you then they’ll trust you. When they trust you, they’ll come to you and when they come to you you can really teach them.”
She also said aside from teaching them applicable school related lessons, she strives to help the kid’s development into becoming nice well rounded people. Fenstermaker emphasizes the importance of being kind, not bullying and building a comfortable learning environment to her students.