It’s the first week of school. Organized chaos comes to mind. Not in Sally Levesque’s classroom at Hamilton Elementary School. Her fourth graders file into class, pull chairs off desks, get unpacked and get down to work. This all happens calmly, naturally even, while Levesque is talking to a stranger by the door.
By the time she turns her attention to the classroom, her 22 students are seated at their desks, ready for the day.
“Good morning, boys and girls,” Levesque says in a welcoming voice. Together they attend to the first thing in the morning business: notes for the teacher, lunch orders, and the like. She calls the students up in predetermined groups, while the rest of the students work quietly on projects they began earlier in the week.
This is the classroom of a teacher in her prime. This is the classroom of North Kingstown’s Teacher of the Year for 2013.
“Mrs. Levesque is an outstanding teacher with the heart and commitment required to help each student succeed,” said Hamilton Elementary Principal Morag Cronkite. “She sets high expectations by designing lessons that require students to think deeply about their own learning. She understands how to ask probing questions and support students as they uncover their own responses. Students thrive in her classroom.”
“She is the best of the best,” Supt. Phil Auger told the School Committee at their meeting Aug. 27.
Levesque, who has been at Hamilton for her entire career, has spent nearly all of those years as a fourth grade teacher. There’s one reason for that: “I love it!”
Elaborating, she said, “I love the content in fourth grade. In the younger grades, you’re teaching to read. By fourth grade, you’re reading to learn.”
Levesque said education has changed a lot over time in the classroom.
“The academic demands on these children are a lot more than when I started 26 years ago,” she said. “I think the standards that we have are rigorous.”
Children are expected to know more, earlier, Levesque said. “Their depth of knowledge has to be more. Sometimes that frustrates them. And I don’t blame them. So you just have to step back a bit and say, ‘That’s ok. We’ll practice it and it’s ok.’”
She shies away from any suggestion that she has a lot to teach younger teachers, despite Principal Cronkite’s assertions to the contrary:
“Mrs. Levesque is a teacher leader. She enjoys keeping abreast of the best practices in education and providing professional development for other staff members. Her colleagues respect her expertise and enjoy her poised, knowledgeable and articulate presentation style,” said Cronkite.
Rather, Levesque said, “I am so impressed with the younger teachers now. These wonderful young teachers are coming in now and I really sincerely mean this – it’s like they’ve had years of teaching already…. So, even though I have younger teachers and my peers coming to me, I going to them. They keep me fresh.”