Teacher Jason Orlen knows that kids are more engaged in a fun classroom.
“Just making learning fun. Who wants to sit here all day if they’re bored? Not me, and I have to be here all day long,” he said.
Orlen’s fun and encouraging classroom helped him become 2014-2015 Teacher of the Year at East Millsboro Elementary School.
“When I was growing up, you didn’t hear” singing and clapping in the classroom, said the fifth-grade teacher. “But if you play them a song,” he said, kids will remember anything. Recently in math class, he was surprised to hear students burst into a song about equations, which they had learned months ago.
He makes up silly songs, dances on desks or anything else he can devise to make a lesson memorable.
“No matter how old you get, you can still kid around,” Orlen said.
Now teaching in the same room as the mother of his childhood best friend once did, Orlen was pleasantly surprised at how much he enjoys teaching fifth grade.
“They’re at that age level they get your jokes and sarcasm” but are still excited for school, he said.
The main challenge with students is “dealing with the challenges they have to face outside school. Sometimes school is the least of their worries,” Orlen said, from parents fighting to not being able to afford dinner.
“They’re a great group of kids. They get along well,” said Orlen, who aims to “instill the belief that we are a family.”
Orlen’s 26 kids look out for each other. If someone finally understands a lesson, other children start clapping for her. If someone seems lonely at recess, they’ll pick him for a team.
If he wasn’t teaching, Orlen would probably still be in the Delaware National Guard, with which he served in Iraq for two years of active duty. He joked that he would’ve taken any job with air conditioning, when East Millsboro called him in 100-degree weather. At that point, teaching had been on the back burner after studying education in college. Besides eight years of teaching, Orlen has earned his master’s degree, too.
But military service taught him leadership in the classroom.
“Seeing where different people can come from and understanding … some of the struggles they face,” he said of what he learned. Plus, he understands how to motivate students to do their best.
“He pushed them to exceed and reach their fullest potential,” said EMES Principal Kelly Dorman. “He gets to know each on a personal basis. … That’s why they work so hard for him.”
“They still look up to you. You still have the power to motivate them,” said Orlen of students “at the age where … being a teacher, you can kind of sway them in the right direction.”
“He is a wonderful teacher, and I’m honored that he is representing East Millsboro as Teacher of the Year,” Dorman said, describing a lively, yet challenging, atmosphere. “To watch him teach is phenomenal. It’s hard to leave.”
Orlen is comfortable with visitors to the class, since school administrators make weekly visits.
“They do a great job keeping everybody up-to-date on everything. They try to run East Millsboro as a family among the staff,” he said.
That’s especially significant, as Orlen’s own wife teaches fourth grade at East Millsboro. Jennifer Orlen won Teacher of the Year at the school two years ago and helps her husband bounce ideas around, helping him learn what will or won’t work.
The couple has four children together. An avid outdoorsman, Orlen also likes hunting and fishing, and he’s begun teaching their older children that skill. At school, he fills various other roles, including school store coordinator and fifth-grade Positive Behavior Support representative.