For third-grade teacher Heather Atkison, teaching is more than just books.
“Anyone can stand up and teach,” Atkison said. “Getting to know your kids is the biggest thing I’ve learned over the years.”
Along the way to building a trusting relationship with students, Atkison was named Phillip C. Showell Elementary School’s Teacher of the Year.
With a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and master’s degree in special education, Atkison has taught for 10 years and will be featured in the PD 360 professional development filming.
When Atkison came to teach special education at Phillip C. Showell, there were no inclusion classes. So she and another teacher partnered for team teaching, allowing regular and special-education students to learn together.
Last year, Atkison moved up with her second grade inclusion class to third grade, allowing the students a familiar face who was familiar with their learning styles.
Teaching third grade offered Atkison a new challenge as a major student-testing year, so teachers feel more pressure.
Visitors to the classroom will notice nine giant rubber stability balls at various desks. When her students complained that hard-backed plastic chairs were uncomfortable, Atkison listened and researched alternatives.
She learned that exercise balls helped improve student concentration, especially for those with ADD and ADHD.
So she applied for a special-education grant available to the district, and everyone has noticed the difference. Students are more focused, and fidgeting has decreased.
Atkison admires her students for their energy and accepting nature. When four new students arrived in November, she said the class was so welcoming that a person today would think the whole class had always been together.
In a classroom with many types of learners, Atkison said her students ignore negativity and have learned to focus on people’s strengths.
Such character education and growth is important for Atkison. She said teachers can push academics, but she aims to develop well-rounded students.
“The ultimate goal is that they grow up and become good community members, and that begins here,” she said.
Atkison said she is proud to work within the well-established Indian River School District. Her love of teaching in Selbyville shows through her 40-minute commute.
“To represent the people I work with and the students was an honor,” she said, describing Phillip C. Showell as a very tight-knit environment. “It’s a great place to work.
“It’s small, so we know all the kids, and that makes us all in tune with their home life,” said Atkison. “We’re all very close.”
Atkison is Learning-Focused Strategies certified, and she is a member of the Positive Behavior Support Team, School Leadership Committee and School Improvement Team.
As a young mother, student and professional, Atkison said she worked hard to succeed. She learned quickly all the life lessons that she brings to the classroom.
“To be where I am, I value what I’ve done,” Atkison said.
Today, Atkison spends loves reading, supporting her daughter’s travel softball team and spending time with her fiancé and three dogs.