Fifth-grade students enter Nichele Lobo’s classroom each morning to find a positive new quote written on the board.
“I want my students to have a positive mindset about learning, about school, about what they can do,” Lobo said. “And if we struggle, that’s normal. Mistakes are part of learning. And I strongly believe, with an attitude like that, there’s no stopping you.”
Her desire to build a positive mindset at Southern Delaware School of the Arts has earned Lobo the title of the school’s 2018-2019 Teacher of the Year.
“People-oriented and high energy … I couldn’t ask for a more caring and dedicated teacher for our students,” said Principal Barkley Heck.
“Whatever students walk into her room, she just takes them where they are and loves them and works with them,” Heck said, “and parents are so grateful to have their students challenged, no matter what level they’re at.”
“I personally loved how she always saw the bright side in everyone and everything,” wrote a former student, Natalie Nearey.
“She may have been tough on us a couple times, but it was because she wanted to see us all succeed,” Nearey wrote. “She is always trying to do her best, but she doesn’t need to because she is the best in students’ hearts.”
As a youngster, Lobo had both good and bad schooling experiences, she said, which helped her decide her own direction as a teacher.
“You need a lot of patience, energy, drive. I need to be able to make things exciting for kids. It takes a lot of work. It’s not easy. I plan my activities” to be fun and engaging, she said.
She even won a grant to purchase Legos, which has engaged students in many ways, including showcasing creativity and math skills through free building and design exercises.
“I’m at an arts school. I want to inspire them to be creative and use their imagination,” Lobo said. “They think, ‘I’m playing. I’m not really learning,’ but they are.”
There’s hardly time to get bored, since the kids are always up and moving.
“We’re way past just sitting at our desks all the time,” Lobo said. “If you were to come in here during group activity, you’d see them all over. It’s busy in here … which is probably a reflection of me. I’m very high-energy.”
Although her family is from the area, Lobo said she inherited the “travel bug” and loves visiting new places with her husband and two stepchildren — especially beachy locales.
Lobo started as preschool teacher, then switched gears to do early childhood research and policy work at the nonprofit National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in Virginia.
But after many years focused on young children, around 2004 she cannonballed back into teaching as a long-term substitute. Immersion is the fastest way to learn, and Lobo loved the challenge. Since then, her whole career has been at SDSA and John M. Clayton Elementary School (formerly Frankford Elementary). Now, she loves being back in the classroom with older children.
“This is a very diverse group, across all spectrums, from learning capabilities to everything … but they come together,” Lobo said. “I have been impressed by this group of students, by their ability to show kindness to each other and support each other.”
She hears them cheer each other on.
She said it’s a challenge to meet the needs of such a diverse group, encouraging individuality while pushing the accelerated students forward or helping others catch up.
Lobo is already a leader among teachers. She has served on the SDSA Instructional Leadership Team, helping guide the school’s overall direction; represented the school at the teachers’ union; and joined the statewide cohort to improve social studies resources.
Teaching is like a rollercoaster, Lobo said, with hard work and “exhilarating” successes.
“I’d hate to see a new teacher get overwhelmed with all the aspects that there are to teaching. You have to be a special person” to juggle the time management and classroom management. “I just want to see people go into the profession with an open mind.”
Lobo’s students make the job so rewarding.
“This group in particular is so loving, so sweet. I look forward to seeing their smiling faces every day. I really love teaching,” she said. “They inspire you to keep going.”
She said she truly believes the arts help in learning and problem-solving, so she is proud to represent SDSA as Teacher of the Year.
“The teachers are so creative, and what a great group of teachers to work with! So talented,” Lobo said. “It definitely is an honor, and I feel blessed to be surrounded by people who support me and what I do.”
The Indian River School District will announce the districtwide Teacher of the Year award later this spring.