‘Rarely quiet, but always productive’

Date Published: 
April 11, 2014

Coastal Point • Laura Walter: Homeworkopoly is one many perks in Heather McCabe's classroom.Coastal Point • Laura Walter: Homeworkopoly is one many perks in Heather McCabe's classroom.For Heather McCabe, there’s “nothing better in life than teaching a child to read … leveling the playing field” for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The fifth-grade classroom of the Teacher of the Year at Phillip C. Showell Elementary is always busy. But it’s a relaxed atmosphere, so children feel comfortable enough to make mistakes and learn from them.

For children, the key to success is “to know that you love them and it’s a safe place.”

She uses fun activities to lead children through structured and rigorous classwork.

“Lot of standing on chairs and singing,” McCabe said. “If you agree with someone, stand on your chair.”

“Heather goes out of her way to get students actively engaged in the lesson,” said Principal Laura Schneider. “She makes sure they’re active participants. It’s rarely quiet, but always productive.”

Schneider also called her a “dynamic person in general,” a great mom, great friend and asset to the school.

“She really believes that every child can learn. She welcomes any and every child into her classroom.”

McCabe is dual-certified for elementary and special education, which taught her additional techniques to help students in any classroom. She has 26 students typically, plus three additional students who join for several classes, lunch and recess.

Although it varies with each class, McCabe said every teacher’s challenge is time, plus “keeping kids engaged and accountable and motivated,” but “when you work with kids, you have blips everyday. They’re just speed bumps,” she said good-naturedly.

“Kids at this age, for most part, are still innocent and un-jaded,” said McCabe, who enjoys “having a lens of what the world looks like through their eyes … helping kids become good people.”

McCabe’s “innate desire” to teach began with a childhood of teaching teddy bears and doll babies. Her own father taught at Indian River High School, her aunt and uncle at Sussex Central High School. After graduating from Goucher College, she taught in Stafford County, Va., before she and her husband returned to their native Indian River School District.

McCabe is a state leader now, too, as the IRSD’s only teacher on the Delaware Dream Team. As classrooms work with new educational standards (Common Core) and next year’s state test (Smarter Balanced), she is helping teachers prepare.

Her group reviews chunks of new information and finds every spot where children might get confused. Then they create “formative assessment checkpoints” that teachers can use to determine if their class understands the lesson before moving on.

“We’re creating these resources for teachers across Delaware,” she said.

Her classroom can serve as a test lab for some of these ideas during her research.

“It’s very enjoyable. I feel like it’s giving me a leg up on the standards,” said McCabe, who is also a curriculum writer for the IRSD.

She’s also demystifying the new standards.

“Common Core is a good thing. It’s going to get our students ready for the next level,” McCabe said. “It has not changed teaching. It’s benchmarks every kid should know. Common Core equals common sense.”

McCabe also serves on Phillip Showell’s teams for School Improvement, Positive Behavior Support, Building Bridges (with the community) and more.

When not in school, McCabe is still thinking about kids — including her own children’s activities. She loves the beach and cycling.

“I’m just happy to be out on the road,” she said.

When the Teacher of the Year announcement was made, McCabe’s students went wild, and her daughter ran into the classroom.

“I have to thank my family, because they sacrifice a lot because I am very busy … [and] every single person here at Phillip Showell,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to work any other place.”

She highly complimented the staff and Schneider.

“‘Amazing’ doesn’t even do justice — she breeds excellence. She makes you want to step up your game. Any teacher here could be Teacher of the Year.”