Teacher challenges her fifth-graders to excel

Sharon Sailor works hard to keep her students engaged

Sharon Sailor conducts a class on Wednesday. She is one of three finalists for Alachua County Teacher of the Year.

Published: Sunday, January 30, 2011 at 10:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 30, 2011 at 10:41 p.m.

Sharon Sailor read out an example from the grammar book: “we walks to school.”

“Ms. Sailor, that's just … horrible!” said Tanner Fowler, 11. “My 3-year-old brother says that every day.”

Those “aha!” moments amid a discussion are why Sailor teaches and pushes her fifth-grade students at Oak View Middle School.

“I love to see that look in their eyes when they get it,” Sailor said.

Her commitment to unearthing the best in each student has landed Sailor as a finalist for Alachua County Teacher of the Year.

One of the three finalists — each representing a different age group — will be selected on Feb. 17 to represent the district in the state Teacher of the Year program.

The finalists also include Louise Brown, an art teacher at J.J. Finley, and Michael Testa, a social studies teacher at Buchholz High School.

“Of course [I felt] very honored that my peers would think of me that way,” Sailor said of her nomination.

Sailor, 45, has taught in Alachua County Public Schools for nearly 15 years, including seven years at Oak View.

The day's lesson was on pronoun-verb agreement as Sailor quizzed her students on the classroom's interactive smartboard.

“Question of the day: it's the only pronoun that could mean one or more than one,” she said as a dozen hands stretched for the ceiling.

Keeping her students from bouncing around the classroom can be difficult, Sailor said. The class rotates between stations of educational games on Thursdays.

She said her students like getting chances to write on her classroom's smartboard, which she uses to display workbook pages and take notes.

“I try to keep them up and moving,” she said.

Although most of her students are only 10 years old, the learning gap can be vast. The biggest classroom challenge can be differentiating instruction enough to meet the needs of all her students, Sailor said.

“I try to do small group once a week so I can work with those kids,” she said.

At the same time, Sailor said, it can be difficult keeping students who are ahead interested and engaged. Positive reinforcement can lead to self-discovery in Sailor's class. In the case of one boy, he leaned over to her in class and told her that she was right: If he reads more, his grade would improve.

That morning he learned his grade had improved a full letter grade to a B. His classmates clapped as Sailor told the story.

“I let my students know they can do it,” she said. “ ‘I can't' is not an option. We have to try.”

Contact Jackie Alexander at jackie.alexander@gvillesun.com or 338-3166.

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