Top Teacher Overall

Amy D. Insley

Number of Votes: 3,570

School: York High School, York County

Years as an educator: 17

Grades and subjects taught: Elementary Music; Theater Arts 6–12, adjunct professor at Christopher Newport University and Old Dominion University

Special recognitions/awards: Michael Sullivan Distinguished Service Award, 2013, York High School; Top Teacher, Coastal Virginia Magazine, 2014 and 2015

Your favorite part about being a teacher? All of it! If I have to choose a highlight, I really love it when a theater student falls in love with the arts through experiencing a good performance, a good audience, a great show! It is an amazing thing to see a student transform from someone who is unsure and tentative into a confident performer and person. 

The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? Everyone comes to the classroom with their own set of needs. It is our job as educators to help meet those needs. I think all students come to school with the intention of learning something and a desire to do well. As teachers, we can really light that fire if we get to know them, build relationships and help them to be successful.

Technology in the classroom: Helpful or hindrance? Both! I find it very helpful in relating to students’ mode of learning. For example, I employ iPods and iPads into musical theater lessons, and I sometimes have the students create Twitter and Facebook “live feeds” for things like the Tony Awards broadcast. However, theater is such an art of human connection and relationships that I think we need to know when to put [devices] down!

What is the biggest challenge teachers are facing today? Validity of our profession. I really do not like the saying, “Those that can—do. Those that can’t—teach.” That is such a horrible saying and not at all true. No one can “do” anything if there hasn’t been a teacher to show them how. Teachers do and teach. I do not think anything could be more necessary or noble than following the call to do so.

At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? That they can do anything they set out to do, and the skills learned in theater transcend performing. They can be applied anywhere! 

From her nomination: Amy Insley singlehandedly changed my life. I had no direction. No confidence. No ambition. I was a lost soul. She saw something in me and brought it out. I had never thought about doing theater until I met her. She put me on stage, gave me a home and a real sense of belonging.  —Meghan Witten, former student

 

coastal virginia magazine top teacher tara gilliamTara Gilliam

School: Saint Mary Star of the Sea School, Hampton

Years as an educator: 4

Grades and subjects taught: Third grade

Your favorite part about being a teacher? Seeing the growth of each student I teach. During the early school months, these somewhat unfamiliar children are entrusted into my care. You don’t know much about them, but you know it’s your job to help them learn and grow throughout the year. By the last day of school, you look around and are amazed to see independent, self-sufficient young people. Witnessing their gradual transformation over nine months is truly remarkable and inspiring for me as their teacher.

The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? Oftentimes, I look around my classroom and notice my students practicing acts of kindness and genuine love. These examples often remind me, as busy as life may be at times, that we too must stop to help one another. The greatest lessons in life can be observed by watching children model what we have instilled in them.

Technology in the classroom: Helpful or hindrance? Technology is very helpful in the elementary classroom. I know it can cause problems among older students, but ultimately I see that technology engages and excites young learners. Technology keeps students interested and focused, which is so crucial. In this digital age, students are growing up with these advancements, and it’s important that schools keep up with these inventions.

What is the biggest challenge teacher are facing today? The expectation of differentiated instruction for each student. Teachers are faced with the difficult task of teaching each learner at their own level, understanding that education is not a “one size fits all” answer. This requires extra time, effort and careful planning. In today’s world, differentiated instruction can be extremely hard when faced with school budgets, minimal needed materials and many required standardized tests, but the results are truly worthwhile.

At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I want them to know the greatest lessons I shared with them were not about science or math but that they are a magnificent gift to each person they come in contact with during their lives and that God has a special plan for each and every one of them.

From her nomination: “Her passion for education and for helping young children to learn is manifested in her attention to the students’ needs and researching new ways to help them learn and be successful in their education.” —Sister Mary John Slonkosky, Principal, Saint Mary Star of the Sea School

 

coastal virginia magazine top teacher ashleigh cake cape henry collegiateAshleigh Cake

School: Cape Henry Collegiate, Virginia Beach

Years as an educator: 14

Grades and subjects taught: Sixth grade Earth Science. (Has taught science in grades Pre-K–12.)

Your favorite part about being a teacher? Getting the kids to understand the world around them. They just don’t understand how large the world is, and yet, really how small it is. I tell them there is only one ocean, but they say they learned there are five. Then I explain how everything is connected, and whatever happens here has an impact somewhere else.

What is the most important thing that you have learned during your teaching career? That there’s promise in all children. They are all great. They are all sweet. I love them all. That kids aren’t adults. They’re kids. You have to just accept everybody for who they are.

Technology in the classroom: Helpful or hindrance? A few years ago, I definitely would have said that technology in the classroom was helpful, and I still do feel that way on most days. I sometimes worry that a student may get sidetracked to game sites. They are kids. As with anything, allowing kids to be on a device during class requires constant supervision to make sure they are being appropriately taught and directed. Technology is only getting better, and we need to embrace it but at the same time make sure we show and teach kids what is important.

What is the biggest challenge teachers are facing today? My greatest challenge is probably technology. Not so much the technology itself but the amount of time it takes from a student’s life. I feel that kids are missing out on being outside, getting messy and using their minds at times. If something exciting is happening, instead of enjoying it and making memories, my students instantly want to pull out their phones to take a picture. I feel they miss the “whole” experience. Of course, they do have a digital memory, but I don’t believe it is the same.

At the end of the school year, what do you want your students to leave your classroom knowing? Maybe my favorite quote: “It’s the greatest mistake of all to do nothing because you can only do little.” That’s about the environment and helping out. We talk about that every day. Right now we’re learning about the Chesapeake Bay and what we can do to help it.

From her nomination: “Her passion, dedication and enthusiasm for educating her students in the science of sustainability is contagious. She lives, breathes and models science, sustainability and stewardship in her daily life and, most importantly, inspires her students to do the same.” —Amanda Hayes, colleague

 

coastal virginia magazine top teacher sherry lee willard model elementarySherry Lee

School: Willard Model Elementary School, Norfolk

Years as an educator: 20

Grades and subjects taught: Elementary counselor for grades Pre-K–5

Special recognition/awards: One of Norfolk Public Schools’ Top 10 Teachers of the Year, 2015; Teacher of the Year, Willard Model Elementary, 2015; VFW (Veteran of Foreign Wars) Teacher of the Year, 2014

Your favorite part about being a teacher? I love working with the students, teachers, staff, parents and other school counselors. I like it when a student mentions to me, “Do you remember when you taught us about bullying? I still use those strategies.”

The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? All students are different. What works for one student might not work for the next. In this line of work, you have to be flexible, creative and willing to give your all.

Technology in the classroom: Helpful or hindrance? I think technology in the classroom is helpful because it enhances the learning and teaching process, especially for students with visual and kinesthetic learning styles.

What is the biggest challenge teachers are facing today? Too much testing. This is not just a problem in Virginia but other states, as well.

At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I want students to leave the school year knowing that anything is possible with determination and hard work.

From her nomination: “She is enthusiastic and promotes college and career opportunities to our elementary-aged students, believing it is never too soon to promote higher education.”  —Julie Honeycutt, principal, Willard Model Elementary School

 

coastal virginia magazine top teacher dr. don krudop visual and performing arts salemDr. Don Krudop  

School: The Visual & Performing Arts Academy at Salem High School, Virginia Beach

Years as an educator: 41

Grades and subjects taught: Academy choirs and classes for grades 9–12: Vox Harmonia, Vox Concordia, Cantaré, Academy Choral Ensemble, Conducting & Score Study, Senior Vocal Seminar, and Senior Vocal Production Project

Special recognitions/awards: National Quarter Finalist, National Music Educator, Grammy Foundation; Music Educator of the Year, Virginia Music Educators Association; Teacher of the Year, Salem High School; Distinguished Alumnus Award, Outstanding Career Achievement, Shenandoah University

Your favorite part about being a teacher? This is an easy one … my students. Their passion, talent, enthusiasm, curiosity, intelligence … the way they latch onto new concepts and new ideas so quickly, the way they rise to the challenges I give them. I love the “light bulb” moments—those times when a difficult concept suddenly becomes clear and they’re excited about it.

The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? Never underestimate the capabilities and potential for success that is innate in young people. I have found that if I can determine a way to teach a concept or technique, my students are capable of mastering it.

Technology in the classroom: Helpful or hindrance? Both, depending upon the circumstances. It’s a great help to be able to quickly pull up performances by world-class artists, websites with great information and to have the opportunity to provide students with interactive options. On the challenging side, students must learn that there are times when it’s necessary to disconnect from the online world and focus on the authentic classroom environment. The constant feeling of needing to “be connected” distracts them from the immediacy of interaction, both with the teacher and with classmates.

What is the biggest challenge teachers are facing today? The continually-increasing loss of instructional time due to testing, unnecessary paperwork and other mandated minutiae is a critical concern. It’s difficult to teach the curriculum when students are pulled from class and daily instructional schedules are interrupted.

At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I hope each student leaves my classroom knowing that he/she is a better musician than they were in September, that an increased understanding of music has been instilled in their head and an ever-growing passion for singing has been embedded in his/her heart.

From his nomination: “Dr. Krudop is awesome. He is a great teacher who I still remember 20 years later! High school wouldn't have been the same without his class.” —Cheryl Rouse, former student

 

coastal virginia magazine top teacher chelsea kimbro kemps landing old donation schoolChelsea Kimbro

School: Kemps Landing/Old Donation School, Virginia Beach

Years as an educator: 7

Grades and subjects taught: Kindergarten, second, third and fourth grades

Special recognitions/awards: Teacher of the Year, Mary Lee Clark Elementary, 2014

Your favorite part about being a teacher? That no day is ever the same. My students teach me new things all of the time, make me laugh, make me smile, warm my heart and inspire me every day. It’s not possible to be in a bad mood around them. I see things through the eyes of children every day, and I am fortunate to be able to do so.

The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? Teachers cannot control everything. Sometimes things don’t go as planned, but it will always be OK if you have your students’ best interests at heart.

Technology in the classroom: Helpful or hindrance? Planning meaningful technology-based tasks are essential in preparing students for the world today. It is not a magic cure-all for student difficulties. It is important to define what skills students need to be successful, then use that information to plan accordingly. By providing opportunities for exposure to “real world” uses of technology, we are creating a population of global thinkers.

What is the biggest challenge teachers are facing today? Balancing the needs of students, schools and communities. Each requires time and attention, which can be difficult to manage. Each student enters my classroom with different levels of knowledge. Planning and allotting time for one-on-one instruction for 25 students gets tricky. Teachers also have to meet specific school goals that are equally important. As a teacher, understanding, communicating and networking with the community are essential to ensuring student success. With all of that being said, teaching is a work of love, and it is my honor to do it for my students.

At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I want my children to exercise a growth mindset. It is OK to fail. It is not OK to give up. I strive for each child to learn that with hard work, no goal is unattainable. I want them to understand their value. It is imperative that they understand that mistakes and imperfections are what make you who you are.

From her nomination: “Mrs. Kimbro is a top teacher because she is caring, enthusiastic, accessible, smart and absolutely loves her job! She creates a sense of community and respect in her fourth grade classroom—a place where everyone can express their individuality while working toward the same goals. She collaborates with other teachers regularly, sharing ideas for the benefit of the school.” —Kieran Feggans, parent

 

sharon feggans norview elementarySharon Feggans

School: Norview Elementary, Norfolk

Years as an educator: 34

Grades and subjects taught: Fifth grade

Special recognitions/awards: Teacher of Year, Norview Elementary, 1994; Grade Chair, Technology Lead, Cooperating Teacher, Lead Teacher Mentor

Your favorite part about being a teacher? Seeing the sense of pride and accomplishment in a student who has mastered a concept or skill. When that "aha" moment comes, there is no better feeling. I think I get almost as excited as the student!

The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? All students may learn differently, but all students can learn. It is my responsibility as their teacher to instill in them the confidence to push past any obstacle that might keep them from reaching their full potential.

Technology in the classroom: Helpful or hindrance? I feel that balance is the key. We live in a technological world. Our students are exposed to it in almost every aspect of their daily lives. I feel we have to embrace it. But, we also need to recognize that nothing can replace that one-on-one connection between teacher and student. Technology should supplement and complement good teaching, not replace it.

What is the biggest challenge teachers are facing today? For me, the biggest challenge comes from the aforementioned technology. I find that over the years, the attention span of my students has shortened partly because they are so used to the "instant everything" that technology brings. I constantly strive to find ways to engage students on a level that is stimulating but also rooted in good teaching practices.

At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I would like my students to leave me knowing that I have given them the foundation they need to be successful in middle school and beyond. I have high expectations for all of my students, and it amazes me how they rise to my challenge! I want my students to know that I truly care about them and I am so proud when they succeed. Each year I have former students visit me to thank me for giving them the push they needed. A few years ago, I was even honored at the wedding of two of my former fifth graders. (I told them they would eventually marry because they couldn't stand each other that year.) It is said that you only get one chance to make a first impression. Well, with teaching you get 180 chances to make a lasting impression. I hope I have done that.

From her nomination: “Mrs. Feggans has a special rapport with all of her students. She fosters a community in her classroom, and all students are able to succeed.” —Barbara Batchelor

 

matt branch butts road intermediateMatt Branch

School: Butts Road Intermediate School, Chesapeake

Years as an educator: 10

Grades and subjects taught: Third grade Math, Social Studies and Language Arts

Special recognitions/awards: Math Lead Teacher, 2015

Your favorite part about being a teacher? My favorite part is the students. I enjoy really getting to know each one of them, finding ways that I can relate to them and hearing from them that my class is a lot of fun or that I am a student’s favorite teacher. Whether it is sharing an interest in superheroes, discussing a favorite book series or just playing soccer with them at recess, I truly enjoy getting to spend time with my students.

The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? It’s important to get to know the students on a personal level. Students are much more likely to want to come to school and be interested in learning when they feel that the classroom is a warm and inviting space. And by showing an interest in their hobbies and things they enjoy outside of school, I can create a special bond with my students.

Technology in the classroom: Helpful or hindrance? Technology is definitely helpful. Whether using online manipulatives on the Smartboard, playing a review game on iPads or using computers to access content-related materials, technology has made it easier to find information, keep parents informed, collect important data and engage students.

What is the biggest challenge teachers are facing today? I’ve found that keeping students’ attention in the digital age is the biggest challenge facing teachers today. Children nowadays are so accustomed to all the technology readily available at home that it is hard to keep their attention for any significant period of time. It is hard to find the balance of teaching all the information that needs to be taught while still capturing the students’ attention and keeping them engaged.

At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I want my students to know that learning is fun. While not every lesson can be the most exciting, there are certainly ways to learn new content and skills that are fun and relatable to a kid. Whether it is playing fantasy football to practice addition and subtraction, using Battleship to review grids or having our own classroom Olympics to learn about ancient Rome, learning can be exciting.

From his nomination: “Mr. Branch loves his students and makes learning fun!” —Becky Gould

 

coastal virginia magazine top teacher becky morison poquoson high schoolBecky Morrison

School: Poquoson High School, Poquoson

Years as an educator: 23

Grades and subjects taught: AP U.S. History; U.S. and Virginia History

Special recognitions/awards: Member, Delta Kappa Gamma; Nominated for National History Teacher Award

Your favorite part about being a teacher? The kids! I primarily teach 11th graders, and it’s such a fun age—they’re starting to become more aware of the world around them. It’s so satisfying to work with the students and see them have those moments when they “get” something. I love it when they’re able to think through an historical scenario and make the connection to the larger picture. 

The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? When I first started teaching, a colleague named Bonnie Fay (who happened to be my senior English teacher when I was a student at PHS) told me that students will not necessarily remember what you taught them, but they will remember how you treated them. I have always tried to take that to heart and let my students know that I care about them as a person while trying to give them an appreciation of American history.

Technology in the classroom: Helpful or hindrance? Helpful. Kids are so technology savvy these days, so it plays to their strengths to have technology in the classroom. With technology, students are more engaged and active in the learning process.

What is the biggest challenge teachers are facing today? Sometimes I feel bogged down by paperwork, which takes time away from contact with the students.

At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I tell my students that participation in history class is not optional, just like participation in life is not optional. Failure is not acceptable, and they can be successful if they work hard. I hope my students view me as a person who loves her job, and I want them to walk away from my class with a desire to follow what they have a passion for in life. Each year on the last day of school, I read a book to them called Mr. Griggs’ Work, which is about a postman who’s sad because he has to take a sick day from work, and he misses his post office. My students understand that I’ll never get rich from teaching, but like Mr. Griggs, I believe I have the best job in the world.

From her nomination: “Mrs. Morrison excels in all areas of her job. She consistently utilizes best practices in the classroom and has excellent communication skills with both parents and students. She is a teacher that all students would like to have while at PHS, and her students consistently score very high on both advanced placement tests and SOL tests. Mrs. Morrison is a top teacher in all aspects of her job.”  —Brandon Ratliff, principal, Poquoson High School

 

coastal virginia magazine top teacher wendy green poquoson primaryWendy Green

School: Poquoson Primary School, Poquoson

Years as an educator: 17

Grades and subjects taught: Kindergarten, First grade, Reading Specialist K–2

Special recognitions/awards: Teacher of the Year, Poquoson Primary School, 2011; Islander Award Recipient, 2015

Your favorite part about being a teacher? There are many aspects to teaching that I love, but my favorite part is being able to witness a child finally grasp a concept—their face lights up, they smile and sometime sigh a big sigh of relief. Learning to read is hard work, and I love that I get to watch children navigate that complex process throughout the year. That is what keeps me in teaching. I know I’m helping young children learn a critical life skill, and I love that. 

The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? Over 17 years, I’ve learned a lot from other teachers, administrators, parents and children. I feel it’s most important to form strong relationships with children and parents for a child to be successful. If a child knows you love and care about them, they will try that much harder. I take great pride in getting to know my students, and I feel they appreciate that and try not to disappoint me.

Technology in the classroom: Helpful or hindrance? It’s important to prepare children for the world we live in, and technology is a big part of our world. Technology can be very helpful for children; however, it should never replace the face-to-face relationships and connections that children need. 

What is the biggest challenge teachers are facing today? Time! There never seems to be enough time in the day. Teachers have so many standards and expectations placed on them and want to be the best they can be and provide the best instruction for their students. Teachers are fighting against time to accomplish everything. 

At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I want my students to have a love for reading and to be curious. If they love to read, then they will read more and learn more. If they are curious, they will ask questions and never stop learning. Reading and curiosity are an awesome formula for future success.

From her nomination: “Wendy has consistently been an amazing, gifted, patient and dedicated teacher. She’s an innovator and is constantly on the lookout for new and better approaches to teaching. It is evident that she loves what she does and loves her students—she impacts the lives of our children, parents, professionals and the Poquoson community daily. Her dedication to improving not only education but the lives of others is evident in her daily life and practices. She is more than deserving of this award!”

—Janet Harper, principal, Poquoson Primary School

 

Honorable Mentions

Jennifer Alberto, St. Matthew's Catholic School, Virginia Beach

Darrien L. Beal, Bruton High School, Williamsburg

Julia Coltrain, Georgetown Primary School, Chesapeake

Megan Edwards, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, Suffolk

Cindy Fencil, St. Matthew's Catholic School, Virginia Beach

Carolyn Harris, Carver Elementary School, Newport News

Amy Hatfield, Nansemond River High School, Suffolk

Joleen Neighbours, Nansemond River High School, Suffolk

Susan Nye, Southeastern Elementary School, Chesapeake

Erika Reed, Linkhorn Park Elementary, Virginia Beach

Kelley Rhodes, Central Christian Academy, Portsmouth

Erin Richburg, The Visual & Performing Arts Academy at Salem High School, Virginia Beach

Kathryn Sutter, Mary Calcott Elementary School, Norfolk

Kathy Troy, Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, Newport News

Laura Walters, Virginia Beach Middle School, Virginia Beach

Pamela Wentz, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, Suffolk

See last year's Top Teachers here!

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