Schenectady County

Elementary instructor named Schenectady teacher of the year

A 14-year teaching veteran who sings ditties to her students to help them remember their science and

A 14-year teaching veteran who sings ditties to her students to help them remember their science and math was named Schenectady’s teacher of the year Friday.

Kathleen Ferguson, a second-grade teacher at Zoller Elementary School, couldn’t quite believe she had been chosen.

“I just feel shocked,” she said.

The district orchestrated a surprise announcement in her classroom, with Superintendent Eric Ely walking in to congratulate her.

Ferguson was chosen because a committee gave her the highest score on a rubric designed to compare teachers in many ways, from communication skills to classroom management.

Ferguson said she first focused on classroom management when she became a teacher. She developed her own management plan, in which students get a note every day for good behavior. Ten notes gets them a prize.

“That way if they don’t get a prize this week, they know next week they just keep going,” she said.

Those who turn in their homework and maintain good behavior all week also get a prize.

She created the system a decade ago after attending workshops on classroom management.

More recently, she’s been working with reading coaches. In 2007, they urged her to work with students in small groups.

“I was already doing some of that, but they really changed my teaching,” she said. “We’re just exploring books in so many ways now.”

She filled her classroom with books — and the children are actually reading them.

“I see a confidence in my students in their reading and a love of books,” she said.

But what they love most are her science lessons.

“They beg me to teach more science,” she said.

That may be because science class sometimes sounds a lot like music class.

“When in doubt, we come up with a song,” she said.

She uses the same technique in math class, creating rhyming ditties to help students remember facts and the steps to accomplish tasks.

Recently, when her class struggled to remember the number of inches in a foot and feet in a yard, she made up a song.

“Any mnemonic makes it so much easier to remember,” she said. “And they love to sing.”

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