Five years after Teresa Beilstein assigned Olivia Hoot a project on Abraham Lincoln, Hoot is obsessed with Lincoln and still thinking about her time with Ms. B.
Her mom can tell the eighth grader makes decisions based on what she learned in Beilstein’s classroom at South Shore Elementary.
“You know the one teacher who touched your life? That is Ms. B. Olivia had been at school for simply the social aspect of it until she hit Ms. B’s class and that is when she found herself,” Brandy Hoot said. “She has a profound effect on the children that lasts.”
In a class last week, Beilstein was always moving. Whenever she stopped, Beilstein leaned close, giving her students utmost attention while they talk to her and ask questions. During a writing project, her students answered her questions on details they would include in a story they planned to write.
“On a really basic, human level, humans crave connection and we crave relationships and to be able to build relationships with such wonderful young people and to foster their growth is just so fulfilling,” she said.
Teaching was not Beilstein’s first career. After majoring in economics in college, Beilstein said she worked in the corporate world for several years before she realized what she wanted. In 2013, she became a teacher.
“At the end of the day, I did not feel like it had fed my soul and teaching was something I had thought about in the back of my mind,” she said.
Beilstein tailors her lessons and creates work specific to her students’ needs, she said.
“I knew whenever my daughters were struggling— they are bright but they struggle with concepts — I always felt like Ms. B would be able to shed light or her teaching strategies would shift until she saw the light bulb go off,” Hoot said.
In general, she has three different approaches for reading lessons so students are challenged but can still tackle the assignment at hand.
“You have to know your students, know where they are and know what works for them and how they respond,” she said.
She thinks this method should be used to address the county’s achievement gap. The school system and county government have come together this school year as part of the Joint Initiative to Eliminate the Achievement Gap to acknowledge the challenges all students face and work on ways to improve educational outcomes.
Stacy Shafran, South Shore Elementary School’s principal, said Beilstein’s personality is one of the reasons why students want to do better.
“She has an energy about her that is contagious,” Shafran said.
”It makes everyone want to do their best — students, staff and family. She brings out the best in everybody.”
Beyond her classroom, Beilstein helped develop science curriculum for third, fourth and fifth graders as part of an effort to align with the national standard, National Generation Science Standards.
The two-year process allowed her the time to tailor science experiments to fit the lives of students in the county. As a way to make learning about force, the curriculum includes stories of a teacher moving a bookshelf because every child can relate, Beilstein explained. Instead of focusing on memorization, the new curriculum relies on problem solving.
“It is really about hands on exploration and having the students developing experiments and investigations,” she said.
But overall, Beilstein said it all comes down to expectations she sets for her students.