As Rachael Spires’ first-grade students at Imagine School at Town Center moved from table to table around the classroom, many were smiling and laughing as they completed each learning activity. Some wore cowboy hats or bandanas, to suit the day’s Western theme corresponding with the current book they were reading, “Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella.”
Spires believes bringing her lessons to life impacts her students on a daily basis.
“For me, it’s all about the engagement,” she said. “I love to make things come to life. I like everything to be hands-on. Whatever we’re reading, that’s what we’re doing in centers.”
For her efforts as a teacher, Spires was awarded a seven-day cruise for two from Norwegian Cruise Line, through its Giving Joy campaign. Thirty teachers, out of 12 million nominations from the U.S. and Canada, were chosen as the winners, according to a press release. Spires secured her anonymous nomination with 1,984 votes.
After she came home from the awards ceremony in Seattle in early May, she returned to her classroom in Palm Coast to celebrate her birthday with her students on Tuesday, May 7. Pink ribbons were strung, and the day’s activities were amped up a notch with a Western theme.
“One of my biggest things is building relationships,” Spires said. “I believe that unless you know the whole child, they’re not going to feel safe and secure. So, that’s something that we strive for.”
Every morning, her students share experiences they had after school the day before — they tell of scraped knees after days at the pool, the food they had last night for dinner, their adventures at the park. They sing a song, and then they dive into their activity centers.
“I want to make a difference in the kids’ lives,” Spires said. “I just want the kids to be happy, and I want them to learn.”
While she knew of her aspirations to be a teacher when she was in high school, Spires ended up earning a degree in accounting. After two years post-graduation sitting at a cubicle, she realized it didn’t bring her joy. So, she went back to school and became a teacher after all.
Spires said she loves to use her creativity to brainstorm activities for her students’ “centers” every day; it’s where she sees the most growth from her students.
She now has a master’s in reading and is working on a doctorate of education in curriculum, instruction and assessment.
She’s grown personally, as well as professionally, over the years.
“I think for me that’s been the biggest thing that I’ve had to grow with — just learning that even though I’m a perfectionist and everything has to be very structured, it’s not always going to work that way because they’re 6, and some days something comes up and we have to work on that,” Spires said.
She’s been at ISTC for seven years, and each year has brought new moments of bliss for her.
“This is where my passion lies,” she said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else. Even on your tough days, there’s nothing else I’d rather do.”