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Kathy Barton’s journey into teaching wasn’t the traditional path.
But that’s all the better. In fact, that journey shaped her into the teacher she is today, a résumé which now includes being named 2014 Bedford County Teacher of the Year. She received that honor during a banquet held last week at the Boonsboro Country Club.
The Thaxton Elementary School fourth grade teacher has twice been named as that school’s top teacher and a visit to her classroom gives a glimpse as to why. On any given day the students might be collaborating in groups on some project or discussing with Barton the realities of building good character.
She’s set the bar high for her students and they are responding.
Barton, a teacher at Thaxton since 2008, has 28 students in her fourth grade class, the largest in the school.
“We’re just thrilled that she goes on to represent us at the regional level,” stated School Superintendent Dr. Douglas Schuch.
“I was not expecting this at all,” Barton said of her honor. “It means a lot to me, particularly being here at Thaxton. … I feel like I share this with every one of my colleagues here.”
Her peers, in nominating her for the school’s top honor, note her compassion and dedication when working with her students.
Having started a family young, she started her career as a residential counselor for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. As she grew in her career, she felt “an intense desire” to return back to school.
But she was a mother and was also caring for her husband who was terminally ill with cancer. She had helped her husband, who had not graduated from high school, obtain his GED, working with him on a variety of subjects as he prepared. “I just told him he could do it,” Barton said.
Instilling that confidence in him ignited a passion within her.
“I wanted to be able to share that with others,” Barton said.
Soon after, she decided to return to school to pursue a degree in education. She believes her experiences prior to becoming a teacher have been important in shaping how she relates to her students.
And she enjoys the family atmosphere at the school. “This is a tight-knit community,” she said.
Barton said life experiences are important; that’s why she tries to get her students as much hands-on learning opportunities as possible. “That’s when real learning takes place,” she said.
She stresses to the students the importance of having good character. That, Barton said, helps them to learn to get along with each other and to become “productive citizens.”
She, and the students, also take time to talk about their mistakes, as well as their successes “so we can learn how to do it right the next time,” she explains.
It makes a difference; her students continue to grow in character and mature. That, she said, is the ultimate goal, after-all—“to see them grow as people.”
Seeing that she can make a difference in their lives is what’s truly important to Barton.
Thaxton Acting Principal Nancy Sale noted that though Barton’s fourth grade class has a diverse group of learners, she has learned to keep them all engaged. She described Barton as “a teacher full of grace,” adding that nothing ruffles her.
Fourth grader Caleb Morris noted that Barton will teach them until they understand. “If we need help on something, she’s always there for us,” Morris said. “She tries to help as many people as she can.”
Classmate Bryan Canter agreed.
“She’s really nice,” he said of his teacher, adding that she stresses to them, “you always need to have integrity. If you always do the right thing, eventually you will be recognized.”
Thaxton Principal Kim Halterman stated that Barton possesses “remarkable flexibility and adaptability. She is poised and student-centered no matter the task before her.”
Halterman is home right now, caring for her new daughter, Guinevere Lawton Halterman. She and her husband Justin celebrated the birth of Guinevere on May 5.
But she welcomed the opportunity to praise Barton.
“She has a wonderful way of ‘growing’ a learning community with students throughout the school year,” Halterman said of Barton. “She encourages their active participation in academics, of course, but she also prepares them for the very real challenges of the 21st century by teaching them to cooperate and communicate."
She noted that when in discussion, Barton’s students “truly talk to each other in rich ways, providing ideas, explanations and questions.”
“The ‘sound’ of these discussions is akin to what one would expect from much older students,” Halterman stated. "Her leadership results in their ownership of learning in the classroom--and it is beautiful to watch.”
Halterman praised Barton’s professionalism as second to none. “She’s resourceful, tactful and reflective,” Halterman said. “Ms. Barton pursues her own professional growth with vigor, giving her a great deal of resources to use with students. This year, she provided leadership to a team of five staff members providing enrichment and remediation to her students, yielding remarkable results through her willingness to try new things and meet students ‘where they are’ academically.”
By being named as the county’s Teacher of the Year, Barton will receive more than 50 prizes, donated by area businesses, the biggest of which is a new $1,000 chair from Sam Moore Furniture. In all, the prizes will be worth about $7,000.
In fact all three county finalists were given a chair by Sam Moore. In addition to Barton, Kelly Brown of Liberty High School and Wendy Singleton of Jefferson Forest High School were the county’s top finalists, selected from the top teachers at the county’s 22 schools.