Southside educator thrives meeting students’ needs

In her classroom, a Southside Elementary School teacher said her students do more than just learn. They explore.

Pat Jones, a 35-year educator, said it’s not her style to read from a textbook while her students simply sit and listen. Instead, Jones said she wants her students to experience what they’re learning and work through the curriculum in a way that makes sense to them.

Jones’ emphasis on individualized student learning has set her apart as a leader at Southside and most recently earned her the honor of winning the 2016 William and Sally Hanley Excellence in Teaching Award.

“Mrs. Jones is the teacher that you want teaching our young people,” Southside principal Jeff Backmeyer said of Jones in his nomination for the Hanley Award.

Although she has been teaching at Southside for 16 years, Backmeyer said Jones has never used her lengthy career as an excuse to act as if she knows everything there is to know about being a teacher.

In fact, the principal said Jones is always looking for new ways to improve her teaching skills, a facet of her personality he said sets her apart as an exemplary educator.

“She’s always looking for ‘What can I do to continue to be a good teacher and further my understanding of what kids need?’ And that’s what I have appreciated most about her,” he said.

Understanding students’ needs is the backbone of Jones’ educational philosophy. She began her career as a special education teacher, which required her to reach students using teaching methods that would work for their unique learning styles.

The three-decade educator kept hold of that teaching style even as she transitioned into general education classrooms, where she said she likes to demonstrate to her students how the lessons they learn in the classroom could apply to their own lives in the real world.

Although she is no longer a full-time special education teacher, Jones said the common practice of including special education students in general education classrooms has enabled her to continue using the teaching skills she practiced early in her career.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” she said.

Jones also puts her wide-ranging education experience to work with other teachers as an Instructional Consultation Team leader, a role that allows her to work with educators who are looking for new teaching techniques.

Her fellow teachers at Southside have taken notice of Jones’ willingness to share her expertise, Backmeyer said, and wanted to express their appreciation for her help by nominating her for the Hanley award.

“When her peers are wanting to spearhead that, I think that speaks volumes,” he said.

While Jones said she was touched by her coworkers’ nomination, the most special part of receiving the Hanley Award was reconnecting with her former students, who gathered around her when she was given the award at the Southside awards ceremony at the end of the school year.

Being surrounded by her former students caused Jones to reflect on her 35-year career and think about each of the lives she has touched during those years.

The majority of her life has been dedicated to serving her students and meeting their needs. Looking to the future, Jones said she doesn’t plan to change that practice anytime soon.