Herald Head of the Class 2021: Jackie DeMainto, Hewitt Elementary School


Why did you become a teacher?

I always loved to play teacher with my sisters growing up.  I idolized my elementary school teachers and wanted to be just like them.  They had such a profound effect on my childhood, I knew I wanted to do the same for others one day. 

Tell us about a teacher that inspired you as a student

I was very fortunate to have had wonderful teachers, especially my elementary school teachers.  Miss Post, my second-grade teacher, was not only a phenomenal teacher but also an animal activist.  I loved helping her care for our class pet, talking with her about my dog, or just sitting on the carpet for a story.  Her classroom was a magical place of love, comfort and exploration.

What did you experience or learn about teaching—yourself, your students, the process, etc.—during the pandemic that you think you will carry forward?

As a parent, the pandemic reaffirmed just how important schools are for our children.  Children need to be surrounded by their peers.  They need to be lovingly pushed out of their comfort zones to thrive.  As a teacher, I missed the interaction with my students.  I was able to hold Zoom meetings with them and check their work on Seesaw but I wasn’t able to fix their pencil grip, their spelling, or even just encourage them that they could do it when they wanted to give up.  This year, I learned just how resilient children truly are.  I was so worried in September that the kids would struggle with all of the boundaries placed on their learning environment (masks, barriers, social distancing, no carpet time, no lunchroom, etc.)  but each and every day, the class came bouncing through the door with huge (masked) smiles ready to learn.  I figured if a 6-year-old could persevere through every hurdle we put in their way, I too could smile and do the best job I could for them.  We all had to learn to be patient and flexible, those are the lessons I will carry forward. 

What’s the most memorable thing a student has said to you?

I can’t pinpoint one exact statement or story.  For me, I enjoy daily storytelling.  I love to hear about who has a wiggly tooth, who scored a goal at soccer, or how many days until their birthday.  I love that they are comfortable sharing their days and lives with me.  This year I started a “Joke of the Day” and always laughed when the kids shared their jokes.

What has been your toughest challenge as a teacher so far?

Teaching during a pandemic has been the toughest challenge.  Working from home, reinventing your job, while trying desperately to maintain some semblance of normalcy for the class, was a challenge.  This year, while I was so relieved to be back in the classroom, teaching live and remote simultaneously was extremely challenging.  I worked hard to divide my attention between the children live in my room and the children that were remote.  In the end, I think we all learned a life lesson of patience and flexibility. 

What has been your proudest moment as a teacher so far?

There are too many to list!  I love the feeling when a child has been struggling with a concept and they finally get it…the look on their face makes me so proud. 

What surprised you the most when you first started teaching?

I was surprised by how much harder the job was than I had anticipated.  Many years later, I still work through my lunch every day and I always make my parent phone calls after school hours. 

How do you keep students engaged and interested?

I try to keep the day fun.  I incorporate a lot of movement into our lessons whenever possible.  I use technology like the Smart TV, or the document camera, to help enhance lessons.  I share things from my own life with my children.  I love to add crafts when we can and we work on our “refrigerator art”.   

What is an aspect of being a teacher that you think most people outside the profession don’t know or fully understand?

I don’t think people realize that we don’t “clock out” at 3:30.  We are always thinking about the class, looking for a new way to deliver a lesson, or just a fun reward for a Friday afternoon.  We are fully vested in the lives and welfare of the kids in our class, and once you were our students, we consider you “always our students”. 

What advice do you have for aspiring teachers?

Every child in your room is someone’s baby, treat them as if they are your own. 

What is the most important thing you hope a student takes away from your class?

I had a quote from Norman Vincent Peale hanging in my room for years and I still use it all the time with the kids: “Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss you will land among the stars”.  I want them to know that they can take a risk, they can fail, and they’ll still be great!  I hope that every student leaving my room knows that they are capable of great things.