By John Rook
CHESHIRE — Lindsay Grant describes herself as a “born-and-bred” educator.
Growing up in a family of teachers, watching as her mother - an elementary school teacher in North Haven - guided her group of students through the ins and outs of their early education, Grant knew from an early age that she wanted to one day have her own classroom.
“I grew up watching (her mother). I grew up learning and loving,” she said, “so I knew what I wanted to do when I was young. I always wanted to be doing this.”
If Grant needed any affirmation that her chosen career path is the right one, it certainly came this year, when the Highland School fourth-grade teacher was named Teacher of the Year in the Cheshire School District.
“It is such an amazing honor, especially after the year we had,” stated Grant, citing the changes in schooling caused by the pandemic. “I just feel honored to represent teachers. It really could have been anybody (in the District). Everyone went above and beyond this past year.”
As is the custom, Grant was told of her award at the end of the 2020/2021 school year, but was asked to keep it a secret until the official announcement at Convocation in August - the annual beginning-of-the-year event held to welcome administrators and staff back to school a week or so before students arrive.
“Learning about (the award) at the end of the year, it really was so humbling,” she recalled. “Knowing how many talented educators there are here, I really didn’t know how to react. It was actually nice to have the summer to process everything.”
Grant has been a teacher at Highland for the last eight years. She received her degree from the University of Connecticut in 2013 and immediately applied for, and got a job in Cheshire.
She credits the school and her fellow teachers for helping her grow into the educator she is today.
“(Highland) has really helped me discover who I was as a teacher,” she said.
Though the award is a singular achievement, Grant sees it as representative of all the teachers in Cheshire, and commented on how important collaboration was over the last year-plus, as students and teachers have had to adapt to the changing environment caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
In March of 2020, as the pandemic was first beginning, Cheshire, like most districts throughout the country, went to an all-remote learning model, with students staying home and completing lessons via the Internet. Last year, students returned to the classroom, yet numerous restrictions were implemented to try and help stave off any school-related outbreaks of the virus.
“What it really showed was how important these relationships (with fellow teachers) are,” she said. “We really had to rely on each other. That collaboration, which has always been important, was really essential.
“I would not have been able to do it alone,” she added.
While some mitigation protocols remain in place for the start of the 2021/2022 school year, all students are back in the classroom and the environment is much closer to normal than it has been for over a year. Grant has already noticed the change, as everyone gets reacquainted.
“I think it has all really increased the appreciation we have for one another,” she said. “It seems the same is true for the students. After months of not being (in the buildings) - for some students, even longer - you can see their appreciation for just being back.”
While Grant’s award provided her an opportunity to reflect on the challenges of the last year, it also brought her back to the early days of her career as a teacher, pondering how she has changed over the years. While there have been many alterations made to the way she does things, the one vital lesson she has learned is how important personal relationships with the students can be to cultivating real genuine learning.
“I think the biggest change (from when she began teaching) is that I’m placing more emphasis on building those relationships. The most productive thing is to find those unstructured moments throughout the day, and just talk to them,” she said. “Just talk to (the students) about their day, how their weekend was. It’s also so important to connect with the parents.”
“It’s the best piece of advice I can give any new teacher,” she continued. “In order to teach students, you have to understand and connect with them first. The emotional growth has to come first...then everything will follow.”