SMS reading teacher gives it her all

Date Published: 
May 26, 2017

Coastal Point • Laura Walter: Meredith Wallace was recently named Selbyville Middle School’s Teacher of the Year.Coastal Point • Laura Walter: Meredith Wallace was recently named Selbyville Middle School’s Teacher of the Year.Meredith Wallace would rather do headstands in front of a classroom than give a newspaper interview.

Then again, she would do anything for her students.

That attitude helped make her Selbyville Middle School’s Teacher of the Year for 2017-2018. Wallace teaches seventh-grade English language arts.

“I try to have fun. … I think that I’m silly. You have to be able to laugh at yourself for them to be able to laugh at themselves,” Wallace said. “Because when you struggle, that’s when you learn, so you have to show it’s OK to make mistakes and learning is fun.”

And the students notice. Student James Livingston gave her a solid review: “Mrs. Wallace is a good teacher. She helped me learn what I didn’t learn before. She makes learning fun.”

For Wallace, teaching was a destiny she welcomed, especially with other educators in the family.

“From the time I was in first grade, I can remember wanting to be a teacher,” she said.

She taught for 13 years in her home state of Maryland, then a year in Millsboro. After teaching social studies, special education and elementary education, she’s loved her four years at SMS.

“They’re more independent. You can joke around with them,” Wallace said of her seventh-grade students. “I think it’s a lot of fun.” She said she loves interacting with students and helping them “figure out where they are and where they’re going.”

Teachers work hard to meet all student needs, she noted.

“Students have diverse backgrounds. They’re at all different levels. Some students struggle with reading and writing,” she said, while others excel. “So you need to make sure everyone has an opportunity based on where they are, so they can grow.”

In middle school, she said, teaching every student is a team effort, across the building.

“I feel like the whole school helps make a teacher who they are,” Wallace said, especially on the Arrows team. “We all work together. Our common goal is this one common group of kids. We do whatever we can to help them.”

In the Arrows hallway, Amanda Mitchell works next door to Wallace.

“I see the hours and hours that she’s put into making sure she’s really helping the students. … She puts in a ton of work, a ton of time, because she really does care about meeting what each of them needs, forming that relationship with them.”

She greets kids with a “Good morning!” despite admittedly not being a morning person.

“Some of them don’t hear ‘Good morning’ at home,” Mitchell said. “She definitely makes sure that the students know there’s somebody here who cares and tries.”

“It’s all about making connections and making them see that you’re a real person and having fun,” Wallace said. “If they enjoy coming in here, they’ll do a better job.”

Although she’s served on many committees over the years, right now, Wallace said she feels she best serves her 110 students by focusing on them, working with her team to analyze student data (studying test scores and watching how students interact, ask or answer questions).

When not in school, Wallace said she enjoys volunteering for the Worcester County Humane Society and adventures with her own children and family.

She also runs mini book clubs with some students who want to read and discuss more literature.

In reading class, students step outside their own lives. In March, SMS students particularly enjoyed the novel “A Long Walk to Water” by Linda Sue Park, based on the true story of a Sudanese boy forced from his home in wartime. He emigrates to the U.S, and years pass before he finds his family again.

The seventh-graders were struck by “the challenges faced by the main character in the book [seem] impossible to overcome, and he keeps overcoming. He loses his family, a friend is eaten by a lion,” Wallace said. “There’s so many tragedies, but he keeps going.”

This pushes her kids to analyze the life they might have led if born somewhere else: “It really makes them think outside our very blessed lives. We’re very lucky that, even on some of our worst days, it doesn’t compare to some of the things that happen [in the novel].”

Wallace loves “when students have those ‘ah-ha’ moments, or when they come up and say, ‘Thanks, I never read a book before.’” Maybe they went home to further research something, or they want to share a fun fact. “[When] there’s some kind of extension of the class, it makes it all worthwhile,” she said.