It was done as a low-key announcement in a staff meeting at Michael Anderson Elementary in the Medical Lake School District early this month – kindergarten teacher Sheila Benson had been selected as the West Plains Chamber of Commerce Best of the West Teacher of the Year.
It’s an honor that baffled Benson, who said she’s surrounded by teachers who work hard to help their students.
“I was very shocked,” she said. “I work in a building with amazing teachers. I don’t feel like I do anything out of the ordinary to deserve this.”
Benson said she had no idea that she had been nominated for the award and said her co-workers assured her she deserved it.
“They were all very excited for me and had many kind words,” she said.
Her phone has been filling with voicemails and texts from people congratulating her, but Benson’s biggest booster has been her mother.
“My mom is so proud,” she said. “She’s calling all her Bingo friends.”
Benson was born and raised in Wenatchee. It was during her childhood that she first became interested in teaching.
“I would play teacher with all my stuffed animals,” she said.
But she’s not sure why she wanted to be a teacher. Her mother ran a day care, and Benson thinks watching her mother with the children may have planted the seed that took root.
“I wanted to be that, but in an elementary school,” she said.
She got her teaching degree at Eastern Washington University, and her first job was as a part-time kindergarten teacher at Blair Elementary on Fairchild Air Force Base. The next year, a full-time position as a first-grade teacher opened up. She taught first grade for many years, then tried second grade.
“I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t my perfect place,” she said.
When she had the opportunity eight years ago, she went back to teaching kindergarten.
“This is my home,” she said. “This is where I belong.”
She said the thing she likes most about teaching kindergartners is the amount of growth kindergartners do in a year. A child who can’t write their own name can grow in skill to the point where they can write short sentences by the end of the school year. And they’re just great to be around.
“They’re so full of love,” she said.
Her goal as a kindergarten teacher is to be supportive and provide a safe place to learn and grow, Benson said.
Though Blair Elementary was torn down and replaced with Michael Anderson Elementary, Benson has essentially been at the same school for her entire 21-year career. She said she enjoys working on an Air Force base.
“I love working on the Air Force base and helping military families,” she said. “I feel like it’s my way to give back to them for all they do for us.”
Benson, like other teachers in her district, started the school year teaching virtually.
“We had to get really creative with kindergarten,” she said. “It actually worked very well. We were able to record videos they could watch. We had live small groups in the afternoon.”
Still, she was happy when kindergartners came back to the classroom in mid-October, followed by first- and second-graders. It’s easier to help students when they’re in the same room, she said.
“You get to know them better,” she said. “It’s nice to see their little faces under their masks.”
It’s just further proof that she made the right career call back when she was a little girl teaching her stuffed animals.
“This is what I’m meant to be,” she said.
Nina Culver can be reached at email@example.com
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