Editor’s note: The following is part of a monthly series highlighting educators from Fayette and Greene counties who have been chosen by officials in their school districts based on their work and dedication to the area of education.
One of the biggest challenges for a fifth-grade teacher is keeping students motivated in the classroom.
But when Nicole Maley stands before her class during a lesson, all eyes are on her.
Student engagement is at the forefront of the Bobtown Elementary School teacher’s mind when planning lessons as she works to make learning fun in her classroom in the Southeastern Greene School District.
“The older they get, it’s harder to keep them wanting to learn, to want to be here at school, so I make sure that my lessons are engaging,” said Maley, adding that a lot of planning goes into creating a lesson that will hold students’ attention.
It’s work that hasn’t gone unnoticed. Principal Rick Menear called Maley’s penchant for captivating instruction one of her best attributes.
“When you walk into that classroom, it’s just so easy to watch her and her engagement and you actually lose track of time because you actually find yourself becoming engaged in that lesson,” said Menear.
Maley’s peers see something special in her work as well.
For her commitment to education and enriching the lives of students, Maley was chosen by her colleagues in Southeastern Greene as the district’s Herald-Standard Excellent Educator for October 2016.
“My goal for the students is that they have individual success and they become lifelong learners,” said Maley. “I strive to build their confidence and self esteem academically and socially.”
Each of the two fifth-grade classes at Bobtown are self-contained, meaning Maley’s 25 students remain in her classroom for the majority of the school day as she covers core subjects.
“I feel like I have a great rapport with my students. I get to know them very well and I do think being self-contained helps me to really help them one-on-one and provide additional support when needed and be able to challenge them the way that they need to be challenged,” Maley said.
She does this by promoting interaction and collaborative group work with a healthy dose of technology to aid her teaching.
“They like to work in groups, they like to share ideas, and I want to create a classroom environment to where they feel confident and comfortable sharing those ideas and asking for help,” she said.
On a daily basis Maley and the students use iPads in the classroom, accessing educational apps or using QR codes to check answers.
“With this generation, technology is something that engages and something that enhances my lesson,” she said.
“You can dissect a frog on an app. You can label a plant and animal cell using apps. Technology is something that I base a lot of my lessons around.”
Menear has seen Maley’s work firsthand not only as a colleague but as a parent, as well. Two of his children have been in Maley’s class, including his daughter last school year.
“As a parent, my wife and I were just so pleased with how our daughter came out of that class and what she gained from Mrs. Maley,” said Menear.
“I know my daughter just absolutely loved her class and wanted me to move (Maley) to sixth grade so she could have her in sixth grade this year, but I didn’t do that,” Menear said, jokingly.
“Kids want to be in there, they love having Mrs. Maley.”
In selecting an Excellent Educator, the district chose a democratic approach.
Maley was chosen for the recognition in a vote among the district’s 65 teachers, said Superintendent Rick Pekar, who praised Maley’s work ethic and caring, compassionate nature in the classroom.
“We have a lot of great educators in our school district, and we thought this was the most fair way to conduct it,” Pekar said of the vote. “I think (Maley) is a fantastic candidate to represent our district.
“I think she’s respected not only by her peers but (by) the students, the community and the administration.”
Menear made a similar assessment.
“I think that she has the reputation among her colleagues that she is just a hard worker,” he said.
“Her heart is in it for all the right reasons and that’s for the kids, and I think that is just something that is common knowledge among all of her coworkers.”
A native of the district, Maley graduated from Mapletown High School before pursuing elementary education at Fairmont State University and earning a master’s degree in education from California University of Pennsylvania.
She returned to her roots in Southeastern Greene to teach fifth grade at Bobtown nearly 10 years ago.
“It warms my heart that I’m back here. And I’m so familiar with the area, the community and what we stand for,” she said.
“I understand (the students’) backgrounds, the families they come from. And a lot of times I know their families — I know their moms, their dads, their grandparents.
“So we have that commonality of going to the same school, having some of the same teachers that are still here. So it’s nice to be able to relate to that with them.”