Category Archives: Teacher Spotlight

Thank A Teacher This Week!

This is Teacher Appreciation Week, and this week, more than ever, we should all be thinking about all the teachers who have influenced us in a positive way.

Most of them, anyway!
Most of them, anyway!

I’ve posted here before about some of my favorite teachers, and those facts haven’t changed.  I still think of Mrs. Harrod, Mrs. Endris, and Dr. Jenkinson with all the loving feelings in the world.  They let a smallish, nerdy girl feel important, and if you’ve ever been a smallish, nerdy girl, you’ll know how wonderful that is.  And how rare.  (If you were a smallish, nerdy boy, you’ll know, too.)  No matter what kind of kid you were, you’ll know.  In fact, this applies to students of any age.  Teenage and adult students like to feel appreciated, too.

Steve Spangler understands this.  All of the products and all of the freebies and all of the experiments are made and meant to open worlds of wonder for all kids.  For all adults, too – nobody is ever too old to like to blow things up and learn the why and wherefore of the universe.  (Bonus points if you know why that expression is redundant.)

If you’re wondering about a gift for your favorite teacher, or your child’s teacher, look no further than Steve Spangler’s website, because our Gift Certificate will solve all your gift-giving problems.  I’m a teacher, and I’ll tell you the truth:  Teachers love gift certificates or gift cards.  After a single year in the classroom, a teacher will have collected enough mugs, candles, figurines, ornaments, and picture frames to start a gift shop.  Gift cards/certificates solve YOUR dilemma and give a teacher the chance to buy something he/she really wants or needs.

The best Teacher Appreciation gift possible!

Be sure to include a personal note with the certificate/card.  A personal remembrance is the most precious gift any teacher could ever receive.

Snow Monsters That Glow in the Dark!

JoAnna Cobb is a math teacher in southern Indiana by day, but by night, she creates snow monsters!

Mrs. Cobb and one of her Snow Monsters
Mrs. Cobb and one of her Snow Monsters

Mrs. Cobb is an excellent teacher who likes to make her math classes as interesting as possible – she’s been known to use some Spangler Science, in fact!

But during this long snow day after snow day week, Mrs. Cobb and her mom decided to be innovative with their snow creations.  Some inexpensive Glow Bracelets (Dollar Tree – two for a buck!) and some snow-rolling later, and the Cobb lawn was covered with creepy snow creatures with glow-in-the-dark eyes and a scary, smiley mouth!  (At least Mr. Cobb won’t have to mow for a while!)

Did I mention that Mrs. Cobb’s mother came over and helped cover the lawn with monsters?  Proof:

Mrs. Cobb's mother likes to make snow monsters, too!
Mrs. Cobb’s mother likes to make snow monsters, too!

Mrs. Hackney, you’ve definitely done a good job raising your daughter.  I think we know where she got her creative streak, too!

If you’re passing the Cobb lawn and see a swarm of glowing-eyed snow monsters, don’t be afraid.  They’re friendly.

I think.  Well, what do YOU think?

They're not scary, right?
They’re not scary, right?

Maybe I’ll wait until daylight to drop in, Mrs. Cobb.

Science isn’t always about labs and test tubes and chemicals, you know.  A lab is any place where experiments are being performed, and a snowy yard where people are experimenting with glow-in-the-dark faces on snow monsters is definitely a lab.  Every classroom is a lab.  Every kitchen is a lab.  Yes, every classroom, and every kitchen.  Any place wherein people are laboring in some way is a LABORatory.   Working in your yard?  You’re working in a lab.  You’re LABORING, aren’t you?

Mrs. Cobb’s yard was definitely turned into a laboratory this week.  She didn’t know how the Glow Bracelets would work until she experimented, did she?

Laboratory.  Experiment.

In Her Own Words – One Teacher’s Support for Full Day Kindergarten Funding

Education remains a huge part of the national debate – how do we fund it, maintain competitive teacher salaries, encourage thoughtful learning, teach to the test and fairly equalize learning opportunities for all American children?

Should Full Day Kindergarten Be Fully Funded - A Teacher's Own Words & Thoughts | Steve Spangler Science

In Colorado, two of our state’s largest school districts have “reformer” school board majorities. These Board of Education members lack the expertise and experience needed to make decisions for thousands of Colorado students. They promised to reform and clean up the districts but instead are pulling funding from lower income children, teacher salaries and overall education improvement. All of this to support their personal beliefs, rather than the needs of thousands of students and their teachers.

Instead of taking our schools forward, these inexperienced extremists  are dismantling the core of some of the strongest school districts not only in Colorado but across the nation.

Do you really know who you are voting onto your Board of Education?

A recent debate in the Jefferson County School District continues over the funding for lower income students and full day kindergarten. The JeffCo BOE wants to cut $600,000 from the budget that would go towards providing hundreds of students with free full day kindergarten.

Despite a popular majority for the funding, the BOE will not approve it. At a recent BOE meeting, I met a teacher via Twitter who was one of hundreds of parents, teachers and students who spoke up in favor of full day kindergarten after one out of touch board member called it ‘playtime’.

I was so inspired by her bravery and speech for the BOE that I asked permission to share what she told the board. In the spirit of Teacher Appreciation Week, this is a teacher who is the foundation of teaching, a love of learning…


Are YOU really doing what is best for these kids?
by Robin McKinnon, Jefferson County Kindergarten Teacher

As our School Board, exactly who are you representing?

You might list some statistics – our best TCAP score.
You might mention “we build bright futures” – that little purple star.
You might rattle off some celebrities – Major League pitcher Roy Halliday. Or Associate Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court Brian Boatright  or U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team forward Lindsey Horan.  Or Chevron Corporation Executive Vice President Michael Wirth. Or maybe you’ve heard of ’em – The Fray.

You might say we’re the largest school district in Colorado. That we serve 84,000 students and we have 148 schools…but we’re more than 148 schools.

These things DON’T DEFINE us.

Many of us have grown up in this district and can stand here today with an ounce of hope. Because WE ARE JEFFCO and we will rise above as the world has watched us do before.

I walked through a JeffCo door in 1985.  I held hands with Kelly Shin, pushed out my quivering chin, gripped my California Raisin lunchbox and marched forward. It was the gentle care of Mrs. Eichman who made me want to come back the next day.

You have ALL walked through the doors of kindergarten. MORE IMPORTANTLY your CHILDREN have walked through OUR doors.

The graduating class of 2027 will walk into MY door in three and a half months.

Is Kindergarten even academic?

I am teaching my students to dream big. They are more than a purple star and a slogan. They are more than a TCAP score.

I do more than raise achievement.
And teach to the core.

I am more than a sweet bulletin board.

Or a well polished SMART Board.

Because I care.

I will not compromise their future.

I want to be a part of this district reaching its goals. 

I am more than a lesson planner and a classroom manager. 

Because I’ve walked through those doors.

I am a lifelong learner, and a TEACHER who will not be bullied into silence. 

I am the safe space when things get scary.

The lock-down assurance.

Their human shield.

AND the undisputed understanding that things will be okay.

I am a gingerbread hunt creating life from the words on pages.

I am the best Mother’s day tea you have ever had.

I am a song that puts knowledge into your heart.

I am the painting that makes creativity come to life.

I am a clay project, math cubes, morning hugs, a new pencil and a journal with huge handwriting, working at a tiny chair at the tiniest tables, counting on fingers, a puzzle done in a team with no missing pieces, a globe showing just how close we really are.

Do Not Say “been there, done that” unless you’ve walked through my doors.

Unless you’ve

  • helped write a research paper
  • pen-pal’d with teachers all over the world
  • helped give the words to STAND UP to a BULLY
  • taught that life is valuable and precious and that WE belong together no matter our religion, size, ethnicity OR class.

I am the foundation of teaching, the love of learning.

Looking for YOU ALL to believe in me.

For these kids.


Ms. McKinnon – we believe in you and all the kids you and the thousands of teachers across our state and nation who are truly the foundation of teaching, the love of learning.

Ron Wright was the Right Teacher – Celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week

Up until my sophomore year of high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. Most people can probably say that, in one way or another. “I don’t know what I want to do after high school/college/this job.” I’ve heard hundreds of people say something similar to that phrase, and I have probably said it hundreds of times. My sophomore year of high school altered that, drastically.

In Celebration of Teacher Appreciation - Mr. Wright was the Right Teacher

I was great at math. I was on the fast track to knocking out college trigonometry, statistics, and calculus before I wrapped-up high school, but I didn’t enjoy math. I didn’t like that answers were definite; no interpretation was allowed, only extrapolation. I did enjoy science, though. I loved the uncertainties of chemical combinations, water-bottle rockets, and testing and retesting our local river’s acidity. In the end, guidelines and processes turned me off to practicing science (and the math that coincides), long term. Enter: creative writing.

I had always been an avid reader. I loved the Boxcar Children, Wishbone, and Everworld books. In middle school, I had started writing for me. Poetry, mostly, but I also wound up writing sports and special events articles for our local newspaper. People told me that I had a gift for writing, but it was just an outlet and a way for a bit of cash to wander into my pocket. Mr. Ron Wright changed all of that.

Until Mr. Wright, my English teachers had been comprised of proverbial grammar sticklers and the like. But that very well might have been misperception on my part. I didn’t particularly enjoy writing because of the time it consumed. Writing took thought and concentration. I didn’t want to make the necessary effort to write things that were worth while. I wrote to get emotions out of the way so that I could focus on sports.

Then Mr. Wright introduced me to the type of writing that I now love. Mr. Wright showed me how much power a string of words is capable of producing. I learned the time and energy dedicated to constructing a flowing, full-bodied paragraph of text is worth it. Well worth it. The emotions, persuasion, debate, and story-telling became something that I strived for, and continue to do.

I was gifted such a passion to continue writing instilled in me that my list of prospective professions began to include writing for Rolling Stone and editing for The New York Times, in addition to the professional basketball and football dreams I maintained. I began to submit creative nonfiction pieces to magazines and journals, continued to write poetry, and actually cared about what I was writing for the local newspaper.

In my mind, at the very least, I owe much of this to Mr. Wright. His passion had rubbed off of his usual grey cardigan onto my stupid, wrinkled t-shirt. His methods of teaching, from the way he offered criticism to the weeks we would spend reading each other’s original pieces, gave me what I needed to understand what it would take to write for a living. Then he quit.

My unknowing mentor called it quits at our school before my senior year of high school. I was devastated. Mr. Wright was being replaced by a recent graduate that I didn’t connect with, on any level. I didn’t respect them. I know that as a student (especially one in high school), I never learned a thing from the new teacher because of this immediate distaste. I probably owe the teacher an apology for that (Does this count?), but it wasn’t something that either of us had real control over.

It has been 10 years since Mr. Wright moved on. I don’t remember ever properly thanking him for what he did for me. There were rumors floating around my graduation in 2005 that he was somewhere in our gymnasium, but I never saw him. I owe much more to him then I ever realized at the time.

So, if you see Ron Wright, his salt-and-pepper (or… all salt, at this point) beard, laughter-filled eyes, or caring smile, let him know that DJ says thank you. Thank you for helping me realize my potential as a writer. Thank you for letting me in on the secrets of enjoying what you do. And thank you for showing my how much life comes through a pen.

In Celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week

teacher appreciation It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, so I want to mention three teachers who were extra-special to me.

In elementary school, my second grade teacher, Mrs. Helen Harrod, was a wonderful role model.  I knew, on the first day of school, that we would get along well because on that first day, she bonked a little boy who had talked back to her, right on the top of his head with her knuckles which were covered in large rings.  Ouch  But that little boy was a model of perfection all the rest of the year.  Mrs. Harrod let me stay after school and file things in the alphabetical order I was so proud to know how to do.

In middle school, my favorite teacher was Mrs. Roberts.  If she had a Teacher reading, teacher appreciationfirst name, none of us ever knew it.  It was she who showed me the wonder and coolness of memorizing things.  To this day, when I especially love a poem, song, even a whole novel, I memorize it.  So do my children.  Things that are filed away in our heads are never misplaced or destroyed by a power outage or eaten by a dog.  Mrs. Roberts knew Helen Keller personally.

High school.  Hmmmm.  It has to be Mrs. Pat Endris, who taught sophomore English.  I never saw her sit down.  Ever.  She would pace around and around and up and down the aisles, asking questions and admiring our questions and making us stand up and PROVE IT.

teacher, science, appreciationBut the teacher who inspired me the most, out of all the others, was Dr. Edward Jenkinson, of Indiana University.  He is one of the foremost experts on censorship and young adult literature, and finding the science in “A Child’s Garden of Verses,” and he is the reason I majored in children’s and young adult literature.  I still quote Dr. Jenkinson, and I bought all of his books and display them proudly.

In more recent years, I have come to know and admire our own Steve Spangler, who is a lot like Dr. Jenkinson in that both gentlemen are firm believers in “bringing it to the supper table,” for when students can’t wait to share their day’s learning, the lesson was a success.

Steve Spangler also taught me that if I blow something up in the classroom, even pronouns will suddenly seem interesting.  This philosophy works.  Like a genuine lucky charm, this philosophy works.

All of my teachers have made me the kind of teacher I am today.  Even the poor teachers had a positive influence, but thanks to those excellent educators who guided me along the path until I could let go teacher appreciation, super teacherand make connections by myself, I am an educated person and becoming more so every day.  Nobody is ever educated enough.  When we stop learning,  we’re as good as dead and we need to be buried.  I am so fortunate to have had these good teachers in my life.  SO fortunate.

And so are you.  Let’s take a moment and whisper a sincere “thank you” to all the Mrs. Harrods and Mrs. Robertses and Mrs. Endrises and Dr. Jenkinsons and Steve Spanglers in our lives.

(KaBOOM!)  See?  You’re listening now.