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Education

Smyrna School District's Hall earns state Teacher of the Year

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A Smyrna School District fourth grade teacher is Delaware’s “Teacher of the Year”.

Sandra Hall, who teaches at North Smyrna Elementary School, topped 18 other finalists for the 2016 edition of the award.

Hall says she was “a bit shocked, a little overwhelmed, but very pleasantly surprised” to be selected from a list of 19 finalists from the around the state to win the award.

Hall took a unique path into teaching.  She didn’t become a full-time teacher until starting at North Smyrna as a third grade teacher in 2007 at age 44.  That came after about two decades traveling the world as the wife of an army officer.

Hall says her experience helping other military families brought her to teaching – and she’s been able to bring some of her unique background into the classroom.

“I bring down the world map constantly because my husband and I were fortunate to live all over the place and spent many years – almost 10 – living in Europe.  So, I’m always pulling down the map and saying ‘OK, we lived here and this is what its like here,’  said Hall.  “I think the kids find it fascinating that I’ve lived in so many different places and its great to bring that into their world.”

Hall adds she makes establishing one on one connections with her students a priority.

“I like to take the time to get to know every student in my class – not just their academic background, but their personal backgrounds too,” said Hall.  “My teaching style is very hands on and I’m very connected to every student in my class.”

As state “Teacher of the Year” – she will spend the next 12 months representing First State teachers in conversations about Delaware schools and education.

One message Hall intends to carry with her is seeking the proper balance between student data and the students themselves.

“We have to look at numbers.  We have to see student growth. But it has to be more than data and I guess my message is really simple – that data has a story and the data are these kids. They come from different circumstances and different family structures,” said Hall.  “So, while data is important, the testing is important, sometimes its more important to reach out and give a hug, a snack, words of encouragement.”

For winning Teacher of the Year – Hall receives a $5,000 grant to use for the educational benefit of her students, two personal grants totaling $5,000, and an educational technology package worth about $18,000 dollars.

Hall says she hope to add more technology to her classroom with that money – including additional Chromebooks that she’s found successful in helping students learn.

“I think sometimes they forget they’re learning when they have a computer in front of them and the type of academic websites that are out make learning fun.”

Hall also becomes the First State’s entrant in the National Teacher of the Year contest by winning the statewide award for the year.