Metro Parent Top Teacher Awards 2013
It's our annual tribute to five outstanding educators in metro Detroit. See how they bring Spanish, math, the library, compassion and kindergarten to life.
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Nan Sabella, Sixth Grade Teacher, Parcells Middle School, Grosse Pointe Woods
When Nan Sabella, a sixth grade English teacher at Parcells Middle School in Grosse Pointe Woods, noticed that one of her students was becoming more withdrawn, she became concerned. "Normally, Owen is a very happy child, always smiling and raising his hand to participate," Sabella says.
But then, his answers in class became shorter and less frequent. She tried to draw him into classroom discussions and would even stop by the lunchroom to check in on him. During her lunch with other team teachers, she asked if anyone else had noticed that Owen's behavior had changed. "I'm a big believer in team work – I don't think teaching is a solo sport." After consulting with the other teachers, Sabella made a call to Owen's mother.
"Mrs. Sabella called me and said something is going on – Owen's grades are starting to fall, and he's not the same happy kid in the classroom," explains Judy Gafa, Owen's mother (he's now an eighth-grader). The call reaffirmed to Gafa that something was wrong; She had been wondering whether her son's change in attitude was just normal teenage behavior or something more. Sabella then talked to Owen and he confided in her that he was being bullied at school, so she took action and worked with other school staffers to help resolve the situation.
"I teach children first, and I teach English second," says Sabella. "When kids feel safe and they're happy, they learn faster, deeper and tend to retain it more. If there's something going on that's distracting them, it's more important to take care of that first and then go back to the curriculum."
Sabella, who laughs easily and brags about the paint job in her classroom – "it's the officially-licensed Spartan green" – says she couldn't do her job without the support of the rest of the teachers and administrators at the school.
But it's been Sabella's support that has made all the difference for one former sixth grader – and no doubt countless others. "Owen felt like he had another adult he could go to at the school, if he needed to," says Gafa. "His attitude and demeanor – well, he just became so much less troubled, like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders" after Sabella helped him.
"She just went way beyond the norm, and I'm sure it's not just with my child. She has something like five classes coming in to her classroom each day, but she still recognizes each student as an individual."