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Putnam County honors Teacher of the Year

By Adele Thumm

POCA, W.Va. — Focus, intuition, and energy are just some of the qualities that have landed Natalie Breedlove the title of Putnam County Teacher of the Year.

Breedlove, 39, who teaches kindergarten at Poca Elementary School, recently described the heart of her teaching success.

One glance around the neat and tidy classroom reveals that this is a place of learning. From the posters and charts covering the walls to the hands-on stations around the room, everything is designed to help and enrich young minds.

But all of these materials would be useless without a teacher who knows what she is doing.

Breedlove has been a teacher in Putnam County for nine years, and she has been at Poca Elementary for the past five.

She received her bachelors in education for pre-K through 8th grade in 1997 and her masters in specific learning disabilities for kindergarten through grade 12 in 2002 from Marshall University. She also has a Wilson Reading Certification level one from 2004 and National Board Certification in early childhood literacy for kindergarten through 5th from 2010.

"You have to love the profession," she said, adding that it takes "a lot of dedication, a lot of time."

Teaching a roomful of kindergartners all day and keeping them interested is no small task. For Breedlove, it's a matter of using what the kids are interested in, listening to their conversations, and "following their lead" to keep them excited about learning.

Poca Elementary Principal Lexie Damous has seen this type of student engagement in action.

"Mrs. Breedlove is a master at redirecting. She keeps her students engaged, which means she is equally engaged."

Damous said oftentimes Breedlove is so focused on teaching that she doesn't realize the principal has stopped by and observed the classroom on a routine visit.

While Breedlove doesn't hesitate to say that teaching kindergarten is "the most mentally and physically challenging," she is also quick to add it is "the most rewarding grade level because of the progress you see."

Students go from learning to tie their shoes and to hold a pencil correctly at the beginning of the year to reading and writing sentences by the end of the year.

For such a foundational school year, Breedlove strives to make the adjustment process as smooth as possible — for parents and children.

Susan Felber, whose sons both have had Breedlove for kindergarten, knows firsthand about this adjustment.

"It's hard going from preschool to kindergarten, not just for the kids but for the mommies, too," she said.

Felber credits Breedlove's "firm and nurturing" approach as the reason for the positive transition.

Felber's older son, Nicholas, now in third grade, had such a good year with Breedlove, Felber recalls asking the school if her younger son could have the same teacher for his kindergarten year.

Both boys still stop by their old classroom from time to time for a hug from their former teacher.

"She's wonderful," Felber said.

Bedar Farley, whose children, fourth-grader Jacob and third-grader Katie, also had Breedlove for kindergarten, shares a similar sentiment.

"She is a wonderful teacher. She makes learning fun, strongly encourages parental involvement, and gives the kids opportunities to demonstrate what they learn," Farley said.

The overwhelming support of parents could be due in part to Breedlove's practice of open communication and consistent involvement of parents. Besides the opportunities to take part in crafts and read-alouds, parents may also participate in reading and math days where they come to the classroom and go through whole lessons along with their children.

Breedlove sums up her teaching mission with this simple goal: "Putting students first."

The kindergarten classroom becomes a place where "children feel comfortable and free to express themselves."

When asked for the secret to her success, Breedlove was thoughtful with her response: "Working in a great school, collaborating with great teachers, classroom management, exciting curriculum, experience, always trying to better yourself . . . and having a good sense of humor! I laugh every day with my little guys."

These qualities have not gone unnoticed. The Teacher of the Year honor is shared by the principal and entire school community.

"We were thrilled," Damous said. "Our nominee was Putnam County's choice. We are very proud to be her colleague."

What's next for Breedlove?

"I'm never happy with what's going on right now," she said. "I can always be willing to learn more, give a little more, and grow."


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