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Learning, one way or another

For Teacher of the Year, all students have that key ability

June 9, 2009

When Maria Jensen of Ben Franklin Elementary School looks at her class of 23 second-graders, she sees 23 unique children, all with the ability to learn.

She makes it her personal goal to find out exactly how each child learns best and to instill within all of them the confidence and independence to do so. Combined with her interactive approach to teaching, she was the perfect candidate for the Betty Brinn Teacher of the Year Award, according to one official.

"What we look for when we choose a recipient of the award is someone who exemplifies the notion of hands-on learning," said Carolyn Rydlewicz, the associate director of educational programs at Betty Brinn. "Maria exemplified and implemented that idea."

Jensen has been teaching for 11 years, and her philosophy is based around the theory that every child can learn - it's just a matter of how.

Tools for better learning

She introduces different learning styles, auditory, visual and kinesthetic, to her students and helps them discover which one they feel most comfortable doing.

She's also a firm believer in Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences theory. Based on the theory there are seven intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal and intrapersonal. Every week Jensen creates hands-on literacy centers and discovery math labs with the intelligences in mind.

Fostering individual relationships with each child is key, she said. She strives to make her kids comfortable in the classroom and to develop trust.

"It's very important to be connected to the kids," she said. "They seem to go the extra mile for you when they know you're in their court no matter what."

Playing the part of a family

She and her students refer to their class as a family, and students actively help one another in the learning process.

One way she combines hands-on learning and connecting with the students is her end-of-the-year play. Every year her students put on a play based on a piece of children's literature from the school year. The students write the script, create the scenery, make the costumes, and perform the play with the help of Jensen and parent volunteers.

"It's really neat to see all that happen," said Mysie Sabin, a parent who has had two of her kids in Jensen's class and volunteered to help with the play the past two years. "She does a phenomenal job teaching these kids."

Jensen is a dedicated teacher who has invested in the future of her students, Sabin said. She makes learning fun and teaches the kids life skills while building independence.

"She is very deserving of this award," Sabin said. "When it comes to hands-on learning, she's the best teacher I know."

A surprised nominee

When Jensen received her nomination letter in the mail from Betty Brinn, she had no idea she'd been nominated.

"I was extremely surprised," she said. "This school has a wonderful staff."

Shari Wass, who nominated Jensen, has also had two kids in Jensen's class and says Jensen is an inspired and motivated teacher.

"She caters to individual children and knows what each child is capable of," said Wass on why she nominated Jensen. "She knows their strengths."

Jensen grew up in Greendale and attended Greendale High School. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with an elementary education degree and a minor in early childhood education. For the last five years she's been teaching second grade at Ben Franklin. She has also taught 4-year-old kindergarten, kindergarten, first, and sixth grade but especially enjoys teaching second-graders.

"The kids are phenomenal," she said. "They are old enough to do higher level thinking but young enough that when I ask them to use their imagination they're right there with me."

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