Teaching positivity: Courtney Thorpe emphasizes embracing differences, uplifting attitudes

Published 10:57 am Wednesday, May 17, 2017

To Courtney Thorpe, no job is as interesting as being a third-grade teacher. 

It was a natural fit for her to go into education, she said, because her mother worked in the school district as a reading interventionist. Thorpe said when she was young, she enjoyed helping her mom grade papers.

Thorpe has been teaching at Strode Station Elementary for three years and has worked in the district for a decade.

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“I started at Central (Elementary),” she said. “I went to school there, I student taught there and I got my first teaching job there.”

After Central closed, the teachers there were sent to the newly-opened Justice Elementary. Thorpe taught there the first year it was open before being transferred to Strode Station, where she taught second grade, and finally got a third-grade classroom of her own.

“Third grade is my favorite,” Thorpe said. “I love that age group. They’re still young enough that they’re excited to come to school and they love to learn, but they also have the innocence of a child, which is nice.”

As a homeroom teacher, Thorpe instructs her students in a variety of subjects. Her favorite is math because she finds it is easier to engage her students when teaching it.

“It’s kind of funny, because math was probably my worst subject growing up,” she said.

Thorpe said when teaching math, it is much easier to see her students have “light bulb” moments.

“The light bulb moment is when a child has been struggling with a certain strategy or concept,” she said. “And you know, they may need a lot of one-on-one time or a lot of extra help in that content area to get them there, and there’s this chunk of time when you can see it on their face that they’ve got it, they understand it. It makes all that hard work worth it because they’ve picked up on what it is you’re trying to get them to understand.”

She said the moment is all the more special in her class because her students are quick to praise each other and celebrate the accomplishments of their peers.

“We really make it a deal in here to embrace people’s differences,” she said. “It’s OK if you don’t know the answer to questions and it’s OK if you get one bad grade. We use it as a learning tool and we know we’re going to do better the next time.”

Thorpe said she has been inspired on how to interact with her students from her own two children, both of whom have special needs. But the inspiration works both ways, and she said her students’ support of each other often gives her ideas to take home and try on her family.

“This class is just really good about  lifting each other up,” Thorpe said. “We have a really good environment and they know that they’re not like anybody else and nobody else is like them. We use that as a good, positive thing here.”

Not every day is perfect, though, and Thorpe said her job is very high-stress and demanding every day. Trying to teach each student in a way that helps them individually can be a daunting task, but one that is worthwhile. 

“I don’t know if people realize all the different jobs we have to do,” Thorpe said. “The majority of the day I’m the instructor, but I’m also mommy, nurse and therapist. That’s important though. It is important to have the kids know and trust you, so even when I know I don’t have the time, I find a way to make it for them.”

And while no two days — or students — are alike, Thorpe said her students come to her classroom with smiles on their face and an excitement to learn. She said her goal each day is for them to leave with smiles and be excited to come back the next day.

In her free time, Thorpe enjoys spending time outdoors with her children and seeing movies with her husband.