‘Good try’: Conkwright teacher promotes positivity

Published 8:44 am Wednesday, April 18, 2018

In elementary school, Betsy Clark struggled with reading comprehension.

Luckily, Clark said she had some excellent teachers who tutored her and helped her find ways to get better, such as reading aloud — a strategy that empowered her even into her college years.

Now, Clark teaches those same strategies and more to kindergarteners at Conkwright Elementary School.

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“It’s fun to teach (reading) cause that’s an area I struggled with as well and just seeing them blossom into readers has been a very neat experience,” she said.

Clark is in her 20th year teaching. She’s taught practically every elementary grade and even special education.

“I’ve had a wide realm of backgrounds,” Clark said.

Clark is a Winchester native. She said her parents have lived in the same home for more than 40 years.

“I’ve been here my whole life,” Clark said.

She graduated from Transylvania University with a bachelor of arts in elementary education and went to Eastern Kentucky University for a master’s degree and Rank I in special education and preschool.

She has had teaching jobs in several surrounding counties including Montgomery, Powell, Woodford and Bourbon. She has worked in Clark County for almost 17 years and has been at Conkwright for four years.

Clark said her grandmother was a teacher and was an influential part of her education. She remembers wanting to be a teacher as young as kindergarten.

“I had always wanted to be a teacher from the earliest time I could remember,” she said. “I remember playing school with my sister and a couple of neighbors that we had. I always had a real connection with small children. I worked at a couple of daycares. And just having the influence of my grandmother and the influences from the teachers that I had, especially in elementary school, that made me want to be able to do the same things they did, give kids success stories like some of my teachers gave me.”

One thing Clark enjoys about teaching kindergarten is helping students foster their love for learning.

“You can watch them blossom at this age because they come in some of them not knowing hardly anything, so you get to see them learn how to write their names and develop words,” Clark said.

Kindergarten students learn their ABCs, numbers through 100, skip counting by 5s and 10s, vocabulary words, basic comprehension, answering simple questions, understanding addition and subtraction up to 20, knowing place value, calendar dates, reading and some typing. Clark said she teaches these fundamentals with hands-on activities.

Clark said her students come from a diverse set of backgrounds, so it’s important to learn what works for them.

“Every child learns differently,” Clark said. “Every child comes from different backgrounds, so I’m always trying to reach them from where they are and push them higher.”

On the other hand, each student has different expectations at home, so she has to tow the line of teaching kids what’s acceptable in school versus at home.

“I tell them we all have jobs,” she said. “My job is to teach; their (job) is to learn, and our job is to work together.”

After teaching for 20 years, Clark said she has seen the demands of teaching grow more and more. Teachers are now expected to do “I can” statements, follow Common Core statements, and testing has become more emphasized.

Teachers have about every role that a person can think of, Clark said.

“You’re the mother figure in a way, the disciplinarian, the teacher, a nurse,” she said. “We have lots of expectations of a teacher.”

However, she said the core teaching has always stayed the same.

“The overall role of a teacher is to make sure a child grows socially, emotionally, academically and always feels comfortable in their environment and is going to be a successful person as they grow older,” Clark said.

Outside of work, Clark said she enjoys going to sporting events, spending time with family and friends, volunteering and attending church activities. However, she can’t seem to pull away from her work, she said. Clark also spends much of her spare time researching new teaching strategies, and even though, she goes home most days exhausted, Clark said she still loves every minute of it.

“(It’s) knowing you’re making a difference in young people’s lives,” Clark said.

Some days, where others recognize her hard work or share their appreciation, are especially meaningful to Clark.

“A couple of years ago, I was working one on one with a student in a special (education) setting, when the principal observed me,” Clark said. “She left a note that said ‘Amazing job. I loved all the tools that you used to reach the student. You never gave up.’ Or something like that. That was a positive time for me.”

Sometimes her students surprise her, whether it be putting in extra hard work by participating in before-school tutoring sessions or by the energy and enthusiasm they may bring to the classroom each day.

“I always praise them even if I ask them a question and they don’t know the answer, I still tell them ‘Good try,’” Clark said.

Clark said she tries to teach positivity to her students.

“The most important thing I’ve brought to teaching is a positive attitude,” she said. “I know every day is a new, fresh start. I tell the kids every day that I’m glad they are here. I love them, and I always want what’s best for them.”

About Lashana Harney

Lashana Harney is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. Her beats include schools and education, business and commerce, Winchester Municipal Utilities and other news. To contact her, email lashana.harney@winchestersun.com or call 859-759-0015.

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