Providence Elementary's 2023-24 Teacher of the Year combines laughter, learning, and love

 

Lesa Cook

 

Kindergarten plays a special role in a student’s education as the origin of the rest of their academic experience. Lesa Cook, Providence Elementary’s 2023-24 Teacher of the Year, aims to help make her kindergarten classroom a place of learning, laughter, and safety for all her students.

 

Cook first decided she wanted to pursue a career in education when she heard a friend’s mother talk about her day as a kindergarten teacher. She was enthralled by what she heard and set her mind to teaching kindergarten. Additionally, her own mother was also a beloved second-grade teacher and an inspiration to her. Cook studied at Utah State University, earning a degree in Early Childhood Education and Elementary Education. She has now taught kindergarten for 10 years at Providence Elementary and wouldn’t want to teach any other grade anywhere else. “There are days I can't believe I get paid to do what I do,” Cook remarked.

 

Lesa Cook and students    Lesa Cook and students

 

When they enter kindergarten, students have their first introduction to school and all that goes with it. Cook aspires to ensure that they’re not only learning how to be good students but also how to become good people. “We talk about everything and work through a lot of things on how to solve our problems and how to have empathy for one another,” Cook explained. “If I can help them become successful in their reading and writing, as people working together, and know how to be a good friend, then they're going to soar in life.”

 

While ensuring her students are learning concepts on all fronts, Cook says the biggest reward for her is watching students develop and grasp new concepts. “I love the growth. I love the energy and seeing the progress. I don’t think there is another grade that shows as much growth as kindergarten does,” she commented. “It thrills me when I see students putting sounds together to read, write phonetic words and sentences, or understand math and science concepts. The progress is just thrilling and so fun to see.”

 

Lesa Cook and student

 

For this growth to occur, Cook wants her students to feel loved, have a good relationship with her, and feel part of the unified culture she tries to create in the classroom. “The love has to be there,” Cook added. “When there's love, everything else falls in place. If the students feel safe, are engaged with their learning, and feel like I care about them, then I can help them become successful. It's like planting a seed in good soil. If a seed is in good soil, then that seed will grow. So if the students have confidence in their learning, then they will succeed.”

 

Cook strives to keep her classroom dynamic and lively, using a variety of activities and methods to help students get the most out of their learning. “I'll bring in parents and do different learning activities with parent centers. I try to make things different and shake it up,” Cook explained. “We'll use songs, lots of actions, poetry, art, and books to integrate into our lessons to make them interesting. We have a good time and laugh a lot! I hope my students remember how magical kindergarten was. I hope they remember I was a smiley, happy teacher. I don’t expect my kindergartners to remember much, but I hope they will remember how they felt in my classroom.”

 

Providence Elementary Principal Jeff Keck says that Cook is an invaluable resource to the students and the school. “Lesa is so loving and patient with the students. She is a great example for all of us,” Keck stated. “She pours endless love into each kid. She recognizes them for who they are and meets them where they need to learn. Each child in her class knows that she loves them and that she’s there to help them. She is a valuable member of the staff that makes others feel valued and always builds people up and makes them feel good about their efforts.”