A box in Molly Wilder’s classroom is overflowing with notes from students, parents and fellow teachers — each one a testament to her dedication and influence as an educator.
In Wilder’s second-grade classroom at Bowen Elementary School, students learn reading, writing, math, science and social studies. But Wilder makes sure they leave her class with much more than that.
“People are more important than anything, and how we treat them and how we deal with them,” Wilder said. “I hope I have taught them that.”
It’s a big task to take on, but Wilder said whenever she’s in need of encouragement, she can always go back to her notes — some of which are displayed on two large canvases in her room.
“I tell the kids, because they keep these, too, that when you are having a horrid day and it doesn’t seem like anything’s right, go read all your little things that you’re thankful for or that somebody said to you,” Wilder said. “That just kind of makes it all better.”
Wilder’s consistent positivity does not go unnoticed. Susan Forst — a language arts instructional coach with the Bryan Independent School District — has worked with Wilder for five years and said that even in the toughest circumstances, Wilder’s characteristic smile remains.
“Even faced with a challenging situation, she tries to bring grace and bring a positive outlook,” Forst said. “You won’t ever hear her speak a disparaging word about anybody at all. She’s a very professional person.”
Forst said Wilder’s teaching style consists of setting high expectations and giving each student the tools, guidance and support they need to reach them.
“She really ignites a fire inside of her students to learn,” Forst said. “It doesn’t matter if it is a student who is a struggling learner or one that’s maybe a gifted learner. She wants to make sure that they all have the same opportunity to succeed and make progress.”
But as Forst says, Wilder’s commitment “is not limited to the four walls of the classroom.” She stays heavily involved in the school district and her community as a whole. For Wilder — who grew up in Bryan and graduated from Texas A&M University — the chance to give back to her hometown is the opportunity of a lifetime.
“I love giving back and proving that Bryan is a good place to be,” Wilder said. “The kids in Bryan can do amazing things with amazing teachers and the right tools. I’m proud of where I’m from.”
A consistent supporter of her local Future Farmers of America chapters, Wilder has been able to give her students some hands-on experience with agriculture. She jokes that she turned Bowen’s Math and Science Night into “Math and Ag-Science Night,” even bringing some of her family’s cattle to meet the students.
“Just from my husband’s background and his family, they’ve been farming for a hundred years, and I just feel like agriculture is getting pushed back,” Wilder said. “People don’t know about it, people don’t know where their things come from, and so I try to instill that as much as I can in my little patch of the world.”
Wilder applies this hands-on philosophy to her other lessons, too, whether it’s using drawings and objects to work through math problems or making sure each student has an interesting book in their hands.
“If you can see it and feel it and touch it, you’re going to remember it a whole lot more,” Wilder said.
Now in her 25th year at Bowen, Wilder said that while students’ desire to learn has stayed the same, some of their needs have changed. As kids spend more and more time with technology, Wilder said the classroom has become an increasingly important place to build social skills.
“There used to be a whole lot more playing outside in the neighborhood with kids, and now it’s more playing video games in your house,” Wilder said. “So you have to do a lot more with talking to each other, learning how to get along with each other, because there’s just not as much of that going on.”
She also serves as a mentor to newer teachers, emphasizing the importance of organization and structure in the classroom.
From the notes she keeps to her interactions with parents and former students, Wilder doesn’t have to look far to see that she has made a lasting impression.
“We just had the senior walkout, where they got to come back to the school, and I had six or seven big old boys come and hug me and say thank you,” Wilder said. “I just want to make a difference in these kids because I can’t make a difference in the whole world, but I can make a difference here.”