When Susan Isles began teaching in Texas more than 23 years ago, everything was “old school,” she said.
“The teacher was in the front with the chalkboard, everyone was at their desk in nice little rows and you just taught the lesson that way,” she said. “Now my classroom is totally different.”
Isles’ second-grade classroom at Henderson Elementary School in Bryan consists of centers and a small teacher’s table, foregoing the traditional desk. She spends most of her day standing up while the kids move around the classroom, focusing more on individualized lessons.
Isles said she recognizes children are different in their level of work and issues they may having at home. Forming a strong relationship with both student and parent helps her to understand better what she needs to do, she said.
“It’s just a matter of trying to figure out where that child is, what their needs are, and trying to meet them,” Isles said.
David Henderson was a student at Henderson Elementary this past year. Isles noticed signs of ADHD and spoke to his mother, Lauren Brewster, about identifying similarities in his behavior at school and home.
“She is beyond patient with him,” Brewster said. “She can teach the class and still give him the one-on-one attention that he needs and not just send him off to another classroom. She would actually help him herself.”
Lauren Brewster was a fourth-grade student of Isles’ in 2000 at Snook Elementary. Brewster says that Isles was patient with her through good times and bad, even continuing to helping her through her middle school years.
“It’s really cool. It means I have been teaching for a really long time to be working on my second generation. It’s good because I have that relationship with [Brewster]. She trusts me and I trust her and that makes it easier to work together,” Isles said.
Henderson Elementary Principal Danielle Legg said Isles is a talented teacher.
“I don’t know how she does it, it’s just a gift that she has, but I do consider her a ‘child whisperer,’ ” Legg said. “She can take students who have lots of difficulties and challenges and work with them and the parents. They are working together as a team, side by side to help children so I think they feel like they are her partner in their children’s success.”
David said he liked reading books, problem solving and even taking tests in Isles’ class.
David especially enjoyed learning cursive and said he asked for additional cursive practice sheets to take home for the summer.
Isles hopes to impart on her students “that they can do something. Not everybody is going to be the best at math, reading, or running in P.E., but everybody can do something, and if they can believe in themselves to be able to do that something — I hope that that belief, encouragement and self-esteem builder carries them on.”
A Texas A&M University graduate, Isles spent two years teaching in St. Petersburg in Russia and later worked on a ship teaching crew members’ children before returning to Bryan to be near her retired parents, both of whom were teachers.
“I come from a long line of teachers. ... It’s just something that I always did. When I was little I played with dolls pretending to be teachers or tried to teach my younger brothers and sisters,” she said.
Now with school out for the year in Bryan, Isles plans on teaching a seventh-grade girls youth group at First Baptist Church in Bryan and already is planning for the year ahead.
“Summer is here, but your mind is still thinking, ‘OK, next year, how can I improve? What do I need to do first to make sure that we get off to a good start with a new group of kids? How am I going to tweak my reading stations so that my kids are going to excel?’
“You never really take a break, it’s always kind of there,” she said.