Retiring Potter Beloved By Students

Mary Potter, The Wellington School

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After four decades in education, a fifth-grade language arts teacher at The Wellington School is stepping away from the classroom as the middle school winner of the Columbus Parent/ThisWeek Community News Teachers of the Year award. Mary Potter is retiring after 40 years on the job—including the last 32 at Wellington.

“I get everything I could possibly need or want from the kids,” Potter said after receiving the award at a June 2 assembly, where students' affection for her was obvious. “The love and caring I carry out of here … I've got all the gifts I need.”

Potter, 66, has a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's in education from Ohio State University. She began her career as a kindergarten and first-grade teacher in the South-Western City School District, where she taught for eight years, before stints at OSU and Otterbein University supervising student teachers and designing programs to implement computers into classrooms throughout Ohio.

The latter work brought her to Wellington, where she initially integrated technology into classrooms by training teachers and students in computer skills. Although the school lacked technology resources at the time, Potter took the job because she wanted to work with younger students again and because there were opportunities to teach them in new ways. “It was kids thinking, kids problem-solving,” she said. “The sky was the limit.

“They gave me total freedom to run with it with all sorts of kids. It didn't have to be one-size-fits-all.”

Eventually, Potter became a language arts teacher at Wellington. She spent 15 years teaching seventh-graders, then transitioned to fifth grade.

Potter was nominated by a group of colleagues and parents, led by the school's assistant marketing director, Caroline Haskett. “With the uncanny ability to listen to so many children at once and, yet, still hear their individual voices, Mrs. Potter has dedicated her life for the last 30 years to finding out what makes kids tick,” her nominators wrote. “The palpable compassion she shows for her students extends far beyond the walls of Wellington.

“She never hesitates to volunteer her time or her home to someone struggling. From organizing clothing and book drives to personally delivering homemade peanut (butter) and jelly sandwiches to the homeless, she has been a longtime proponent for the importance of service learning for all ages. Her dream is for every Wellington family to find a way to serve the community.”

During her time at Wellington, Potter said some of the biggest changes came through the implementation of technology, which shifted teaching from textbooks and memorization to something more dynamic. “The ability to think, figure out what's needed and relevant, sort what's most important and interesting, figuring out how to cite and organize what they've gathered as important and interesting, and then the best way to show that they know and understand will give kids more mileage in school and life itself,” she said.

Head of Middle School Erin Noviski praised Potter's influence. “In her 32 years at The Wellington School, Mary Potter has demonstrated a remarkable ability to connect with each and every one of her students by nurturing, challenging and inspiring them to grow into confident and capable adults. Mary's passionate commitment to service learning is reflected in her students' dedication to giving back to others long after they leave Wellington.

“Mary Potter is, without a doubt, one of the most positively influential teachers I have ever known and a true treasure for families of The Wellington School.”

Potter, a longtime Upper Arlington resident who has two grown children, Sarah Potter and Seth Potter, said that even as she retires, she will continue to volunteer and help those in need. It's a commitment that was engrained in her by her parents, who often took in children from the school on the Hilltop in West Columbus where the family lived, and where her father taught for 30 years. He inspired her to become a teacher. “My dad brought kids home who had no shoes, no food,” she said. “That's where it all started.

“I think you kind of know when it's the right time to retire, and there are things I want to do service-wise,” Potter said. “I know you don't look at all students and people the same.

“They're not all the same. Some people just need that window opened for their opportunities.”