Winner, Judge's Award for Best Elementary School Teacher

Sequoia Temple: Winner, Judge's Award for Best Elementary School Teacher

Kindergarten Teacher, Maize Elementary School, Columbus City Schools

It became a common refrain in the testimonial questionnaires submitted about Sequoia Temple in Columbus Parent's Teachers of the Year competition: "If I had a kindergartner…," "If my child had attended Maize Elementary for kindergarten…," "If I could choose my child's teacher…." Is there any greater endorsement of a teacher than to say you would entrust your own child to her?

Temple, who is entering her 25th year of teaching with the 2013-14 school year, won the judges' award for Best Elementary School Teacher. The Cleveland-area native came to Columbus when she enrolled at The Ohio State University where she earned a bachelor's degree in Education and a master's degree in Reading and Children's Literature. She has been with Columbus City Schools her entire career and in the kindergarten classroom at Maize Elementary on the city's northeast side for most of that time.

"I love this age group," Temple said. "They're young and so enthusiastic."

They're also capable of more than most people expect, Temple said, and this belief is at the core of her student-led teaching philosophy.

Maize Elementary's principal Nicole Henry explained: "I see students working on lesson plans to share with the class…You will see kindergartners teaching their peers...Yes, kindergartners are taking ownership of a concept and presenting it to their peers!"

Temple said that leading a classroom filled with pint-sized teachers is not as hard as it sounds.

"Not if you show them," she said. "They really pay attention. You start with simple things like keeping track of the calendar, days of the week and then add more planning as the year goes on. By the end of the year, they're doing lesson plans for reading, phonics, blends. They really teach me things."

It's also the most rewarding aspect of teaching.

"When a student is able to share what they have learned with someone else," Temple said, "I know they have mastered that concept. I am amazed at the strategies, vocabulary and activities that students are able to use to teach or demonstrate concepts."

Temple's former colleague Seka Harris wrote in her testimonial, "It is phenomenal to see students move from being non-readers to being confident readers/teachers."

Plus, Harris added, "She follows this up by calling parents and holding them accountable for their child's success."

That line of communication is another key component of Temple's approach. And it's not about reporting the negatives. Tiffany Campbell related that Temple "was my youngest brother's kindergarten teacher years ago as well as my student teaching supervisor in college…She would call home just to give compliments about great things he was doing in her class…That was the only time my mom has ever received positive 'just because' feedback from an educator."

Accentuating the positive is critical, Temple said.

"Everybody has a gift," she said. "I think all parents want to hear about their child and what they're doing well."

Temple's dedication also is seen in the Christmas gifts she buys. She deflects the topic, but her colleague Paul Jackson was happy to dish.

"Every year, just before the winter break," he wrote, "she not only makes sure the students in her class that are needy get presents, but she also takes it upon herself with her money to buy gifts for their siblings and parents!"

So it came as no surprise, a few weeks after receiving her Teacher of the Year prizes, Temple had decided how to spend her $500 cash prize - and it wasn't on herself.

"We're going to buy a camera," she explained, reached one day after school had ended. She was in her classroom, doing year-end cleaning.

"We want to get a really good camera," Temple said and by "we" she meant she and her fellow Maize faculty members. "We're going to use it for better parent communications, to show them more of all the great things their children are doing."

Winner, Judge's Award for Best Middle School Teacher >>