It’s never too early in Kathy Wheeler’s class to learn about the cost of living.
The Hull-Sanford math and creative writing teacher regards her fifth grade students “mini-adults” and isn’t afraid to introduce the grown up world of, say, car insurance rates as a way of fusing the classroom and the real world.
“Their mouths will drop,” Wheeler said.
The message being driven home: Study your math, get that better job and have the money one day to pay for life’s necessities and luxuries.
“I try to connect things to real life,” she explained. “It’s not just what’s in a book."
Madison County’s system-wide teacher of the year appears driven beyond the call of duty to motivate those who come under her watch. In an email sent to The Journal, Wheeler shared some of her teaching philosophies and mantras, including: “Life can be a jungle — prepare for it,” “Attending school is job preparation,” and “An ‘I can’ attitude is much more important than IQ.”
The accolades started rolling in for Wheeler in May when she was selected as Hull-Sanford’s teacher of the year.
“It’s so exciting that your peers think so highly of you,” Wheeler said.
Her name was called again at a county-wide faculty meeting in August when system “teacher of the year” honors were bestowed following a laborious application process.
“All I heard was the word ‘Hull’ and the rest was just a blur,” Wheeler said. “I didn’t think I would get it. I truly couldn’t imagine … totally speechless.”
Perhaps Wheeler’s teaching career started in earnest when she tutored her younger sister while growing up in the Hull-Sanford area. Wheeler, who counts her parents as her staunchest supporters, went on to graduate from Madison County High School in 1981 and from the University of Georgia in 1987 with summa cum laude honors.
Today, Wheeler is a 22-year veteran of the classroom, spending her first 13 years at Colbert Elementary and the last nine years nearer to home at Hull-Sanford Elementary
“I think that makes a big difference to live in the community and teach in the community,” said Wheeler, who’s married to Angelo Wheeler.
Wheeler makes it her job to offer an engaging classroom. For example, she’s turned her students on to chess and founded a club. Too often children view school as some sort of involuntary confinement, she said.
“They almost see it as them doing time — like kiddie prision,” Wheeler said.
The challenge of the profession is to find that unique method triggers a student’s potential or brings them to an intuitive leap of understanding.
Wheeler calls it the “magic key.”
And she isn’t afraid to put in the long hours to uncover it for each child.
She often stays long after the school day concludes to tutor students. In fact, she says that her husband jokes that he can occasionally hear her teaching in her sleep.
“I feel that time is one of the greatest gifts I give my students,” Wheeler said.
Congratulations Kathy! It takes a special kind of person to be a teacher. Making learning fun is the key. If you want to see where her great work ethic and commitment comes from, look to her parents, they're the hardest working people I know!! Great Job!
i had Mrs.Wheeler when i was in 5th grade! im a junior now and she helped me so muc in math. if you could give me her email id like to get in touch with her. i would go down to the scool but my mom died and im living in Michigan. tell her i said congrats too!