For teacher of year, it all adds up

Published 11:28 pm Friday, April 12, 2019

Eighth-grade math teacher Patricia Waegerle doesn’t hesitate to share details of her life with her Col. Fred Cherry Middle School students.

She weaves tales of her own life with real-life applications of pre-algebra in a way that gets her students’ attention and, ultimately, understanding.

And in turn, they open up to her.

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“I love her like she’s my own mom,” said Kaniya Simmons. “She treats us like we’re her own kids.”

Hearing that, Waegerle puts her head in her hands. It touches her, and it reinforces her teaching philosophy, in which she says it’s her job to help students believe in their potential success through relationship building.

“She’s a good teacher, because she knows how to make us understand it in our own way,” said Cortez Walker. “Make math that’s hard fun and into some kind of catchy song.”

It’s one of many attributes that earned Waegerle Suffolk Public Schools’ 2019 City-Wide Teacher of the Year honor.

Qua Cummings, an art teacher at Nansemond Parkway Elementary School, was named the 2019 Elementary Teacher of the Year, while Ronald Daughtrey, an agriculture education teacher at Lakeland High School, received the 2019 High School Teacher of the Year award. Cassandra Eagan, an English teacher at Lakeland, received the 2019 Rookie Teacher of the Year honor.

Waegerle, who taught at John Yeates Middle School before coming to Col. Fred Cherry when it opened for the start of the current school year, said she was dumbfounded just to receive the school-wide honor, much less the city-wide accolade.

“I don’t think I’m the best teacher in the city,” Waegerle said. “I would like to think that the caring I have for the students is representative of how all the other teachers who are great teachers feel about the kids. I don’t feel like I have any magic dust or do anything magical other than care about the kids.”

When Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney walked in to her class to surprise her with the award, the moment became a blur for Waegerle.

“She doubled-over here in the corner while everybody else was talking,” said Robert Allen Trussler, a senior at Old Dominion University who spent 10 weeks observing and teaching lessons with Waegerle.

Waegerle’s co-teacher for five years, Leslie Kelley, said she knows how to reach students to make math click for them. But she also noted how she watches them in afterschool events, and she’s a co-coach of Col. Fred Cherry’s Girls on the Run of Hampton Roads group.

In a letter supporting Waegerle’s nomination, Col. Fred Cherry’s principal, Dr. Shawn Green, said she is approachable for her colleagues and her students.

“Mrs. Waegerle’s compassionate character is shown daily in her classroom,” Green wrote. “In the building, I have seen students vie with each other for her attention.”

Her teaching has evolved during her career. In particular, she has changed how she teaches centers — working with smaller groups of students and teach where they are and help those who need remediation, and to enrich others who are more advanced in their learning.

Her eye-opener was learning to teach “incomplete stations,” in which there are three groups of students based on how they performed on their Standards of Learning. The groups are fluid, meaning a student can be in a high-achieving group for one thing and a lower group for another, and, the more help they need, the more teacher-time the student receives.

“The kids who are the lowest, they’ll have teacher time for all three stations,” Waegerle said. “So, they’ll be with me for one station, and they’ll be with Ms. Kelley twice. The kids (who) are in the medium group will have teacher time for two stations. They’ll have me and Ms. Kelley, and then they’ll be doing an enriched activity — an independent activity. The kids that are in the high group only have one session of teacher time, so it’s not equal.”

On the day she learned of her honor, Waegerle had two co-teachers from Charles City County in her classroom observing her, as her classroom serves as a demonstration site that showcases co-teaching as part of the Excellence in Co-Teaching Initiative in Virginia.

“This year for me, I never thought I’d have the most funniest teacher of all time,” said Cheyenne Rettie. “She makes math for me a lot more fun. She has a way of making it a game in my head. She always gets my gears ticking, and plus, I just love math.”

Before she changed the way she taught centers, Waegerle taught from a textbook and lesson plan, and students sat in rows. Now, she doesn’t use a teacher’s guide, her lesson plans change yearly and she doesn’t use a textbook. She also incorporates music and manipulatives, and she tries to make concepts concrete so students will understand them.

Waegerle, who majored in education at the University of Akron and has been teaching for 20 years, always had a love for teaching, going back to when she was little and wanting to help her own teachers. But after seeing her older sister go into education, and two brothers planning to go into education, she changed course.

She started out as an accounting major, and then went into marketing, hating both, before going to work in a grocery store for a few years. She even went to Bible college and studied children’s ministry and missions for two years with the thought of becoming a missionary. Her first year of teaching was teaching the Bible at a Christian school, but she didn’t want to stay in a private school and felt called to teach in public schools.

“I haven’t thought twice about teaching or changing careers since then,” Waegerle said.

Her students are no doubt pleased about the choices that led their teacher to them.

Kaniya said she struggled in math when she first got to middle school, but not now. And, on a personal level, she said, Waegerle is non-judgmental toward them.

“When I’m in a bad mood, there would be times when I would come out on her,” Kaniya said. “But not that she would make me mad. It would be something that I was already mad at. She would understand it. She wouldn’t start yelling at me like other teachers would. She’s very understanding.”

Waegerle, who asked Green to be assigned all pre-algebra classes because “I like the student that needs help,” clearly relishes a student’s ah-ha moment.

Once, after working with a student, Waegerle watched it unfold, and it’s how she wants to impact every child.

“One day we were doing a breakout box downstairs, and one girl said, ‘Ms. Waegerle, I feel smart.’ It just warmed my heart to hear that. That’s my goal. My goal is to make them feel like they can do it. … I don’t want them to feel like, ‘I’m sinking. I’m going under. I can’t do this.’ I want them to love math.”