Jennifer Newman: ‘The sky’s the limit for our kids’

Jennifer is a second-grade teacher at Tindley Genesis Academy and has been an educator for more than 30 years.

As told to Shaina Cavazos

I grew up in the country outside of Zionsville. My grandmother was a teacher, my cousin was a teacher, and probably the biggest cheerleader of my life was my Aunt Claudette, who was a secretary at my elementary school. My dad passed away when I was in first grade, and I was fortunate to experience firsthand, to feel the care and love of teachers.

I went to Ball State and came back a bright-eyed new teacher walking into my first school, where my now-principal, Julie Bakehorn, was the gym teacher. The staff at that school was always close. Years later, when I heard Julie was going to Tindley, I called her and told her that I wanted to work for her because good leadership is extremely important to me. I wanted somebody I can learn from.

My first year at Tindley, I had a little girl who just had a pretty difficult time in class. Sometimes she had outbursts and tried to stomp out, but I never gave up on her — It took most of the year. At the end of the year, I just knew her so well that when she was getting frustrated with something, I could walk up to her and whisper, “Close your eyes. Picture something in your head that makes you really happy.” And I can’t remember if it was a cat or ice cream, but then she’d tell me about it, and breathe, and then she’d be fine. Even if she did have a difficult day, she would eventually apologize or write me a note.

This year, you would never ever guess that she was like that last year. She’s one student who I know that I’m going to have a long-lasting relationship with. To me, relationships are everything. Once you build a trusting relationship, everything else can kind of fall in place.

There is so much there for me to learn, and it was definitely a hard year that first year, but I love being here. We have an amazing curriculum, and we have coaches who support us through everything. The professional development we’re given makes us more equipped to teach at a higher level. At the end of my career, when I think I’ve learned everything there is to know, Tindley has taught me that’s not true.

My first principal set the bar high, and I think every person who was in that building has carried his legacy. He always said that if you expect their best, students will rise to the occasion. They will rise to the bar you set.

The sky’s the limit for our kids, and I just want to give them everything I can give them.

We’re featuring each of the 11 Office of Education Innovation 2020 Teacher of the Year finalists. Look for new features throughout the summer and fall.