By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Curriculums and academic goalposts at times seem to change with the wind, but Gubser Elementary School teacher Melissa Frank keeps her sights set on a bigger picture.
“The biggest thing is just instilling confidence in working at a task. If you can instill that confidence and sense of pride, students strive harder, they work harder and they’re more successful,” said Frank, who is in her ninth year as a Gator teacher.
Frank was one of a dozen teachers and educators honored for their work with a Salem-Keizer Education Foundation Crystal Apple at a ceremony Thursday, Nov. 13. Frank was the only nominee from a Keizer school to walk away with the “Academy Award” of Salem-Keizer School District education.
In her tenure as a fourth grade teacher – she now teaches a fourth/fifth blended class – students have arrived in Frank’s classroom from all walks of life and every possible mix of preparation.
“There are students that excel, those that struggle and those lacking the intrinsic motivation to work at school, but I love catching a struggling reader and working some magic to get them where they need to be,” Frank said.
The magic she talks about isn’t so much a trick as it is focused hard work. One year, a student arrived in her class who had fallen nearly three years behind in reading.
“He had completely flatlined the year before. He hadn’t grown at all,” she said.
Frank took it upon herself to help him break down the wall that had erupted between his abilities and his belief in them.
“We sat down each day and read together. In his year with me, he grew two full grade levels and he had more of a sense of pride and accomplishment,” Frank said. “We were a team. We couldn’t do it without him working hard and he couldn’t do it without me believing in him. That was the important piece.”
Her sense of teamwork, she hopes, extends beyond the classroom and to the families of her students.
“Mostly, I need them to believe in me like I believe in their children. Students and parents can get frustrated with things like a reading log every night, it can seem mundane. It’s all for a reason, though, and it works out if we’re a unit. We all need to be thinking of that student’s future together,” she said.
Frank was thinking about her own future long before she ever set up shop at the head of her own classroom. Her mother liked to brag that Frank had “the smartest stuffed animals” in town because she spent so much time teaching them the things she’d learned in school. Once she had her own class at Gubser, one of her goals was to have her name read alongside those honored with the Crystal Apple award.
“I was humbled and honored to be standing up there alongside so many other people who had amazing stories of their own,” she said.
Then, as now, she’s played the long game in education and has no intention of giving it up any time soon.
“The look on a student’s face when they grow a reading level or pass a math test, the cute little homemade gift they bring in or the hugs they give … they fill my up,” she said. “I want them to remember me and be inspired by me when they think of me in 10 years and know I would be proud of them.”