Some people search for their dream job for their entire lives. Michelle Bennett, a Nisbet native, is not one of those people.
A teacher for the past 10 1/2 years, Bennett said she always knew she wanted to work with children. As a young child, she would spend most of her time playing school in her basement with an easel. And throughout high school and college, she tutored and volunteered in classrooms of teachers she knew. She also worked for the YMCA's summer day camp for many years.
"There has never been another option for me," Bennett said.
Kindergarten teacher, Michelle Bennett, is shown working with some of her students at Cochran Primary School.
Bennett taught first grade at Central Elementary School, South Williamsport, for the first half year of her teaching career. The other 10 years have all been at Cochran Primary School, where she has been a kindergarten teacher.
"Kindergartners love school!" Bennett said. "They get so excited about everything we do. They are little sponges. I love teaching them new things and then seeing how proud they are when they put their knowledge to use. It is a year of huge social and academic growth. They come to me knowing little about how to 'do' this thing we call school. They leave me ready to tackle the rest of their education."
Kindergarten has drastically changed over the years, according to Bennett.
"It is not just ABCs, coloring, cutting and pasting, and pulling the milk wagon at snack time as it was in the past," she said. "Kids today are expected each year of school to know more and kindergarten is no exception."
Students are busy reading, writing sentences, adding and subtracting, problem solving and even taking standardized tests. Most people, Bennett said, would not recognize a kindergarten classroom in comparison to what happened when the 30 and above generations were kids. The best part, she added, is that the students are ready for it, "taking the skills and big words and running with them!"
But Bennett's classroom isn't all work and no play. She likes to have fun with her students while teaching them skills for a lifetime of success.
"I love to incorporate singing and dancing in my classroom," she said. "Different students learn in different ways and it is important to teach with different styles so that I can reach everyone. And let's be honest, getting up to move around for a shake break gets the wiggles out of any 5-year-old!"
Bennett also enjoys doing special end-of-unit projects like making applesauce, baking bread, welcoming special visitors and publishing a classroom book.
Teaching, however, is not without its challenges. But Bennett's positive attitude ensures that each challenge is overcome.
"There is always the challenge of a new curriculum, new content standards, new expectations, new laws," she said. "Though the challenges can be hard and frustrating, it is important to accept them and move on while always remembering to do what is best for the kids in your classroom."
Bennett believes that keeping the children at the center of her focus will allow everything else to fall into place.
"I get to go to a job every day that I love," Bennett said. "I get to teach kids how to read, how to write, how to count, how to problem solve ... I get to watch them grow. I'm pretty lucky to witness special moments every day where something just clicks for a child. It is very rewarding. It is an honor to be a leader and a mentor in their lives."
And a leader she is. Bennett is one of the union representatives for the school building and is a mentor to new teachers, in addition to serving on many school committees. She also is the leader of the school's Relay For Life team, helping to raise about $5,000 each year for the local American Cancer Society.
"I lead our school's collection of can tabs for the Ronald McDonald House in Danville, which I deliver to them each summer," Bennett said. "I also like to help at after-school events that include our parents and community members, like Book Bingo and Family Fun Nights. I have participated in various school tutoring programs and I also volunteer as a judge for our school's Odyssey of the Mind team."
In her spare time, Bennett loves to visit new places. She spent the summer and Thanksgiving break working at the World of Disney Store in Downtown Disney at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. She plans to go back for the upcoming summer to work, as well.