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Top Teacher in Virginia Explains Why She Teaches

Teachers such as Carol Bauer say they get joy from seeing their students get excited about learning. (York County Schools)
Teachers such as Carol Bauer say they get joy from seeing their students get excited about learning. (York County Schools)
May 4, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. - For the best teachers, learning is an infectious joy. Ask award-winning teacher Carol Bauer how she inspires her fourth-grade class at Grafton Bethel Elementary School in York County, and she'll talk about what "we" do, not about what "I" do.

"Good teachers care," Bauer has said, and in her case that means getting excited when her students do -- such as when they were performing a skit about Virginia history the other day.

"They were just delighted that they could be Cornwallis and George Washington," she said. "The joy truly is in the students themselves, that they get so excited when they've learned something and they've made a connection."

Bauer, this year's winner of the Virginia Education Association's Award for Teaching Excellence, said over-testing can be deadening, and it's hard for children to get excited about getting ready for a test instead of a good book or a science experiment. By comparison, Bauer has won praise for using something started at Google and 3M. In her class, the Genius Hour means letting the students pursue research projects on topics they pick. Bauer said her students often dig into things she wants to teach anyway, and end up "learning so much more than they thought they would." She said it's awesome and infectious.

"We've had a kind of big rush on space lately," she said. "We had one student who made a model of the International Space Station. Well, that got someone else asking, 'Can germs live in space?' Then that got people talking about, 'How do you clean the space station?' "

In the past 20 years, Bauer said, she's heard a lot of the same knock-knock jokes - over and over and over. However, she said, she also gets the chance to help her students walk in someone else's shoes for a little while. The right books - even controversial ones - can be a safe way to open a scary conversation, she said.

Bauer said she wants people to know that pretty much everyone in the schools is on the side of the students, and wants them to grow and do well.

"Everyone wants their child to be successful and have all the opportunities to be successful," she said. "How wonderful it would be if every child had all the same opportunities."

National Teacher Appreciation Week runs through Friday. More on the observance is online at

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA