WESTFIELD – For St. Mary’s Parish School second grade teacher Lynn Collins, seeing a student’s face light up when they learn something is her favorite reward. However, being recognized with a Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award is pretty rewarding, too.
Collins was among the teachers who received the 2020 award and would have been honored with a celebration at the Log Cabin last week. Before COVID-19 forced school buildings to close, Collins, along with six Westfield Public Schools teachers and two Southwick -Tolland-Granville Regional Schools teachers, were surprised in their classrooms with the awards, made possible by the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation in partnership with MassMutual and the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation.
When Collins was surprised, she was standing in her classroom closet.
“One of my kids asked me for a piece of construction paper to put as a backing for the Lenten Cross they were making,” Collins recalled. “I’m now in the closet when there was a knock at the door. I poked my head out and all I see is Dr. Baillargeon walking in with balloons. I thought to myself, ‘It’s not my birthday. None of my students have a birthday today. What’s going on?’ As Dr. Baillargeon starts talking to my class about their teacher winning the Excellence in Teaching Award, I was still in the closet with a puzzled look on my face.”
Collins said it wasn’t registering.
“As Dr. Baillargeon is talking I’m noticing my family, Matt’s family, Juli, Fr. John, and other teachers walking into my room. I was shocked! I think at this point it registered with me,” she said.
A second grade bear hug followed, something Collins will remember and treasure, especially since she couldn’t hug her students before schools were closed.
Collins said she loves teaching.
“I always have,” she said. “I look forward to getting up in the morning and coming to school to see the kids. I love saying good morning to them in the morning. I love seeing their smiles. I love seeing the ‘light bulb’ shine when they ‘get it.’ I love the minute by minute, day to day interactions I have with them. This might sound funny to some, but I love the planning of my weeks with the kids and I look forward to teaching them new information.”
Since then, Collins has had to switch to online interactions, which just isn’t the same. But she has risen to the challenges of remote learning, which is one of the reasons St. Mary’s Principal Juli Jensen-Derrig nominated Collins.
“She is an innovative teacher,” she said. “Lynn is always thinking of new ways to teach that are exciting for her students and she teaches across the curriculum.”
Collins said she is inspired by her students and new teaching tools.
“When I teach, I try to bring in all sorts of tools, modes of learning, technology, faith, and real-life experiences to my lessons,” she said. “For example, when it’s math time, it isn’t simply math time. We read, write, and I even bring in music and movement to math. I try to also give them catchy poems to help them remember steps in math. I’m not a, sit in your seat, read and answer questions/math problems, kind of teacher. I like to get them up and moving around the classroom and I have the kids work together in pairs or small groups to help one another out. I love it when they ask me a question and my usual response is ,’What do you think?’ I don’t give them answers. I want them to discover their answers with my guidance if they need it.”
Collins has been in education for 23 years, teaching full time between public and private for 18 years. She has taught elementary grades 2-5 and middle school grades 6-8. For three of the 23 years, Collins stayed home with her youngest son and ran a home day care. She also was an administrator for two years.
Collins said her favorite subjects are religion and writing.
“Teaching Religion is special,” she said. “I love sitting with the kids and watching the looks on their faces as we read about Jesus and his teachings.”
Faith-based teaching is different from Collins’ public school experience and is something she enj9ys.
“I love the fact that I can teach the whole child at St. Mary’s Parish School. I love that I can bring our faith into all areas/subjects during the day,” she said. “One of my favorite parts of the day is our morning prayer time and prayer time before we eat. It allows us time to quiet our minds and talk to God. We often talk about how to pray and I always tell the kids to simply have a conversation with God with what’s on your mind.”
Collins and the rest of the Excellence Award recipients have changed how they teach since the pandemic, but continue to do the things that earned them the award in the first place.