Shannon Philpott-Sanders

Writing, Reflecting, Teaching, Parenting

Collinsville teacher charts growth in new learners

mcfallPublished Online in the Suburban Journals/Collinsville Herald: 8/18/09
Published in the Print Edition: 8/23/09

Decorated with bright yellow borders and character cut-outs, Doris McFall’s classroom at Jefferson Elementary School in Collinsville has all the essentials of a typical kindergarten space, complete with crayons, markers and fairy tale books. But it’s also filled with something more difficult to pin down, McFall said.

“I tell my kids I love them and I mean it,” McFall said as she prepared her room for her new batch of 24 students before the start of school last week. “No matter how old they are, you treat the kids the way you want to be treated.”

A caring environment is what McFall, 55, has looked to offer students in the Collinsville School District for more than 31 years. It’s made a difference on hundreds of children, said Dave Stroot, the school’s principal.

“She’s always touching the lives of our students,” he said.

McFall, of Collinsville, said it comes down to teaching discipline through love. Her teaching career began as a child in Effingham, where she would instruct the neighborhood kids. “I was always the teacher,” McFall said with a gleam in her eye. “I had the desk, so I got to be the teacher.”

In seventh grade, her family relocated to Collinsville, yet her teaching career continued. After graduating from Collinsville High School in 1972, McFall married her high school sweetheart, Jim, and obtained a teaching degree from McKendree College and later a master’s degree from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

The couple settled in Collinsville, had a daughter, Lisa, and continued to stay active in the community. “We’re Kahoks through and through,” McFall said.

McFall also devoted her career to Collinsville public schools, teaching third grade at Webster Elementary, second grade at Krietner, kindergarten at Twin Echo, and for the past 13 years, kindergarten at Jefferson Elementary.

McFall said that teaching at a small school has its advantages. “There’s not a child here that I don’t know,” McFall said. “I like the closeness with the kids, faculty, staff and also the parents.”

Getting excited about learning

There are also some disadvantages, like when students enter the classroom with a range of abilities, she said. While one child may not know his alphabet yet, another may already know how to read fluently. “It’s challenging to meet the needs of all of them,” McFall said. “You have to make sure that you are not leaving anyone behind and still challenging others.”

But as the school year pushes forward, she said, the students steadily evolve.

“You see them applying all of the things we are learning and they evolve into independent thinkers and learners,” she said. “There’s a lot of growth.”

The eyes of a kindergarten child are genuine, McFall said. “They are so genuine and you can see that light bulb first-hand,” McFall said. “At this age, they get excited about learning.”

The eyes also indicate frustrations or problems. McFall, an active member of First Baptist Church in Collinsville, said that she is a strong believer in prayer. “If I’m worried about a kid, I’ll sit in his or her desk and pray after school.”

Stroot, the school principal, described McFall as a “devout woman of faith with a tremendous amount of energy.” Her energy is contagious, Stroot said.

“I want them to feel safe,” McFall said. “I want them to not be afraid of taking a risk and know that what they have to say is valid and important to me.”

Her personal touch in the classroom also led McFall’s daughter, Lisa Calvert, to teaching. Calvert, a kindergarten teacher at Summit Elementary School in Collinsville, said that her mother’s example impacted her decision to teach. “She paved the way for me; she has helped and supported me with not only resources but with her knowledge,” Calvert said. “If I could be half the teacher she is by the end of my career, I would be completely satisfied. She puts her students first and her love of teaching shows.”

McFall also has plenty of love to go around as seen by the twinkle in her eyes when she talks about her grandchildren, Cade, 8, Conner, 5, and Cailey, 3. “I love every single thing about being a grandma,” McFall said. “I enjoy the love that is in their eyes.”

According to Calvert, “She’s grandma at home and she’s grandma at school – she loves this phase of life.”

McFall said that she will continue taking on the role of grandma in the classroom as long as she “can keep up with the kids,” because her love for the job and the students is still as strong as ever.

“Looking back,” she said, “I want them to remember that Mrs. McFall was a teacher that loved me.”

– Shannon Philpott


August 18, 2009 - Posted by | Feature Stories, Newspaper Writing, Sample Work | , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Sounds like Mrs. McFall really enjoys her job. How refreshing to read about someone who cares about the children being shaped for the future.

    Comment by Anonymous | August 20, 2009 | Reply

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