Washington Grade Center teacher Michelle Clonch added another feather to her cap last month, when she was named one of Oklahoma’s six Rising Star Educators.
Clonch, who teaches third-grade math and science at Washington, was honored during an Aug. 30 ceremony at State Fair Park in Oklahoma City. The title was the latest accolade for Ada City Schools' most recent Teacher of the Year, who was also a candidate for 2017 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year.
The Oklahoma Department of Education names six Rising Stars each year, based on portfolios reviewed by Oklahoma Teacher of the Year regional selection committees, according to the agency’s website. The title recognizes candidates whose applications demonstrate exceptional skill and potential.
Clonch learned about her latest honor from Paula Keady, executive director of academics and instruction for the Ada school district. She said Keady called her with the news one day during summer break.
“I was happy, but I was actually relieved, because I know how much work has to go into the Teacher of the Year,” Clonch said Thursday. “It was kind of like two prizes all in one.”
She said she was grateful for the honor, which has taught her to appreciate her colleagues’ hard work.
Washington Principal Pam Martin said she was thrilled to see Clonch receive statewide recognition for her work.
“Michelle is an outstanding teacher,” Martin said. “She’s an outstanding person. She’s a leader among her colleagues.”
From the Army to the classroom
Clonch graduated from Lexington High School in 2000 and joined the U.S. Army the following year. She served as an Army chaplain assistant from 2001 until 2005, which included stints in Kuwait and Iraq.
After completing her military service, Clonch attended Rose State College and earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts in 2007. She and her family later moved to Ada, where she received her bachelor’s degree in education from East Central University.
Clonch said she originally wanted to be a nurse, but she reconsidered when her advisors at ECU told her a nursing degree would require at least four more years of school. Her advisors encouraged her to think about becoming a teacher instead.
“I said, ‘Well, I’ve always considered teaching. That’s always been something that I’ve been drawn to,’” Clonch said. “And basically, that love has come from my teachers in the past.
“Those teachers were always really, really good to me, and I thought it might be fun. So that’s what led me to that.”
Clonch earned a bachelor’s degree in education from ECU in 2011 and is working towards a master’s degree in human resources administration. She taught at Madison Elementary School in Norman for one year before joining the staff at Washington Grade Center.
She taught fourth-grade reading at Washington for a year before switching to third-grade math and science.
Clonch said her life experiences, including her time in the Army, contributed to her success as a teacher. She said she has to downplay her military background in the classroom, but it comes in handy sometimes.
“A lot of the management that I would use for a squad — or for a company — would be the same that I use in here,” she said. “The management of overexplain everything so that there aren’t very many mistakes. And if you make it very simple, then there shouldn’t be mistakes. And if there are, you can focus on that person that’s making the mistake.”
Like many teachers, Clonch lives for the times when a struggling child has a breakthrough. She experienced one of those moments last week, when one of her students forgot how to regroup — taking groups of 10s when adding or subtracting two-digit numbers.
Clonch sat down with the student and explained out the process for him, and he suddenly understood.
“I’m like, ‘Fabulous! That’s all we needed,’” she said. “And so, it’s filling in those gaps that help them just love learning and continue on. To realize that yeah, there may have been an obstacle. But if I keep working at it, I can get over it.”