Pam Reilly is only 5 feet tall, but she stands a little taller after she was named a finalist for the Illinois State Board of Education’s Teacher of the Year award.
The second grade teacher at Woodbury Elementary School found out she was nominated to represent Sandwich Community Unit School District 430 three weeks before the school year began. Reilly is one of 11 finalists in the state.
The state winner will be named during a banquet Oct. 19 in Normal. Reilly recently discussed her nomination with reporter Andrea Azzo.
Azzo: Who nominated you, and how did that process begin?
Reilly: In April, my principal nominated me. She asked other teachers in the district to write letters of recommendation. One teacher gets nominated per district. I had to answer questions [the board] gave me, which talked about leadership, collaboration and community involvement. I went to Springfield on Sept. 5 for an interview, where [the board] asked me a series of questions. The winner of the Illinois Teacher of the Year goes on to compete for National Teacher of the Year.
Azzo: Talk about your job. What’s an average day like?
Reilly: I’ve taught first and second grade. I love second-grade. They’re open-minded and ready to learn. I feel like I have a responsibility to these little dumplings in many ways. I have hands-on activities for my students. I want them to be in charge of their own learning. It’s important they know that they make their own choices in the classroom.
Azzo: Do you have a favorite memory from school?
Reilly: Last year, my favorite day was when I was certified to have chicks in the classroom through a DeKalb County 4-H program. We turned the eggs, watched the temperature and added moisture. On the 21st day, the eggs hatched. That day was amazing. Two chicks hatched before we got to school. [My students] were just like proud parents in amazement. It was very touching to see their little faces. One chick lay motionless for almost three hours, but it was still breathing. We were all standing around watching. Then, all of a sudden, he popped up out of nowhere. We put Lucky in with the rest of the population, and the other chicks started pecking him, so we put Lucky in a shelter for isolation. I think it helped with conversations about bullying. The kids asked why the chicks were pecking Lucky. I told them it was because he’s different; he’s smaller than everyone else.
Azzo: What’s something unique about your job?
Reilly: Last April, I almost lost my job. Even though I’m tenured, we don’t have a lot of turnover in our district. I have a lot of teachers who have seniority above me. The [district] was going to cut elementary teachers. My name was likely on the list. To save seven teachers from getting cut, the teachers froze their pay. They saved my job. I’m very grateful to them. If they didn’t do that, this nomination wouldn’t have been possible.