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Johnson calls Wyatt’s approach tough love. “She’s highly organized, highly productive when I was working there, and runs a tight classroom. The kids know what to expect from her,” the superintendent said. “They reward her for that.”
Wyatt caught the teaching bug early, when she first entered a classroom at Public School 241 in Brooklyn at age 6. “My very first teacher got me hooked,” she said. “She just seemed like she could open up the world to you. She was excited, and we were excited.”
Growing up with cousins in Petersburg, Va., “I was always the teacher type — telling people what to do.”
Wyatt used to routinely show up for work at 5:30 a.m., two hours before school starts, to prepare for the day without interruptions and use the copier without standing in a line. She’s cut back somewhat on that this year, in part to keep her pledge to take better care of herself, especially since she balances teaching with a 30-hour-a-week job as an associate minister for a St. Paul Baptist church.
Her ministry includes leading aerobics at the church four days a week, something that relieves the stress that builds up during her day. She has also run a marathon. There’s crossover between teaching and ministry, she said — both involve trying to excite and motivate a group.
The art of teaching
Wyatt isn’t the only high-seniority teacher at Hall. Terry Abel has been teaching in high-poverty North Side schools all through her 20-year career and is one of Hall’s three kindergarten teachers. They’re often joined by retired teachers hired to come back to work with reading groups.
“There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a student who has everything going against them make progress,” said one of the retirees, Julie Munson. They think experience helps Hall.
“I feel I’m getting better as I get older,” Abel said. Their work has helped to push Hall to near the top of district schools for gains in literacy skills during kindergarten.
Hall can also prove a crucible for future teachers. College student Starsha Vang is finishing a student teaching stint with Wyatt. “Being here is definitely a challenge most days. … But she always tells me that if I can teach here, I can teach anywhere.”
Part of what motivates Wyatt is knowing that she has the opportunity to divert kids distracted by many outside influences, kids who might otherwise be headed toward the violence of the streets, to careers as doctors or lawyers. Young said teachers like Wyatt know the art of teaching as well as the science — not only knowing strategies but when to use them.
Part of that art is having a big heart.
“I’m proud to say I work in a building where everyone who works here is here for the betterment of the students,” Wyatt said.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438