'The little ones' drew woman into teaching

February 04, 2002

'The little ones' drew woman into teaching

Editor's note: The Herald-Mail is featuring one elementary school teacher each month through June. The nine-part series highlights excellent educators on the first Monday of each month. Coming in March: Hancock Elementary School.


The last thing Rebecca Collinson wanted to be was a teacher.

"I hated school as a kid," she said. "In elementary school, I cried. I couldn't wait to get out of school."

But she said an experience after she began taking art classes at the former Hagerstown Junior College, now Hagerstown Community College, changed her mind.

Collinson decided to develop learning materials for an art project and then test them out with an elementary class taught by her mother.


"I went in to try out the materials, and I enjoyed working with the kids," Collinson said. "It wasn't something I grew up wanting to be."

The experience inspired her to move on to Hood College in Frederick, Md., for a degree in education. She received certification as an early childhood teacher and is qualified to teach pre-kindergarten through third grade, she said.

After 20 years as an educator and currently working as a reading improvement teacher at Funkstown Elementary School, Collinson said she's pleased she chose the job she did.

"I like the little ones the best," she said. "They just get so excited when they learn something new and when they find out they can do something. They're just so fresh and young."

As a reading improvement teacher, Collinson, 48, has many roles. She acts as a resource for teachers by offering strategies, staff development and planning writers' workshops.

She also serves as Funkstown's Reading Recovery teacher, in which she works one-on-one with four first-grade students a day for 30 minutes each.

The program for each qualifying student lasts about 15 to 20 weeks, and the goal is to get each student reading on their grade level.

"The program is designed for them to feel successful, so they feel really good about themselves when they leave," she said.

Collinson said an important part of a child's success is to constantly keep the youngster busy during each session and to keep the lessons individualized. The students read books they're already familiar with, using them as tools for writing letters and forming words.

"They like it. It's pretty fast-paced. They get to read a lot of books," Collinson said. "But it's not always one thing that works with all kids. You have to keep working until you find that one thing that will turn that around."

Another key to success is to provide encouragement for children who may not get the same support at home, she said.

"Sometimes we can't always change everything that's affecting a child, but we have to give the students encouragement and keep trying," she said.

Funkstown Principal Patricia Leonard said Collinson's dedication to her job is an asset to the school.

"She's an important part of our staff," Leonard said. "She does great work."

Collinson, a Hagerstown native, graduated from South Hagerstown High School. She has worked at several of the county's elementary schools and started out teaching kindergarten at Cascade Elementary School.

She then moved on to teach third grade at Bester Elementary School and then Potomac Heights Elementary School, and eventually went back to teaching kindergarten at Salem Avenue Elementary School before transferring to Funkstown.

Collinson also teaches classes at Frostburg State University and has taught at Hagerstown Community College.

She has two grown children and lives in Washington County. She said she plans to teach at least another 10 years before she considers retiring.

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