Teacher of the year Head herethank you

May 9, 2018 GMT

STAMFORD — In Camille Spaulding’s classroom at Cloonan Middle School, you’ll find posters on segregation, apartheid and former Stamfordite Jackie Robinson (who also played some baseball.) You’ll find a map of the world and crates of books and markers.

But you won’t find a list of rules. Instead, Spaulding, who teaches seventh grade social studies, has a poster with her only classroom guideline — a policy of mutual respect.

“I start my year every year with that,” Spaulding said. “My job is to respect them first and therefore, there will be mutual respect. I’m modeling it. I’m expecting it in return. We go back to it all the time. To see them buy into it, to latch onto it, that’s really rewarding for me. I don’t believe in a whole lot of rules listed on the board. Every rule, every expectation falls under that.”

Seeing students learn the value of this is one of the reasons Spaulding, 60, has worked in education for over 30 years. It’s also one of the reasons she was named Teacher of the Year by Stamford Public Schools last week. Spaulding, along with other finalists and district award winners, will be honored at an annual celebration at UConn Stamford on Thursday.

Spaulding’s inspiration to teach came from her own school experience. Raised in inner-city Washington, D.C., Spaulding went to a high school to help students who might not otherwise go to college. There, she met her English teacher, Kristy Agneil, who changed her life.

“She really was the number one driving force behind me going to college,” Spaulding said. “I wanted to emulate everything about her. She was the first person who told me she thought I should go to college. I had not planned to go to college. She told me I was a fantastic writer and that I should pursue a college degree...With her recommendation, with her help, with her support, with her finding a college for me, helping me fill out the application...I had to be a teacher. I wanted to be like her so much.”

Spaulding became the first person in her family to go to college, getting her bachelor’s degree in education from Bowie State University and later a master’s in education from George Mason University. It was in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she kicked off her diverse career — starting with art instruction.

“I was hired at the central office level and arrived to my school to realize there wasn’t a classroom position for me,” she said. “So my principal happily offered me the job as the art teacher. It stretched me. I loved it.”

Spaulding taught third, fifth and sixth grades in Virginia before moving to Connecticut and joining Norwalk Public Schools as a reading specialist. She also taught at Toquam Magnet Elementary School and was recruited to Greenwich Academy after visiting as a parent who would send her daughters there. She worked at the private school for 14 years, seven of them teaching and the rest as assistant head of the middle school.

Spaulding stretched her educational chops further by then joining REACH Prep, a nonprofit dedicated to readying students for prep school. Spaulding served as the education director there for six years before retiring.

Well-being is first

But she wasn’t done working. Three years ago, she joined the staff at Cloonan.

“Here I am, doing exactly what I feel like I should be doing at this point in my career,” she said. “I’m very grateful for that.”

In addition to seeing students learn the value of mutual respect, Spaulding said she relishes in seeing firsthand the growth students make in the classroom.

“Everything is about data and test scores,” Spaulding said. “The reality is that children show growth everyday in little, tiny ways. For me, even if it’s being able to take feedback that they can’t take at the beginning of the year...to see them learn to trust you, that you can open the curriculum to them and be able to help them access content. Their social and emotional well-being is first and their academic learning is second.”

Spaulding helps students connect to the social studies curriculum by making it relevant to them and bringing it to a level they can understand. When teaching students about apartheid, she brought in actual apartheid laws and cases and had students role-play as different people in the legal system. When learning about Jackie Robinson, she arranged to have his daughter, Karen, come in and talk to the students.

Even with nearly four decades of teaching under her belt, Spaulding doesn’t see herself leaving teaching anytime soon. When her time at Cloonan is done, she could see herself returning to work with adults, which she did during a stint teaching night classes to ESL students.

“I love to continue to push myself, to learn, to grow,” she said. “There is no other job where you will grow and learn as much as in the classroom. It’s always been my first love. I think I’m just a teacher by nature. Not that I didn’t enjoy the other jobs...they groomed me even more to make me best at what I do best. I will, even when it’s time for me to retire from Stamford, I will never probably leave teaching. It will always be a part of me in some way.”

erin.kayata@stamfordadvocate.com; (203) 964-2265; @erin_kayata