Relationship building at heart of teaching
An elementary school passion for a piece of classic schoolroom equipment propelled a Molalla teacher into a career she loves.
For Andrea Isfeld, a fifth-grade teacher in Molalla Elementary School, getting a chance to work the classroom overhead would prove to be a precursor to a fulfilling career in education, and to being named this year’s Pamplin Media Group Amazing Educator for the Molalla area.
“I always tell people that one of my favorite things was in third grade; all I wanted to do was to write on that overhead,” Isfeld said. “I took every opportunity to write on that overhead and be part of things, teaching things. It kind of started from there.”
It wouldn’t be long before Isfeld graduated from overlays and grease pencils to pursue what would become her professional passion. And even as she graduated from Oregon City High School and later, Western Oregon University with a teaching license, helping people learn and improve was a motivating force.
“I really kind of zoned in on helping others, whether adults or kids,” she said. “I originally wanted to be a lawyer, but the passion of teaching and seeing that look on kids’ faces when they finally understand something just lights up my life.”
Isfeld earned her master’s degree online from Walden University, then taught third grade for about eight years before deciding she’d like a little variety in her career. So, she moved up to fifth grade and has found it filled with successes and challenges of many different kinds.
“I feel like these kids are exposed to more things, like real-world things, that I can teach to,” she explained. “I can do a lot more real-world teaching with fifth-graders. I also feel, at this grade, I’m able to build some real strong relationships. I’ve got some students I’ve gotten real close to. They refer to me as ‘school mom.’”
A visit to Isfeld’s classroom offers a look into a high-energy educational environment, with Isfeld using humor and openness to create trust and avenues of learning for kids from different situations outside the classroom.
“I’m an open book with these kids. They know everything about me, and I think that builds trust, and I think with that, they are more willing to learn and have the vulnerability to ask questions when they don’t understand something.
“I’m funny, I’m loud, I’m just a real person,” she added. “At this age, I think they cling to that, and it allows me to build respect with them, and they then respect me, also.”
Isfeld will use all sorts of avenues to reach her students, including hands-on projects, songs, and other things today’s fifth-graders may be interested in – Pokemon or videos – that will engage them.
And through every lens she uses, Isfeld looks for those magic moments when the light goes on for a struggling student.
“The way I am as a person, they feed off that,” Isfeld said. “The ‘Ah ha’ moment for a student is why I teach. It’s kind of my motivator.”
And while the “light bulb” moments are satisfying, Isfeld makes it clear there are more than enough challenges in the classroom to keep a teacher busy.
“Those come down to the expectations for me in what the content is I’m supposed to teach, and the time I have to do it,” she explained. “Sometimes, these kids come in not ready to learn, and I have to kind of take time to help build them back up, so they become ready. A lot of out-of-school stuff plays a factor in what we are trying to accomplish. I try to help them to separate those things from school so they can focus on this. A lot of it comes down to time and the vulnerability of the kids.”
Looking ahead, Isfeld doesn’t see herself in the classroom for her entire career. Instead, she has the desire to become a principal and set her stamp and vibe on a school. She said that when her children get a little older, that’s where her path will lie.
“I feel I’m a really good leader,” she said. “I just like to lead, guide and listen and fill with my ability to build relationships. I could do that with families.”
When not at school, she enjoys performing with the adult dance company, WishHeart Dance Company, and hanging out with her husband and children.