ODU Graduate Monica Chattin Holland Honored as New Teacher of the Year
By Tia Freeman
Old Dominion graduate Monica Chattin Holland is the first recipient of the New Teacher of the Year Award, presented by the Virginia Federation of the Council for Exceptional Children (VA CEC) to extraordinary first-year teachers.
People who know Holland are not surprised that this Chesapeake Public Schools employee, who teaches first grade at Cedar Road Elementary School, would garner such an award. She has a natural ability to connect with her students, just one of many traits that make her an exceptional educator.
"She is one of those teachers who has that special something - an oversized heart that cares immensely about the success of each and every one of her students. She works diligently to address their diverse learning needs, and has such a positive outlook coupled with strong determination, so failure is never an option," said ODU senior lecturer of teaching and learning Jody Sommerfeldt, one of Holland's former professors.
Holland, who received the award last year at the VA CEC fall conference in Virginia Beach, gives much of the credit for her selection as New Teacher of the Year to her former ODU professors, her students, school administrators, parents and fellow teachers.
"I couldn't have done it without their help," says Holland. "The first year is a little challenging for most new teachers, but mine was a rewarding and fun experience, thanks to those around me. I received wonderful support."
In fact, many years ago it was a parent who suggested that Holland, who from kindergarten on attended Chesapeake Public Schools, become a teacher. While coaching young kids in swimming in the Western Branch section of the city, a parent saw her interacting with the young swimmers, and told her she was a natural instructor. She encouraged Holland to consider teaching as a career.
After obtaining an associate degree from Tidewater Community College, Holland enrolled at ODU. She earned a B.S. in interdisciplinary studies and elementary education in 2010 and an M.S. in elementary education the following year, and then chose to return to Chesapeake Public Schools as a teacher because of the school system's collaborative atmosphere.
With her contagious and welcoming smile, it is easy to see why Holland's students love her. When she speaks, you can hear her excitement for teaching and the joy she feels when she reviews student progress throughout the year.
This school year, she is excited about incorporating a surfer-themed reward system in her class.
After her husband presented her with a pink surfboard, she saw an opportunity to bring the enjoyment of her new hobby to her students through a surfing chart. Students in her class move up or down the chart each day, with the goal of reaching the top spot - "Catching the Monster Wave" - and avoiding lower spots, such as "Rescue Me." The children start the day at "Surf's Up," with each child determining his or her location on the chart based on their actions throughout the day.
"I consistently use positive reinforcement," says Holland.
It is clear that her enduring positive attitude and enthusiasm for the job contributed significantly to her being named New Teacher of the Year. Her motto is "A day without laughter is a day wasted," and each day she strives to make teaching as fun as possible.
"I want my students to look forward to coming to class, so I make it a positive experience from the beginning. I greet them at the door each morning with a smile and focus on routine, so they know what to expect. I am fortunate that I get to do what I love every day in a place I love. All of the preparation was worth it."
"Though Monica is a general education teacher, she teaches all students (at-risk, special education, general education) in her classroom, so that they are able to meet their own potential," said Hope Jordan, board member and vice president of VA CEC.
When asked, Holland doesn't hesitate to encourage other first-year teachers to rely on advice from veteran teachers. "It saves time because they have already faced the issues and found solutions," said Holland. "One day, I emailed a former ODU professor, and her suggestions helped me in class the next day."
In addition to her time in the classroom, Holland mentors students through Girls on the Run, an after-school program that teaches girls in grades 3-5 how to deal with peer pressure. "I love children and I love spending time with them, even out of the classroom," Holland says.
The Virginia Federation of the Council for Exceptional Children has been active since 1958. The organization continues the Council for Exceptional Children's (CEC) mission of excellence by adding local resources for teachers, administrators, parents and other special education professionals. The CEC is the leading voice for special and gifted education. Through the vision and dedication of more than 30,000 members, CEC sets the standard for high-quality education for children and youth with exceptionalities.