Elementary Teacher of the Year Tamara Hayes models compassion through understanding

Friday, May 18, 2018

Tamara Hayes models good listening skills

Text and photos by Luanne Brown

Teacher Tamara Hayes is the calm in the storm. Her Cascade K-8 Community School classroom is filled with 27 active and engaged 2nd and 3rd graders, each bursting with a story that must be told, or a question that must be answered — now!

In confronting an enthusiastic wall of wildly waving raised hands, Hayes deploys her secret weapon— kindness. Each child gets addressed by name. No child goes unnoticed. Whether she’s instructing students about the difference between acids and bases on the pH scale or setting expectations for mutual respect while someone else is talking, Hayes is in control.

Hayes conducts her classroom like a skilled Maestra conducts a rambunctious orchestra. 
With her right hand, she points to a slide projected on the white board at the front of the room. Most eyes follow. Hayes uses her left hand to motion toward a student who has just jumped to his feet and asks him to sit down.

Tamara talks pH

She engages the class with thoughtful observations about the subject she is teaching, and she truly wants to hear their thoughts, framing her questions with statements that invite participation, such as, “I’m curious about what you learned...”

When chaos erupts, as it’s bound to with this age group, it doesn’t last long. “Give me 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.” Hayes counts down, using her fingers, and as she counts, the decibel level drops from play-yard loud to pin-drop quiet.

It’s no surprise that this well-loved teacher is the winner of this year’s Shoreline School District award for Elementary Educator of the Year. Her gentleness and the fact that she ‘doesn’t yell’ (as one student confides) makes her a winner with everyone at school.

Sam Kuo, 12, and a 6th grader at Cascade, recalls, “She always cared about what I was saying — even if it was about rocks.” 
His sister, Evelyn “Evie” Kuo, age 7, who is currently in Haye’s class, said. “Tamara is amazing. Especially after she’s had her coffee! She's so encouraging, like when I got behind in writing. She didn't make me feel bad and she made it fun to get caught up.”

Some people are born knowing what they want to do. That is the case for Hayes, who is a graduate of Shorecrest High School. “Ever since I was a little kid, I knew in my heart I was going to be a teacher. I love being in the classroom, being with kids, and learning myself.” Hayes attended the University of Washington and went on to get her teaching certificate at UW Bothell. She has been teaching for 10 years.

Teacher Tamara holds the attention of her students

“The job never gets boring. It’s fun,” Hayes said. 
“The kids make me laugh. I really love connecting with them and building a strong classroom community where kids have a sense of belonging. 
"Kids need that as they go throughout their day. They should also have choice in some of the things they do and experience joy, along with the feeling of success.”

Hayes said her philosophy of teaching is based on the belief that understanding leads to compassion. “It’s important that I try to understand a student’s ‘whole picture’. Understanding where they’re coming from helps me figure out how I can best help them.”

She cites the powerful example of a visually impaired student who, one year, gave a report about visual impairment. 
“Students had the chance to actually see how the world looked to someone who was visually impaired. That was a powerful lesson in compassion for the kids as well as for her and helped them all understand what kind of challenges the visually impaired student faced every day.

Hayes is very honored to have won the district award. “It was a total surprise to me.” She feels fortunate to be able to work not only with her students, but with colleagues, parents, and other educators.

In addition to her classroom teaching, Hayes loves to volunteer. She has served on several district-wide and Cascade-specific committees and is the bargainer for the Shoreline Education Association.

“I admire Tamara for the balance that she brings to everything that she does. From teaching, her active role in the teacher's union, mentorship, and leadership, Tamara maintains a calm and thoughtful demeanor, and is a role model to everyone she works with,” said Principal Francescutti.

When Hayes is not in the classroom or doing her volunteer activities, she plays on a softball team called the Sluggernaughts. She also loves skiing and used to be a ski instructor at Alpental.


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