Class Acts: A Q&A with Maureen Lucas

Kim Weisser nominated Maureen Lucas for Class Acts. Weisser said Lucas is a neighbor and that every time she sees Lucas it is quite evident that she loves teaching. Lucas is always very positive about her students' accomplishments, Weisser added.

• Name: Maureen Lucas

• Age: 49

• City of residence: Modesto

• Occupation: Second-grade teacher, Salida Elementary School

• Family: Husband, Thomas; children, Patrick, 24, and Gabriele, 21

• Educational background: Bachelor's degree in social sciences, multiple subject teaching credential from Chapman University; pursuing a master's degree in school administration at California State University, Stanislaus

• Teaching experience: This is my 14th year of teaching second grade in the Salida Union School District. I also taught a first and second combination for one year.

Why did you get into teaching? Often I ask children, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" When I was a child, the answer for me was always, "I want to be a teacher!" Before I finished college, I had other careers, but the dream of teaching was always in my heart.

What is your favorite thing about being a teacher? There is nothing so wonderful as a visit or a letter from a former student. Somewhere in the valley there is a high school English teacher who encourages students to write letters to former teachers. I love that teacher. The letters I have received from former students have moved me deeply.

What is the most challenging part of your job? Time. There is so much work to do to reach the children entrusted to me and to provide them with a high-quality educational experience. Each individual student looks to his or her teachers to guide, educate and support him or her. Each parent wants the best for the most important student in the school, her or his child. The demand can be overwhelming but the challenge is the core of my work.

What is the most important lesson you've learned? I am only as strong as the community in which I work. Salida Elementary School and the Salida Union School District are a community of students, families and educators. I turn, on a daily basis, to my colleagues for support and advice. I turn to parents to help me understand their children and to bring out the best in them.

What is your favorite teaching tool or activity? I have to play. Any student who has passed through my classroom knows Leo, my puppet and friend. Leo turns skeptics into believers and can bring a smile to a sad face. Leo challenges students to do their best and comforts them when times get tough.

What's next in your classroom? Book Character Day is coming next month. Each fall, Salida Elementary has a celebration of literature by dressing up as our favorite book characters. Over the years, I have been Professors McGonagall and Trelawny, Mary Poppins, the Cat in the Hat and other famous characters.

What advice do you have for students? Challenge yourself and take risks in the classroom and in your studies. Mistakes and failures are necessary parts of the learning experience.

What advice do you have for parents? Support your children, be there when they fall, but as much as possible, let them pick themselves up again. Hold your children accountable for their actions and encourage them to be their own problem solvers.

What will it take to improve academic success in the valley? I think that schools are on the right track in building Professional Learning Communities. I have met so many teachers from around the county who are working together with other educators to build on their teaching skills and to provide the best for students. I am a firm believer in teamwork and the talent and skill is out there in our teachers, principals and school staff.

How do you reach students not interested in school? Each child has strengths and talents. Sometimes they don't see those strengths in themselves. It is my job to find the spark of interest in each child and to build on that interest.

What one area should schools put more emphasis on? Music and fine arts.

If you could change one thing about the current educational system, what would it be and why? We have lost way too many exciting and dynamic teachers to budget cuts and the increase of class sizes. I feel such pain for well-trained, enthusiastic young teachers who have been laid off or who are graduating from credential programs with such little prospects of fulfilling their own life dreams.

What would surprise people about your job? I love to go to work on my birthday. There is nothing in the world like hearing, "Happy Birthday, Mrs. Lucas" or "How old are you, Mrs. Lucas?" When a little girl digs through her backpack and presents me with a princess sticker, or a little boy puts an apple in his pocket to bring to me, I can think of no more meaningful gifts.

What are your future plans? I love my work. Some day I would like to be a teacher of teachers. I plan to continue my education and see where the road takes me.