Some students find English a challenging subject. However, in Sue Jones’ class at Oak Canyon Junior High School in Alpine, Utah, English is fun; it’s more about student interaction, teamwork and what Jones calls “bench talks.” She tailors her teaching style to each student’s style of learning; no one “slips through the cracks” in her class.
Jones is a recipient of the 2011 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Education, presented each year by KUED and the Utah PTA. The Salt Lake Tribune is a new partner this year. Footage of Jones in the classroom, airs on KUED- Channel 7 as part of the Golden Apple Awards, an hour-long portrait of the six winning teachers and two volunteers.
Jones cares about her students, and it shows. On any given morning, her classroom is filled with students looking for homework help, which she generously provides.
“Every student has a story. Once you know their story you can go from there,” says Jones, who takes the time to get to know each student. She attends school plays, music concerts and sports games. After attending an event, she writes a note to the student commending them on their work.
“They may forget a lot of what they learn, but I don’t ever want them to forget how they felt,” says Jones.
Students respond to Jones’ teaching style in positive ways. “Mrs. Jones makes learning fun…I now enjoy English just because of her,” says a former student.
When problems arise in the classroom, Jones has what she calls a “bench talk.” On a bench outside the classroom, Jones asks, “What can I do to help?” “Do you think you can do this yourself?” “Let’s set a date for improvement.” Jones has learned through her 16 years at Oak Canyon that giving students the chance to examine the problem, take responsibility and help determine a correction plan will result in a feeling of accomplishment that lasts long after they leave her classroom.
Parents are appreciative of what Jones does for their children. She is known for her prompt email replies, and will send an email to a parent whose child is “caught doing something noteworthy."
“She has been our angel this year… She takes the time to recognize the very core of who her students are. In an email she sent to me this year she described my child’s strengths, one by one, as if she had known him all his life. Tears came to my eyes as I realized how lucky my son was to have a teacher who understands him so fully and was so willing to help him succeed,” says a parent of an Oak Canyon student.
Another parent says, “Our daughter was transferred to Oak Canyon and was put into Mrs. Jones’ class. She had struggled academically at her previous school and we, as her parents, knew the drill at parent-teacher conferences. We walked into Mrs. Jones’ class ready to shake our heads and hear the same things we had become accustomed to. Mrs. Jones looked at my husband and I and said, ‘Thank you for transferring Emma to Oak Canyon. She is a breath of fresh air. She is smart and knows what she is doing. We need to help her focus, but she is a light in our class!’ It was the first parent-teacher conference we didn’t leave arguing and feeling like we were failing as parents. From this experience we began looking at Emma in a whole new light. We saw in her the potential that Mrs. Jones communicated to us and knew that we could do it as parents. She followed up with encouraging notes and feedback, allowing Emma to believe in herself.”
Jones is also active in school and community service. She spent a decade as the Student Council advisor. She created the P.U.S.H. program (Preserving Utah’s Science and History) at Oak Canyon. This makes “the community the classroom,” implementing things learned at school, such as recycling, into the community..
“I want to teach the students that they have the power to shape their communities and make a substantial difference in the world…I love my students,” says Jones.
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