Elder Featured in NPR’s Great Teacher Series

Lisa Elder has taught at Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center for 27 years.

Long time South Burlington resident Lisa Elder was featured in a National Public Radio (NPR) story in its “50 Great Teachers” series. The story, written by NPR journalist Elissa Nadworny, and titled, “Two Days Inside a Classroom for Young Offenders,” was heard on NPR’s most listened-to, afternoon drive-time, news radio program All Things Considered earlier this year. NPR granted The Other Paper permission to reprint Nadworny’s piece, see page 5. We connected with Elder to learn a bit more about her teaching philosophies and experiences.

Lisa Elder’s teaching portfolio contains a section with favorite quotes and phrases regarding education; words that inspire her and speak to her mission. Her favorite is by Dan Rather, “The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth’.” Rather’s words are nothing if not emblematic of Elder’s contribution to many young students in close to three decades of teaching.

A South Burlington native and resident, Elder is proud of her local roots and credits her South Burlington High School (SBHS) math teacher Gary Iverson as having a tremendous impact on her education career. Iverson, who was known as “Ivy,” was also the school’s assistant football and girl’s track coach.

Elder says of Iverson, “Between his teaching and coaching, he always made me feel special. It wasn’t just me, it was just the gift that he had. In math, he challenged me to excel and not give up. In track, although I was not a great athlete, Ivy would make a big deal of any small accomplishment whatsoever. He would give each athlete an index card with their personal records as a show of praise, knowing damn well that it would build our self-esteem as well as our motivation.”

At SBHS, Elder recalls being actively involved with projects and organizations where she worked with students with special needs as well as patients from, what was then called, the Waterbury state hospital. She adds, “With these experiences as well as tutoring others in lower grades from elementary through middle school, I was becoming more convinced that education was in my future.”

Elder graduated from Castleton State University in 1985 with a degree in education. She remembers vividly something a professor taught her, “Dr. Ronald Savage taught me something that I will never forget. He said, ‘Catch ‘em being good!’ Many kids only receive attention when they’re caught doing something wrong. It just makes so much sense to me how necessary praise and positive reinforcement is to all of us.”

20 years later, Elder received her Master’s Degree in Special Education from the University of Vermont and has been teaching at Woodside for more than 27 years.

“I’m not sure that there’s ‘one’ thing that makes teaching these kids so important to me. I just know that I feel really good when I’m with them. No one deserves to be raised in the manner that many of my students have. Unfortunately, this lack of structure, support and love are often factors in the child’s behavior. I am truly blessed that I grew up in a very supportive family and community. When you see kids who have lacked all of this, it can be overwhelming at times.”

Elder was honored to be recognized by NPR. “After teaching somewhere for 27 years that is rarely considered a “school/classroom, it felt refreshing to share what’s happening with these kids who are often “locked and forgotten”, she said.

Elder is humble about her influence, although she will admit that she knows she has made a difference in many young lives. She says, “I still maintain contact with some former students, and they are always thanking me.”

One former student said to Elder, “Thank you for believing in me when I couldn’t even believe in myself.” To Elder, that is her reward.

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