May 15, 2013



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Zebra Staff Note:
The Teacher Feature highlights the positive impact or innovative work of a South Dakota teacher each month. If you have a suggestion for a Teacher Feature, contact Laura Haatvedt at (605) 773-2593 or

Mitchell teacher sees relationships as key to success with students

Veteran educator Tammy Fuerst has spent all of her 24 years teaching in the same place she attended elementary school as a child. The Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary teacher even remembers feeling a pull to the profession during her time as a student in Mitchell.

“I always loved school,” Fuerst said. “So I thought, ‘If I love school, why not be a teacher so I can go to school every day of my life?’”

Fuerst is a looping teacher. She gets new students as first graders and stays with them until the end of their second grade year. One of her biggest challenges, particularly as the state is implementing new math and ELA standards, is learning the standards and curriculum at both levels, as opposed to just one grade level.

“I find that when planning my instruction, I have to look both ahead and behind at the same time,” Fuerst said.

Fuerst sees definite advantages to having her students for two years though, and she is quick to point those out. The number-one benefit – which in itself outweighs all the challenges – is relationships.

“I love saying to the kids at the end of first grade, ‘See you in second grade.’ I also form great relationships with the parents. I really get to know both the students and their parents, and they get to know me. They know what my expectations are. They know how I communicate and what to look for in my newsletter or during the summer, and that enables us to just hit the ground running at the beginning of that second grade year. There’s less review time. If kids know you care, they give more. Those relationships have the biggest impact on learning.”

Because she has the students for both first and second grades, she is constantly looking at the data on how they’re doing – and to gauge how she’s doing or see if there’s anything she might need to adjust.

“I love watching kids learn how to read and then fall in love with reading,” Fuerst said. “And I know that when I send my kids off to third grade, their foundations have to be solid in order for them to be successful.”