The day after winning Columbia County's Teacher of the Year award, Bel Air Elementary School teacher Michele Rigsby led her fourth-grade pupils through an exercise to solicit orangutan baby sitters.
Her class recently completed the nonfiction book How to Babysit an Orangutan , about a group that cares for the apes in Borneo before releasing them into a rain forest.
To test the pupils' retention, Rigsby challenged them Friday to create a poster seeking baby sitters for the primates. Each poster had to contain five adjectives, a list of orangutan needs recounted in the book and, to stretch their creativity, each poster had to come with a colorful, eye-catching design.
"They're taking a test without realizing that they're taking a test," Rigsby said of the exercise. "This is testing what they learned in a way that is relaxing and fun. That's what they need."
Rigsby is in her eighth year as an elementary school educator. She started her career in Greenville, S.C., after her graduation from Furman University, before returning home to Columbia County five years ago.
While seeking her education specialist degree from Augusta State University, the Lakeside High School graduate hit on a teaching philosophy she quickly adopted -- relevance, rigor and relationships.
Rigsby said she seeks ways to make schoolwork relevant, such as creating want ads for orangutan baby sitters. She believes it is important that a lesson contain a practical application in the lives of her pupils.
Rigsby's rigor often translates into extended hours providing one-on-one instruction with struggling pupils.
As part of an inclusion program, Rigsby's class includes three pupils with learning disabilities and two with autism. To help with those pupils, Bel Air Elementary special needs teacher Nancy Hollinger often works with Rigsby.
"One of our LD (learning disability) students was having a hard time with vocabulary last week," Hollinger said.
"Mrs. Rigsby sat with him at the end of the day for 45 minutes drawing out the words. By the time he left, he had a better than fair chance to pass the test the next day. Not many other teachers would do that."
The most important aspect of her teaching philosophy, Rigsby said, is developing relationships with her pupils.
"That's probably what I enjoy most; getting to know them. I want them to trust me and respect me like I respect them," she said.
A three-person panel of noncounty educators chose Rigsby as the Teacher of the Year. Next, she'll undergo another application and interview process with three judges to compete for the state Teacher of the Year honor.
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