Winland retires after 32 years of innovation in the classroom

Patti Carpenter

Teri Winland is a “Wyoming girl” at heart, and she brought that pride and enthusiasm for her Wyoming upbringing to her classroom during her 32 years of teaching at Lovell Elementary School.

Winland grew up in Lovell, graduated from Lovell High School and did her student teaching at Lovell Elementary School. She spent her entire career at LES, mostly in the fourth-grade classroom, where she taught for 31 of her 32 years of teaching at the school.

“Education has been a dream job for me,” said Winland. “I love the kids, and I love working with them. They are dynamic and fun. They’ve taught me a lot about myself.”

Known for her innovative ways to inspire her students, Winland was named Teacher of the Year by the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) for the school year 2012-13. She was nominated for the distinguished honor by her peers at LES and by the school’s administrators at the time.

Being named Wyoming Teacher of the Year is one of the highest honors a teacher can receive in the state. In this role, Winland represented not only her district but the entire teaching profession in Wyoming. According to the guidelines set forth by the WDE, the teacher must inspire students of all backgrounds and abilities to learn. She must have the respect and admiration of students, parents and colleagues. She must play an active and useful role in the community, as well as in the school. She is expected to be poised and articulate, have the energy to withstand a busy schedule and to demonstrate high levels of academic achievement for her students. She met all of these goals.

“Teri has the best sense of humor and has a way of bringing joy and lowering the stress of others without even knowing the effect she has,” said school board member Danny Jolley at a recent school event. “Teri has worn many hats during her tenure, including teacher, mentor, building leader and friend. Teri has taught many valuable skills to her students over the years, more than just academics. Teri’s students knew she cared about them. She taught them life lessons and formed strong bonds with them.”

Winland taught Title 1 math in her first year of teaching at LES and then taught fourth grade for the rest of her career. She said she loved teaching fourth grade so much that she would have quit if any of her superiors tried to move her to a different classroom.

Ironically, she struggled with math as a child but overcame those struggles by teaching herself tricks or “cheats” as she calls them that made it easier. She said her own struggles helped her feel empathy toward students who struggled in her classroom and to make extra efforts to help students build the confidence they needed to succeed.

“Our programs (at the elementary school) are second to none, but there are always students who need that little bit of extra help,” explained Winland. “That’s why I enjoyed teaching Title 1 so much. I just loved it because I worked with each student one-on-one. It was fun seeing the light bulb go on with those little ones.”

Winland was well-known for her knowledge of Wyoming history and her ability to bring local history to life in her classroom. She was not only well versed in the history but knew how to get her students excited about it, especially little boys.

“Little boys hate writing -- and some little girls, too,” she explained. “So to get them talking and writing about trappers and cowboys and Indian wars was a way to get them excited about the subject.”

To that end, Winland said she would include local family names in her history discussions that students would recognize and point out historical landmarks and homesteads in and around town whenever possible to pique her students’ interest in the topic.

“Teri loves teaching Wyoming history, especially the history of our area, Caroline Lockhart being one of her favorites,” Jolley said. “She was even known to lead a rain dance while studying the tepee rings.”

Jolley pointed out that Winland was instrumental in painting a mural on the LES gym wall that has serves as a backdrop for the school’s annual Wyoming History play.

“The mural will leave a reminder of the great things Teri has done for Lovell Elementary School,” Jolley said.

Though innovative in how she taught, Winland was a firm believer in covering the “basics” and said she always considered reading and math to be the “guts of education.”

“I always tell my kids, are you going to build your education with sticks or bricks?” she explained. “If you’re going to build with bricks you have to have a good foundation. Elementary school is where you get that foundation. We teach them how to read. We teach them how to write and about numbers and all that foundation work. The other grades build on that.”

Winland said she was an inquisitive child herself, so she was never put off by the fact that some students questioned why they were expected to learn certain things. As far as Winland was concerned there is no such thing as a dumb question. She is a strong believer that it’s a teacher’s job to both ask and answer questions.

“It’s always been important to me to make it fun,” Winland explained. “Maybe it’s because I was always one of those kids in class who wanted to know why I had to know this. So, I always made sure that my students knew why it was important to learn what I was teaching. I tried to make it real for them.”

Winland used real life examples like building a house or balancing a checkbook to help students understand the importance of the basics like math and reading.

“If you’re excited about something, they get excited, too,” Winland explained. “If you love it, they want to love it, too.”

In addition to teaching, Winland was often called upon to serve on leadership teams and to mentor others. She said she enjoyed this part of her job and will miss the relationships formed with her colleagues.

Winland said she’s retiring a little sooner than expected, and she’ll miss the kids for sure, but she’s been offered what she referred to as “the job opportunity of a lifetime” -- the job of grandmother.

“I have that opportunity, and I’m able to take it,” she said. “So, for now, I’m going to put education on hold and be a grandma.”

There’s no question that she will be missed by students as well as her peers.

“Big Horn County School District No. 2 has been lucky to have someone of Teri’s caliber in the district for the past 32 years,” said Jolley. “She will be missed.”