When looking back on one’s high school educational experience, typically one or two staff members stand out as making a lasting impact on an individual. Maybe they are a coach, or a math teacher, or maybe a custodian. Hanover County named Atlee IB English teacher Kelly Pace the 2016 Teacher of the Year for her ability to make a difference in her students’ lives.
To be considered for the title of Teacher of the Year, teachers must submit an application to the School Board, interview with a panel at the School Board and give a five to seven minute presentation on an education issue. Pace received notice that she had been named the Hanover County Teacher of the Year during a staged staff meeting.
“I thought I was going to a meeting for SOL testing,” Pace said. “It had been close to two weeks since I’d interviewed, so I didn’t think anything of the meeting, I thought the process was done.”
Pace’s family and Superintendent Dr. Michael Gill were hiding in the audience waiting for their cue to present themselves.
Pace received her undergraduate degree at the University of Richmond, and student taught at Godwin High School. Her Virginia Teaching Certificate currently qualifies Pace to teach grades 6 through 12.
Pace taught part-time at Benedictine High School before the school announced it would be changing locations to Goochland County. “I didn’t want to do that commute,” Pace said. “So I took a chance and applied to Hanover.”
Pace has taught at Atlee High School for five years. She currently teaches International Baccalaureate (IB) English and Theory of Knowledge, a class required to be taken by IB diploma candidates.
“We study ‘why we know what we know’ and bigger-picture thinking kind of questions, like, in math we discussed ‘is math invented, or was it discovered?’” Pace said. “You get to know the students so well. In the beginning they are very quiet about what they’re going to say but once the students get comfortable, they just have to talk and share what they’re thinking.”
Pace’s very first class was taught in her family’s basement in Long Island, New York. “I used to play school when I was 5 years old and I’ve wanted to do this since then. I used to force the neighborhood kids to play in my school.” Pace said.
“I love the idea of helping people,” Pace said. “I love seeing kids change in terms of who they are as writers, as readers, as thinkers.”
Pace has taught standard and collaborative courses before teaching IB English. “I love collaborating with people,” Pace said. “I ask every year to teach collaborative courses, it really puts things in perspective.”
Collaborative classes are classes in which special needs students and general education students are taught together.
The IB program is a two-year curriculum high school students may choose to participate in during their junior and senior years. To receive an IB diploma, students are required to take IB courses, pass their end-of-the-year IB exams, and complete service hours.
“I like the content, and I really like this age group in terms of how impressionable they are,” Pace said. “They really change and form who they are during these years.”
Teachers must attend training sessions to become certified to teach IB courses. IB teachers may apply to be qualified to score students from other schools’ IB exams. “I don’t know what teacher would really want to grade more papers, but it’s helped me professionally, knowing what to look for and convey that to my students.”
IB exam essays are graded online, and can come from IB students all over the world. “It’s interesting to see student work that’s not your own but it’s still the same things that I taught,” Pace said.
On one portion of the back wall of Pace’s classroom is a student-painted rendition of the book cover from her favorite novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. “They said ‘can we get service hours if we paint To Kill a Mockingbird on your wall?’ and I said ‘Well, it has to look good.’”
During her To Kill a Mockingbird unit when she taught 9 th grade English, Pace hosted real-life “Aunt Alexandra’s tea parties” in her classroom. Her students were assigned characters from the novel to portray during the “tea party,” and the class discussed issues from the book, such as racism, while staying in their assigned character.
“The students who usually don’t speak much in class were suddenly participating,” Pace said.
Though she grew up over 300 miles from Hanover, Pace quickly made ties with the area. She even met her husband, Chris Pace, through the Hanover County Public School system.
“He was teaching at Lee-Davis and I was at Godwin, and we met teaching debate, believe it or not.”
Pace has three children, all of whom currently attend Pearson’s Corner. According to Pace, her children have expressed some interest in working in the educational field.
“I think it’s kind of a natural thing to want to be when you grow up in a house with two teachers,” Pace said. “We probably have a different home environment than most people.”
Pace has accomplished perhaps even more than her five-year-old self imagined on those afternoons playing teacher in Long Island. Her positive attitude and passion for education continue to inspire students to strive for success.