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posted: Wed, Jan 20th, 2016

Teacher of the Year: Kathy Fiebel

Kathy Fiebel can’t really be sure if it was her lessons or her grandmother’s grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup that kept the neighborhood children coming back to hear her “conduct school” when she was 10. Either way, it’s obvious that her love for teaching blossomed at an early age.

In her junior year of high school, Mrs. Fiebel joined a class that involved supervising preschoolers and engaging them in learning activities. She began working at day care centers soon after, a job she continued throughout her undergraduate and graduate studies. She’s been with Mount Olive for 17 years now, 15 of those at CMS. She was part of the original faculty that helped open CMS when it was converted from a junior high school into the district’s fourth elementary.

Over those years, Mrs. Fiebel has earned a reputation among her colleagues for being dedicated, caring, hard-working, and organized.

"Kathy is very inspiring to work with and is the model teacher," said Kristen Hare, fifth grade teacher. "She continues to evolve with the ever-changing expectations of teaching. Her years of experience, attention to detail, and vast knowledge of the curriculum make her a great resource for those who work with her."

Among her students, present and former, she’s known for being kind, encouraging, and tough when she needs to be.

“Kathy challenges all of her students to reach for the stars and connects with them in a personal manner that they respond to year after year,” said Jen Curry, CMS’ instructional supervisor. “Her students respect her and will put forth extra effort to meet those challenges.”

That sentiment is echoed perfectly in the closing of a  letter from a former student that the Teacher of the Year still has to this day:

“Thank you Mrs. Fiebel for being the best teacher I ever had in elementary school. You helped us push for more."

Letters of appreciation and awards for teaching, however, aren’t the rewards of this profession.

“I can’t wait to see their smiling faces every morning,” Mrs. Fiebel said about her students. “Their enthusiasm, the pride they take in their work, and the look they get when they do something that they thought they couldn’t makes this the best job in the world.”

Mrs. Fiebel holds a bachelors in English from William Paterson University (where she concentrated on elementary education) and a masters in teaching from Seton Hall. In her spare time, the “warm weather person” likes to garden, spend time outdoors, travel to sunny locales, and photograph the places she visits and the people she meets.

Unlocking the secrets of a great mystery

Who doesn’t love a good mystery?

Mystery stories are great teaching tools because all the individual components of solid writing are usually on display: everything from strong lead sentences and vivid settings to crackling dialogue and memorable characters. (Sam Spade would certainly agree.)

Jenna Bellafonte’s fifth-grade class recently examined excerpts from different mysteries to study the genre in detail, with a particular focus on identifying how the authors created suspense. Then, over the course of the three-week narrative writing unit, the students wrote their own tales of deduction.

Emphasis was placed on developing an interesting detective and sidekick, plotting a compelling crime or mystery to solve, creating suspects with logical motives and alibis for the innocent, and planting clues that give the perpetrator away.

The students clearly embraced the project with verve and showed off their own personalities and unique voices in their stories. Matthew Ingersoll wrote “The Cheesy Mystery” featuring Mr. Whiskers and Mr. Fluffy who went in search of a hunk of missing cheese (“fresh from Switzerland” no less!) Anaijhe McCrary tackled “The Missing Monkey.”

And Bryan Thomas thought big with “The Crime of the Century,” a yarn that featured excellent details and sensory descriptions. Here’s how Bryan introduced his detective co-lead on the beach, right before the inevitable call to adventure came. “Inhaling the scent of the sea, he thought about how he loved salt water. He never minded how it wrinkled his skin... He never paid attention to how it tasted or how it stung when he had cuts.”

There were memorable character names too, such as Sphinx, Mashed Potato Freddy, and Tippy Tinkle Trousers.

“The students really loved this project,” said Ms. Bellafonte. “They were able to really be creative, use their imaginations, and have fun while applying all the narrative writing skills that they learned. I’m very proud of the work they did.”

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Chester M. Stephens Elementary School
99 Sunset Drive Budd Lake, NJ 07828
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Phone: 973.691.4002 Fax: 973.691.4030

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