This 2016 Delaware Teacher of the Year is passionate about education — and Wilmington University.
In December, 2007, at the age of 44, Sandra Hall embarked on a second career. With her newly-minted master of education in elementary studies degree from Wilmington University firmly in hand, she began teaching third grade at North Smyrna (Del.) Elementary, moving up to fourth grade the next year.
To say that she has thrived as an educator would be an understatement. In fact, this year she received the ultimate honor her profession can bestow: the mother of two was named Delaware’s State Teacher of the Year for 2016. She was chosen from a pool of 9,000 teachers that was narrowed to 19, representing each of the state’s school districts. Applicants for the honor undergo a rigorous process. They must submit detailed portfolios explaining their teaching philosophy. The portfolios are evaluated by five Delaware Department of Education staff members, then a former teacher of the year and a DOE staff member visit classrooms to observe the nominees. Finally, an independent panel of non-department judges reviews the portfolios and classroom observations and selects the winner. Among the winner’s rewards are a $5,000 grant to use for the educational benefit of her students and two personal grants totaling an additional $5,000.
Hall grew up in Delaware, and she and her husband, Russell, are graduates of Smyrna High School. (They met there during her freshman year.) She earned an associate of science in business degree from Goldey Beacom College in Wilmington, and a bachelor of science degree in business administration with a concentration in management from the University of Louisville, Ky. But the business world did not entice her; teaching did.
She says several life events compelled her to pursue her new career. “I had an inspiring teacher in high school who made me want to work harder than I had ever worked before,” she says. “She believed in me and made me believe in myself. And having my daughters (Allison, a senior at the University of Delaware, and Anna, a junior at St. Thomas More Academy in Magnolia, Del.) taught me how to be a teacher. They were naturally curious and inquisitive, and I loved being their first teacher.”
But Hall says her strongest influence came from 20-plus years as an Army wife, including 10 in Germany. Living overseas, with many long deployments of soldiers, she became a Family Readiness group leader, helping young Army families who were struggling or needed advice. “I became their advocate,” she says. “I loved helping others.”
When her husband retired from active duty and the family settled back in Delaware, he took a job as sales representative for Shone Lumber in Middletown. Sandra, meanwhile, decided to channel her passion for helping others into a career in education.
“I became a substitute teacher and a Sunday school teacher and enjoyed it so much, I went into teaching full time,” she says.
Hall enrolled in WilmU in the summer of 2005, receiving her master’s degree two years later. Thanks to the University’s flexible schedule, she says, “I was able to raise my family, work, and go to school. The seven-week blocks allowed me to graduate in a timely manner without overloading my course work.”
She calls her experience at WilmU “very positive,” adding, “My professors were very knowledgeable, and they were able to keep my attention for those longer night classes. The coursework was really relevant to understanding the teaching profession.”
Hall’s new title has kept her busier than ever. She has already spoken at several conferences and conventions in Delaware as part of her duties. The New Year is proving to be equally hectic. In January, along with the other 49 state honorees, she attended the National Teacher of the Year Program Conference in San Antonio. In April, she’s headed for the National Teacher of the Year Recognition Week in Washington, D.C. And in July, she’ll attend the International Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.
Hall says she has received “great feedback and incredible support” from her fellow educators. “There’s a wonderful team of teachers at North Smyrna Elementary,” she says. “They have been so supportive, and they always inspire me to be better every day. I also have a great administrative support team that continually encourages me. I’m very lucky.”
Her title also has brought several visitors to her classroom. But that hasn’t reduced her dedication to her students.
“The school year is going quite well and my students are excited about our accomplishments and enjoy the visitors that we’ve had,” Hall says. “I have a great group of students this year, as I do every year. I feel very blessed.”