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Once a student inspired by her elementary school teachers in East Haven, Geralyn Nelson has come full circle, so inspiring her students and colleagues she was named East Haven Teacher of the Year for 2019. (Photo courtesy of Geralyn Nelson )
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In her 3rd-grade classroom, Geralyn Nelson fosters a community of learning in which each student is valued for his or her abilities and contributions.
“I feel a classroom is a place of learning and development,” Geralyn says. “It’s a community of learning [with] a teacher establishing a relationship with each child…help[ing] the students to give their best efforts and [to] take pride in their learning each day.”
Geralyn was named East Haven Teacher of the Year this spring and was honored at the Dec. 10 Board of Education meeting for being a nominee to the state finalist competition for Connecticut Teacher of the Year.
The award ceremony to recognize each district’s Teacher of the Year, semifinalists, finalists, and the 2020 Connecticut Teacher of the Year was held at the Bushnell on Dec. 4.
For Geralyn, the opportunity to meet other finalists was a highlight of the evening.
“It was exciting to be a part of the program,” says Geralyn. “It’s a fun night to celebrate teaching and teachers and education.”
A 27-year veteran of the East Haven school system, Geralyn says, “I have the best job in the world. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Geralyn’s roots are planted firmly in the community, as the spark that ignited her desire to be a teacher was in her 4th-grade teacher Terri Sciarra’s classroom in East Haven.
“She was the type of teacher that felt that every student in her classroom was capable of anything that they put their minds to,” says Geralyn. “She showed us that we could achieve our personal best. She was a teacher who believed in her students.”
The feeling of having a teacher believe so strongly in her, helped Geralyn understand that she “wanted to continue giving that feeling to other students,” she says.
After she graduated from East Haven High School, Geralyn attended the University of Connecticut as a communications major, earning a B.A. in communication sciences in 1989.
“I was thinking at that time that I wanted to be on Good Morning America,” Geralyn says. “My senior year rolled in and I said, ‘What was I thinking? Why did I leave my dream?’”
Quickly abandoning her ideas of broadcast journalism, she immediately enrolled at Southern Connecticut State University to earn a. M.S. in education in 1992 and a sixth year in education leadership certificate in 2000.
Her student teaching was completed at a school in Hamden and Overbrook Elementary School in East Haven.
She was especially inspired by the teaching of Mary Montesanto at Overbrook.
“She had a heart of gold and very high expectations for her students,” says Geralyn.
Montesanto’s classroom environment was similar to how Geralyn has found teachers throughout the East Haven school district.
“Working in East Haven, I find that teachers teach with their hearts and put their students first every single day,” says Geralyn.
Once her education was complete, Geralyn was hired as a paraprofessional in the East Haven school system and then filled in as a full-time sub before being hired in 1993 as a 3rd-grade teacher at Overbrook.
Throughout her time as a teacher in the district, she carried a feeling of gratitude for all that she had been given as a student.
“I am a product of the East Haven school system and I am blessed to give back to the community that gave me so much as a student,” says Geralyn.
In her tenure, she has held positions at various grade levels and taught various subjects in different schools.
She was a 2nd-grade teacher at Momauguin and Overbrook Schools from 1996 to 1998, a technology teacher at D.C. Moore Elementary School for grades K to 6 from 1999 to 2004, and a technology teacher at East Haven Academy for grades 3 to 8 from 2004 to 2010.
When an opening in 3rd grade at East Haven Academy became available, Geralyn jumped at the opportunity.
“I came back full circle,” Geralyn says. “It’s been amazing to do that.”
In her classroom, Geralyn says she is “helping students hone their strengths and persevere” when faced with challenges.
She aims to celebrate both success and mistakes, as she says “both are [an] opportunity for a child to learn.”
Although her curriculum might be the same as other 3rd grade teachers, her approach is fun and “hands-on,” as she describes it.
One example includes gathering her students in the auditorium to make human arrays, so “they know three rows of four are 12…and this is how it looks,” she says.
In science, her students are building operational carts.
“That is exciting for me to see…their wheels churning every step of the way,” she says.
In addition to teaching, Geralyn acts as a mentor to new teachers through the state’s Department of Education Teacher Education and Mentoring (TEAM) program.
Geralyn enjoys nurturing the talents of young teachers and sharing in the successes of the more tenured.
“We are a group of people who care so much about the children of East Haven,” says Geralyn.
She points to a convocation speech that she gave on the first day of school as an example of this group’s dedication.
“The energy and excitement that teachers have starting the school year, they truly work hard to continue having that all through the year,” says Geralyn.
This excitement and motivation to propel children’s learning and success is sustained throughout the 180 school days, because “we help each other,” she says.
“I am the teacher that I am today because of all the teachers I have had and all the teachers I have worked with,” Geralyn says. “It is my 27th year in the district and I have had amazing support. It’s nice to be part of a great team.”
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