The Ripple Effect of an Educator’s Love for Children’s Education

by | Mar 2024

A YOUNG GIRL named Lesli Yates eagerly steps into her first day of kindergarten. The air is warm, the sun is shining, and Westwood Elementary School is buzzing with excitement as young Yates, with her backpack almost as big as she is, walks through the doors into the world of education.

The classroom beams with colorful posters, tiny chairs, and the chatter of curious 5-year-olds. Her kind kindergarten teacher stands at the front of the room, welcoming the children with a warm voice as soothing as honey. 

The teacher drifts through the air like a cool breeze as her luminous words leave a lasting impression on the children hanging on to her every word. She listens in awe, imagining a world full of adventure as her teacher speaks passionately and gracefully. This humble beginning planted the seeds of a lifelong journey in education.

As a teenager, Yates found inspiration in her ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Myers, at Coffee County Junior High. She was tall and full of wisdom. Her passion for teaching shone brightly. She had a knack for captivating her students’ attention for the entirety of the class period. 

She lit in them a flame for continuous learning that the strongest winds could never extinguish. Myers’ genuine love for her students set hope ablaze in Yates’s heart. 

“When I went in there, I knew that she loved us. It felt very genuine,” Yates recalls. 

This unforgettable experience fueled Yates’s passion for teaching and set her on a path that would eventually bring her back to Westwood Elementary School.

Fast forward, and we find Lesli Sherrill (Yates) back at Westwood Elementary School. This time, however, she’s not the eager kindergartener; she’s the dedicated kindergarten teacher who has spent most of her life transforming the Westwood Elementary School community with her warm, optimistic approach to children’s education.

She began her career in education side-by-side with some of her former elementary teachers, their familiar smiles cheering her on each step of the way. Their steady hand helped her navigate her formative teaching years, guiding her to mentor her own students and closing the circle that had begun in the same halls years prior. 

“It is such an awesome place to work. I’ve spent 42 years of my life in this building,” Sherrill shared, reflecting on the school that shaped her childhood and later her career.

Sherrill’s upbringing in Coffee County illuminated a new path destined for education. Influenced by her innate caregiver spirit, she started her nursing career, quickly shifting to education, where she found her calling, instilling the same love, warmth, and empowerment in her kindergartners as she felt in school. 

As a self-contained kindergarten teacher for over a decade, Sherrill has relentlessly navigated the evolving realm of education. From the times of half-day kindergarten to the current demands of a rigorous curriculum, she has adapted modern and traditional teaching styles while staying true to her teaching philosophy and creating a safe learning environment for all learners.

Despite the challenges teachers face today, with adapting to curriculums and very seldom having time for more hands-on activities, Sherrill remains dedicated to creating an inclusive and positive atmosphere for her precious students. She recognizes that equity, which may not always mean “fair” for everyone, creates a more positive learning environment. 

Flexibility and connection with students are at the top of her priority list. 

“You have to be flexible with students’ needs, and you have to connect with them on a personal level,” she explains. 

Sherrill’s approach involves understanding her students’ backgrounds, interests, and personal dynamics. This strategy has become increasingly crucial in the face of changing family structures and technology’s impact on interpersonal skills. 

While some of her students might be more visual learners, exploring math and reading activities on their interactive boards, others might be audible learners, immersing themselves in engaging audio lessons on their Chromebooks. Every student feels valued and supported through Sherrill’s diverse teaching strategies. 

Sherrill joins Manchester City Schools, educators, parents, and the community to enhance the overall learning experience through curriculum meetings, Student of the Month programs, sponsored Family Reading Nights, and organizational fundraisers, giving children and families a sense of connection. 

Sherrill’s legacy as a teacher is not just about imparting knowledge but ensuring her students know they are loved. 

“When students speak of me, I want them to say, ‘I know she loves me,’” she said. 

As Sherrill nears the end of her educational career, she leaves behind a legacy of dedication, love, and a genuine connection with her students. The small-town girl who once stepped into kindergarten at Westwood Elementary has come full circle, inspiring generations of compassionate and critical thinkers and shifting the atmosphere of the school she calls home. GN 

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