Northeast Times

School district honors Mora

The School Dis­trict of Phil­adelphia has named Ed­win For­rest School’s Shar­on Mora its teach­er of the year for 2010-11.

Shar­on Mora, a com­puter sci­ence teach­er at For­rest Ele­ment­ary School, was named Teach­er of the Year by the school dis­trict last week.

Teach­ers want their pu­pils to pay at­ten­tion in class. Some­times, a teach­er, too, has to watch and listen to be able to help pu­pils learn.

Shar­on Mora, earli­er this month named the School Dis­trict of Phil­adelphia’s teach­er of the year, re­called watch­ing a pu­pil who ap­peared to be doz­ing off when asked a ques­tion in class.

“He looked like he was sound asleep,” she said.

When she asked him again for an an­swer, he held up a fin­ger, just as someone might to sig­nal a mo­ment was needed, said Mora, who teaches com­puter sci­ence at Ed­win For­rest School at Cot­tage Street and Bleigh Av­en­ue.

“He had to shut everything out so he could con­cen­trate,” she said. “Once I had seen that, if I saw him shut­ting his eyes, I gave him that space.”

Mora in­structs kids from kinder­garten through sixth grade in how to use com­puters and oth­er tech­no­lo­gic­al tools. Some pu­pils are gung-ho, but oth­ers have to be per­suaded that they can ac­tu­ally work on com­puters. They just don’t be­lieve they have the abil­ity, she said.

Help­ing kids use the tools avail­able some­times has to do not only with their com­fort levels, but also with their views of what is right and wrong.

She re­called an in­cid­ent in which pu­pils tak­ing a test were per­mit­ted to use cal­cu­lat­ors to check their arith­met­ic, but she no­ticed one boy wasn’t.

She asked the boy why he wasn’t us­ing his cal­cu­lat­or, and the boy re­spon­ded, “I can’t use that; it’s cheat­ing.”

Cheat­ing?

She said the boy said to her, “Mrs. Mora, do you know if I put num­bers in­to the cal­cu­lat­or, it will give me the cor­rect an­swer?”

She told him she knew that and that it was not cheat­ing.

It took some con­vin­cing, she said, for the boy to un­der­stand that the cal­cu­lat­or was a tool he was sup­posed to use dur­ing the test.

“I was very happy that a month later, he was us­ing that cal­cu­lat­or,” she said.

SUR­PRISE!

Mora re­ceived the Dr. Ruth Wright Hayre Teach­er of the Year Award in a sur­prise an­nounce­ment at the school on June 10.

The award, named for the city’s first black high school teach­er and seni­or high school prin­cip­al, hon­ors a pub­lic school teach­er who has demon­strated plan­ning and growth skills, ex­hib­its high ex­pect­a­tions for stu­dents, cre­at­ing a good classroom en­vir­on­ment as well as a com­mit­ment to equity and cul­tur­al sens­it­iv­ity.

Eight oth­er teach­ers were nom­in­ated for the award. Each of the fi­nal­ists re­ceived $250; Mora got $2,500 from award spon­sor Lin­coln In­vest­ment Plan­ning.

Mora has been work­ing in the pub­lic school sys­tem for about 10 years. Her teach­ing ca­reer began in the Arch­dioces­an school sys­tem when she vo­lun­teered to help out at St. Mar­tin of Tours par­ish school. That was more than 20 years ago.

“When I first star­ted at St. Mar­tin’s, I had two kids, and the young­est was (at­tend­ing) St. Mar­tin’s,” Mora said last week. “I star­ted as a vo­lun­teer and then got hired. I learned I could be a full-time mom and a full-time teach­er.”

“Full-time” might not seem to ad­equately de­scribe Mora’s re­spons­ib­il­it­ies at For­rest. On her re­sume, a de­scrip­tion of her du­ties is more than 30 lines long.

As a teach­er who spe­cial­izes in tech­no­logy in­struc­tion, Mora sees all the kids in all the grades — kinder­garten through sixth — year after year.

YOU HAVE TO BE­LIEVE

The biggest chal­lenge, she said, is to get the young­sters to be­lieve in them­selves.

All chil­dren have abil­ity, she said.

“You know that it is there, but they don’t know it’s there,” she said.

Mora said she some­times has to work to get the kids to un­der­stand “that I’m there to help them.”

That help, she said, comes in show­ing pu­pils how to find their strengths and to use them to im­prove their weak­nesses.

“That’s new to them,” she said.

So what does she teach chil­dren in kinder­garten about com­puters?

In­ter­net safety is one top­ic she goes over with kids. She makes them aware of what they should and should not see and when to tell a par­ent that something is wrong. Kids also learn some word-pro­cessing in kinder­garten, she said.

By sixth grade, pu­pils are get­ting a lot of in­struc­tion in Web re­search and how to judge which sites are re­li­able. Mora said sixth-graders also are work­ing on spread­sheets and Power Point.

One of the de­mands of her re­spons­ib­il­it­ies is to stay cur­rent with tech­no­lo­gic­al ad­vance­ments, which come rap­idly, Mora said.

To keep up, Mora said, “I’m a mem­ber of tech blogs, and I read all the time.”

Tech­no­logy in­form­a­tion used to double every 18 months, she said, but now it seems there is a lot more to know about every six months.

Teach­ers, too, have to be kept abreast of the changes. Part of Mora’s job at For­rest is to help her col­leagues stay cur­rent. In that re­gard, she be­comes a teach­er of teach­ers.

Asked who’s more dif­fi­cult to in­struct — kids or fel­low teach­ers — Mora prudently re­served com­ment. ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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