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.”
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org