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Focusing on all children
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Cheryl Thomas had always actively participated in her children's education and decided she was at school so much she might as well make teaching her career.

For 10 years Thomas was a stay-at-home mom, but she always helped out at school events her children participated in and enjoyed helping them with their homework.

 "The decision was to do that with as many children as possible," Thomas said.

 This school year is the first Thomas has managed a classroom as a teacher. She said she has learned much over the past six months as a fourth grade teacher at Porterdale Elementary School.

"Teachers work very hard," Thomas said. "I didn't realize all the work that goes into being a teacher."

 She said teachers she had encountered seemed very natural and made the profession look easy - which she said it certainly is not, with as much time and commitment as teaching requires.

 However, Thomas enjoys the demanding nature of working in education.

"I'm excited about it and I thrive off of challenges and just having to get something done," Thomas said.

Every week Thomas' fourth grade students read a story out of their textbook. She said reading is her main focus in the classroom. "Reading is the foundation for being able to do anything else," Thomas said.

For each story Thomas constructs a "focus wall" outlining the title, author, genre, strategy focus and comprehension skill.

Last week her class read "Marven and the Great North Woods." She wanted students to focus on how the main character solved problems by using their evaluation skills.

Thomas tries to cross her students' reading focuses into other subject areas.

"We want them to be able to relate what they're learning in class to the real world," Thomas said.

Since problem solving and critical thinking are often reading focal points, her students have written about Martin Luther King Jr.'s skills as a problem solver and discussed better solutions to the Boston Tea Party.

Students brought in decaffeinated tea or sugar-free hot chocolate and were grouped to represent the colonists, American supporters of the British, the British government and the tea company.

 "They probably will remember it for the rest of their lives because we had so much fun that day," Thomas said.

On the other side of Thomas' classroom is a "word wall."

This wall has math vocabulary terms students must know in order to do well on assignments and tests.

"If you don't know the vocabulary, you won't comprehend the problem you are reading," Thomas said.

Like the majority of teachers, Thomas said her favorite thing about teaching is the "light bulb moment" or the moment when a student finally understands a concept with which they have struggled.

"I know and believe that all children can learn," Thomas said, "and when I actually see them learning, that really touches my heart."