Joy of learning, seeing students succeed drives Doolittle

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By Scott Akanewich

When Gina Doolittle steps into her classroom at Liberty Hill Intermediate School to teach fifth-grade math each day, there are more than numbers bandied about in the daily quest of finding answers to problems.

“What I get the most out of teaching is the pure joy that comes from seeing any one of my students be successful – whatever that looks like for that particular student,” said Doolittle, who was recently named the school’s Teacher of the Year. “It is especially exciting when a student has a positive change of attitude towards math while in my class.”

Doolittle, who has been teaching for 23 years in all and has spent the past 16 in Liberty Hill, chose math as her specialty because of the challenges and the stimulation it provides young, inquiring minds, she said.

“I’m blessed to teach fifth grade as the children are at an age of discovery and curiosity that is unstoppable,” said Doolittle. “I enjoy teaching math because it offers opportunities for problem-solving every day. We often have discussions about the many different ways a problem can be approached and solved. Sometimes math is just like a puzzle and we’re putting the pieces together for a desired outcome – that’s the exciting part of teaching math.”

Liberty Hill Intermediate School Principal Josh Curtis said the passion Doolittle brings to her profession heightens the entire learning experience for all involved.

“Mrs. Doolittle is one of the most kind, patient and caring teachers I’ve ever been around. She is a true servant-leader and always has a smile on her face when working with students,” he said. “Gina is part of our leadership team and brings valuable insight to the campus and to the fifth-grade team. She’s not only an extremely hard worker, but is very knowledgeable in her content, as well. When teachers say they love all of their students, this is especially true for Mrs. Doolittle. She’s what makes Liberty Hill Intermediate the best in the state.”

According to Doolittle, being honored with an individual award simply validates her belief of being only part of an entire network of educators who together make it all happen.

“Receiving Teacher of the Year is the most humbling experience I’ve had in my professional career,” said Doolittle. “I work with an amazing staff and together we make a great team. I don’t like to be singled out, but rather see myself as one component in a machine of many moving parts.”

Doolittle added teaching students of the age she does provides the best of both worlds as far as the point there are in from a learning standpoint, although the bottom line remains the same.

“Teaching intermediate students is different from teaching other levels because the maturity of a fifth-grader is just so that he or she can work independently, but still enjoy doing group projects and activities,” she said. “Some students need more attention than others, but often students in the class are willing to help others out in a peer-tutoring situation. I don’t think there are any additional challenges between grade levels. I think the challenges each grade level offers are universal. We all focus on instruction, classroom management, student needs and reaching mastery within our classes.”

Methods of teaching have evolved dramatically since her career began, said Doolittle.

“My profession has changed drastically from when I first started teaching in 1988. There were  fewer standards and little accountability for students to meet those standards as there was not a state-required test at the time for lower elementary students,” she said. “Many of our units were teacher-created and only had to follow broad themes. Presently, we have a curriculum that is aligned across the state with well-defined standards. This helps ensure all students in the state are being taught equitably as we work together to help our students meet and exceed these standards.”

As a result, the way in which she approaches her job each day has changed along with the curriculum, she said.

“My teaching style has definitely changed. Being a math teacher, I still often have direct-teach lessons prepared for my students, but I now ensure I have small group lessons when necessary,” said Doolittle. “My classroom is very collaborative and has a lot of movement. This is quite a change from the days when all the desks in my room used to be in rows with children working independently all day. I use more of an inquiry method and try to spend as much one-on-one time as I can with my students.”

However, although there are many reasons Doolittle enjoys her profession, there is certainly one big downer, as well.

“The best aspects of being a teacher are working with students all day and watching them grow, collaborating with my math Professional Learning Community planning lessons and brainstorming activities, working with my quad teachers discussing students and their achievements and working with a staff of amazing people every day,” she said. “The worst aspect of being a teacher is hearing the alarm clock go off at 5:15 in the morning.”

But, aside from occasional early-morning blues, Doolittle has sage advice for any of her students who are considering following her career path.

“I would advise one of my students who had an interest in a career in education to spend time with children at the age they would want to teach,” she said. “Knowing the nuances, abilities and independence level of the age group you might want to teach is incredibly important. I would also let my student know there is no other career as rewarding as teaching. Each day offers new opportunities, challenges, joys and yes, sometimes setbacks, but that’s what makes education the incredible adventure it is.” 

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