Rao named Cumberland’s ‘Teacher of the Year’

Rao named Cumberland’s ‘Teacher of the Year’

Tanya Rao, center, a social studies teacher at North Cumberland Middle School, was chosen as the district’s Teacher of the Year. NCMS Principal Beth Coughlin, right, made the surprise announcement, and congratulated her, along with Assistant Principal Kristy Patten.
‘I wanted to be a teacher who is the cheerleader for everybody,’ says NCMS social studies teacher

CUMBERLAND – Tanya Rao says the minute her students walk through her classroom door, they also walk into her heart – where they stay, forever. That compassion for her students during the past 22 years is likely part of the reason she was chosen as Cumberland’s “Teacher of the Year.” The School Committe announced her selection at its May 11 meeting.

Rao, a social studies educator at North Cumberland Middle School, has been teaching in the district for about 22 years, and says she considers herself fortunate to have watched her students grow.

“I like to see the people that they’ve become,” the Cumberland resident said, explaining that many of her students, including those she had when she taught at elementary schools in town, grow into their personalities.

Years after they’ve had her as a teacher, students come back to share their success stories and “remember when” moments with her. Those memories, Rao said, never get old, and this year, the students she had in her first 1st-grade classroom are wrapping up their first year of college.

Rao started her career in town as a special education instructor, before teaching 2nd grade at Ashton Elementary School, and later moving to Community School to direct 1st-grade classrooms. This is her fourth year teaching social studies at NCMS, where she teaches 8th-graders, and she laughed as she explained she has “repeat students” from her days teaching at the elementary level.

Rao said she’s learned during her tenure that 8th-grade students can be needier than 1st-graders, but they open up and share, and are extremely respectful. That doesn’t mean they don’t question her, though, Rao said.

“That’s what keeps me on my toes,” she said.

Asked why she decided to teach social studies, Rao said, “I feel our goal as teachers is to make responsible, involved, civic-minded citizens … history gives you that vehicle to do that.”

Of her students at NCMS, Rao said, “If you set a bar, they will certainly try very hard to attain it.”

One of her favorite parts of teaching, she said, is encouraging students and reminding them they’re capable of the work they’ve been assigned.

Rao explained that when she was an elementary school student, she struggled with reading. Rao’s former teacher had told her mother she’d “be lucky” if Rao graduated from high school.

In the following years, Rao said, she had amazing teachers in elementary school, and finally “broke the code” of reading.

“I don’t ever want students to have anyone say to them, ‘You’re going to be lucky if you graduate from high school,’ ” she said.

Rao explained, “That is not OK, and for me, I wanted to be a teacher who is the cheerleader for everybody.”

Asked about her teaching method, Rao said she’s direct, eclectic, has high expectations and wants to hear students’ opinions.

“My class is a safe haven. … If you can’t feel safe in my classroom, you’re not going to feel safe anywhere. You have to put yourself out there.”

While standards, curriculum and the integration of technology have changed over the years she’s been in the district, Rao said, she continues to keep her work student-centered, and does her best to get to know each student sitting in her class.

At the start of every school year, Rao says she gives herself five weeks to find one thing she loves most about each student. By the end of the year, she said, those students know exactly what that is.

Rao, a Virginia native, said she aspires to be a positive role model, and a person who former students think of when asked which teachers influenced them most.

“I would love to be that teacher,” she said.

Teaching has been more of a calling than a profession for her, Rao said.

“This is how I’m going to leave my mark.”