By RENEE FITE
For 18 years, Cheryl Arnall has enjoyed her career as an educator. This year, she’s a first-grade teacher at Heritage Elementary, which just opened for the 2012-’13 school year.
She teaches in a self-contained classroom, which means she teaches all subjects.
“I love seeing children learn new things,” Arnall said. “They grow so much academically, socially and emotionally during their first few years at school. It’s an amazing process to watch unfold right before your eyes.”
After graduating from Ketchum High School, a small community at Grand Lake in Northeastern Oklahoma, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Early Childhood Education from Northeastern State University, graduating magna cum laude.
“I loved the school district here,” she said.
The last semester of college, her full internship was with Tahlequah Public Schools. She then had an opportunity to do some long-term substituting for the district. Soon afterward, she was offered a job, and has been with TPS ever since.
She taught first and second grade for 17 years at Greenwood Elementary. That school employed the “looping program,” in which she would teach a group of first-graders and then go with that group of children to second grade.
“That was an amazing experience,” she said. “I love working with children. I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be a teacher. It’s just what I was meant to do.”
It’s important to Arnall that her students come away with a sense of pride in a job well done and be able to be problem-solvers. She always tells her students, “If you don’t know the answer, let’s find the answer.”
Each morning, she greets each of her students with a hug.
“I want them to always know I am so happy they are here,” she said.
Arnall enjoys teaching because of the challenge.
“I love being able to be creative and find fun ways to engage children in learning,” she said. “With the technology age that we live in, we have some stiff competition to capture children’s attention. We have to be quick on our feet and keep them interested.”
A variety of experiences, like watching caterpillars become butterflies, help keep her students engaged.
“I love the autonomy in my classroom. I have state mandates to meet and district goals defined, but ultimately, I am the classroom teacher. I get to choose the way that I feel like is the best way to present lessons to reach my students,” Arnall said.
If children don’t understand what they read, they will never embrace reading, and that limits what they can learn while in school, Arnall said.
“It is vital that we, at the elementary level, understand how to identify readers who have difficulties and offer them the help they need,” she said.
Real-life experiences make good life lessons.
“I love to bring real-life experiences into my classroom,” she said. “We cook, we hatch baby chicks, we fly kites to learn about wind, we plant seeds and watch them sprout and journal about the plant growth process,” she said. “I feel like it is my job to give them a well-rounded experience, not just teach them how to read and be able to solve math facts.”
She enjoys teaching at Heritage because of the sense of community.
“It truly feels like ‘one for all and all for one.’ We also have a strong commitment to children. I feel like everyone is involved in focusing on the success of every child, not just the kiddos in his or her own classroom,” Arnall said.
The transition to Heritage was not as difficult as she thought it would be.
“The fact is, a school is not just a building, it is the relationships of the people in that building. [Principal Lacie] Davenport has worked very hard this year helping us all acclimate to our new building and new teams. She has emphasized since day one how important our relationships with each other are,” Arnall said.
Along with teaching, she is the coordinating mentor for Boys & Girls Club of Tahlequah for the Heritage Unit.
“What that means is I oversee the program at our site,” said Arnall. “I am responsible for making sure we have youth leaders for each grade level. I schedule special activities for all grades, as well as oversee all daily operations for B&GC at my building.”
Arnall is very involved with her school in many aspects, including the Parent-Teacher Organization. She will serve as a co-committee chairwoman for the upcoming school year. This year, she served on her site’s Professional Development Committee. An active member of the Tahlequah Education Association, she is a building site representative for this and is a member of the bargaining team for Tahlequah Public Schools.
“I love knowing what’s going on in my school. I also like being involved in making decisions that are going to directly affect myself and my colleagues,” she said.
Her devotion to students was recognized this year, in her being honored as Teacher of the Year at Heritage.
“I was shocked at first,” she said. “I have amazing peers whom I teach with every day. It could have easily been any of them. I feel so honored and non-deserving. So many teachers work so hard every day.”
She learned about the award during a Friday morning Eagles Nest assembly.
“I was chatting with one of my first-graders about the assembly when they called my name. He said, ‘Hey, that’s you, you better get up there.’”
That morning, she received a plastic crown with a few jewels missing and pink sash made from butcher paper.
“It was very classy, and of course, I kept them both,” she said. “It has been a wonderful, humbling and rewarding experience.”
She has been married to her high school sweetheart, Stephen, for 21 years. He is a lieutenant for the Tahlequah City Police Department. They have three children, all products of Tahlequah Public Schools and all Gold Card recipients.
Arnall is an active member of Park Hill Baptist Church, where she co-teaches the high school Sunday school class with her husband. During the summer, she helps with Vacation Bible School, and loves going to Falls Creek camp with the youth and cooking throughout the week. She also loves to work in her flowerbeds and vacation with her family.
Arnall enjoys living in Tahlequah, and said it’s a great place to raise a family.
“It’s bigger than the small town I grew up in, but still small enough that people know our family,” said Arnall. “I love the sense that we are all looking out for each other and our kids. I love that our schools have many opportunities for our children, advanced classes, concurrent enrollment with the university, golf and tennis teams. It makes for well-rounded students.”