Spotlight: Caroline Eschenbach (VA '18)January 8, 2019
Caroline Eschenbach (VA ’18) makes sure her third-graders know that they are a big part of her Milken Educator Award: “Teaching students who are passionate about learning makes me a passionate teacher.” She won Virginia’s 2018-19 Award at Roanoke’s Virginia Heights Elementary School on November 1, 2018.
Milken Family Foundation: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Caroline Eschenbach: I am still taking it all in and digesting the idea of winning the Award. I was in complete shock that day. I knew some members of the state education department were visiting our school but never in a million years imagined they’d be there for me.
MFF: How did your students respond to your Milken Award?
Caroline: My students were ecstatic! I think it was neat for them to see an educator “win” something exciting. I also reiterated to them that they are a huge part of the Award as well. They are the reason I show up excited to do what I do each day. And teaching students who are passionate about learning makes me a passionate teacher. It is a reciprocal relationship.
MFF: How did you land in education?
Caroline: I come from a long line of educators, so I guess you could say teaching is in my blood. My grandma taught history in Harnet County, North Carolina, for several years and my mom has taught with Virginia Beach Public Schools for over 25 years. I grew up with a desire to help others learn. I always preferred playing “school” to Barbies or dress-up.
MFF: What do you like about teaching elementary students?
Caroline: I love their willingness to learn and lovable qualities. I especially love teaching third grade because it is such a pivotal year in students’ learning. Our grade level is departmentalized, so we help students with the transition of having multiple teachers for different subjects. We also prepare our students for the Virginia Standards of Learning tests at the end of the year. I love being a support system for my students as they navigate these changes, as well as watching how they grow from new experiences.
MFF: Who are your role models as an educator?
Caroline: My mom and grandma were my first role models in education. They were truly great at teaching because they were both enthusiastic about their profession. I loved watching the way my mom taught—she always incorporated singing, dancing, movement and rhyme into her lessons to make them more engaging and memorable. I aspire to do the same with mine.
One of my favorite teachers was Mr. Jackson, my high school government teacher. He was an expert at his craft, but he also had an excellent rapport with every student he taught. He never met a stranger. I will never forget the way he shook all of our hands every day as we entered his classroom and had “pump up” music playing in the background. There is nothing better than greeting your students with music and a smile.
MFF: Tell us about your first year of teaching.
Caroline: I was in Louisa, Virginia, in a rural school called Moss-Nuckols. I was incredibly nervous going in because I was not sure how much of the county’s curriculum and school climate I would have to navigate on my own. Luckily I walked into a skilled group of veteran teachers who became my close friends. They helped me with lesson pacing, lent a listening ear when I needed to decompress, and offered teaching and life advice. Being surrounded by supportive colleagues who are team players is a game-changer.
MFF: You use music, rhythm and movement in your classroom. Why?
Caroline: Incorporating music, rhythm and movement is a great way to activate student engagement. I try to incorporate alliteration, catchy phrases, rhymes, etc. as much as I can because it feel like these methods help to deeply engrain concepts in my students’ brains and create a lasting learning impact.
MFF: You go to great lengths to bring in content your students find engaging and relevant. Why is this important?
Caroline: A few weeks ago when I was reading an article with my students about the midterm elections, I could see their eyes light up with excitement. They love discussing current information that they can take home and relay to their families. Being knowledgeable about current events makes them feel important and empowered. It keeps them “in the know” and they love impressing others with their knowledge.
MFF: How do you think you’ll use your $25,000 Award?
Caroline: I am brainstorming. I definitely want to give back to the school that has given so much to me, but I’m still considering the best way to do that—one that involves literacy in some capacity.
MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?
Caroline: My students and I often refer back to our school motto of “personal best.” I tell my students that it is absolutely acceptable to not understand a reading passage or a math problem, but it isn’t acceptable not to try. As long as they are giving their personal best effort, success will become a part of their lives. I use the same standard for myself. There are days when I’ll show up to school exhausted after staying up all night with my one-year-old. There will be days when I have something going on in my personal life that I have to leave at the door. As long as I am giving my personal best effort for the eight hours I’m there, I deem it a successful day.
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