Spotlight: Leigh Beson (MA '22)April 13, 2023
Leigh Beson (MA ’22) worked in finance before following her heart into the classroom. She believes she’s a better teacher for the experience: “I am certain this is where I am meant to be.” The reading interventionist received the final Milken Award of the 2022-23 season at Dighton Elementary on April 5, 2023.
Milken Family Foundation: How does your experience as a classroom teacher help you in your current role as a reading interventionist?
Leigh Beson (MA ’22): I fell in love with teaching students to read when I taught first grade. It is such a magical year, when students really start cracking the reading code and learning to love reading. As a classroom teacher, I learned so much about how we, as people, read: how we decode, build understanding, ask questions about what we read, connect to our reading, etc. I learned about the importance of connecting the two sides of our brains to be effective readers and learners. Challenging my students to really learn to read — not just memorizing high-frequency words and letter sounds, but connecting all the skills needed to read and being able to learn something new from reading — is just the best feeling in the world.
I am so lucky now in the reading interventionist role to be able to delve deeper into reading. I get to work with an even larger group of students from kindergarten through fourth grade. We cross the midline doing jumping jacks while we use high-frequency words in sentences. We record important ideas and questions on sticky notes and talk to each other about texts. We use our walks down the hallway to do sound drills. Working with each grade-level team has been a really unique opportunity to lean on each other, learn from each other, and share our collective reading instruction with students.
MFF: Why is it important for schools to have strong Response to Intervention (RTI) initiatives?
Leigh: RTI is crucial to student success. Early, effective, quick, and high-quality intervention is the ticket to closing a gap in a student’s learning. I hope to continue to use data to pinpoint specific needs in students and push the sense of urgency in filling that gap. I also hope to continue to use data to find student strengths and push the sense of urgency to build on and extend those strengths as readers and learners. Set the bar high and let’s chase it.
MFF: How did you end up in education?
Leigh: I should have known all along I would end up a teacher. My great-grandfather, William Ohrenberger, was an educator and superintendent of Boston Public Schools. My grandmother was a teacher, and many aunts and uncles are in education. But I needed to find my own way here. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my career, but I knew I loved to learn.
I got a degree in English from Fordham University in 2009. I wanted to stay in New York, so I took a job at Bloomberg L.P. I spoke French and worked with their French-speaking clients. I learned quickly that the world of finance was not for me, but I did get the teaching bug at Bloomberg when I took on a role training new hires. I went back to school to get my master’s in teaching at Northeastern and fell in love instantly with early childhood education and literacy instruction. I think I am a better teacher for having experienced another career before this. I am certain this is where I am meant to be.
MFF: Who are your role models?
Leigh: I have been extremely fortunate to work with some amazing teachers and educators in my career thus far. Debra King, who supervised my student teaching, mentored me, guided me, and then let me take over her room. She believed in me.
When I moved to New Bedford Public Schools, I met my current principal, Lynn Dessert, who also believed in me. We spent many, many hours together learning. She gave me good feedback and challenged me to be better. She called me out when I needed to go deeper, think about a lesson more or try something new, and she praised me when I succeeded. I couldn’t have been more thrilled to move to Dighton Elementary with her. Here I’ve found the perfect environment to really flourish as an educator. I have strong co-workers with innovative, smart and exciting ideas, families who support their children’s school, and students who inspire me.
MFF: How did your first year of teaching go?
Leigh: It was such a whirlwind of nerves, excitement and uncertainty. Having a good team and mentor to lean on and ask questions was my saving grace. That, and really taking the time to lesson plan deeply.
MFF: What do you like about working with elementary students?
Leigh: They are joy and happiness and excitement and questions and creativity all at once. Every day I leave feeling like I have done something good, even on the hard days. I love watching them figure out the world.
MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Leigh: I honestly could not and still cannot believe it. I remember thinking, “Wow!” as I looked around the room trying to decide which of my talented co-workers was about to get the Award. I had absolutely no clue my name was about to be called. What a surprise!
MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?
Leigh: Everywhere I walked the rest of the week I was greeted with hugs, handmade cards, congratulations from students, and heartfelt emails from former families. I really felt the love!
MFF: Any plans for your $25,000 Award?
Leigh: My daughters want to go on vacation. I think we will put some away for the kids’ higher education.
MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?
Leigh: Success means meeting our challenges head on. It means setting a goal and working towards achieving it, then setting a new goal. My students love looking back at their previous data points and acknowledging their success and growth.
MFF: What do you hope students remember from their time with you?
Leigh: I hope they remember that I believed in them. I hope they remember to ask questions and to be creative. I hope they remember that they can do hard things.
Don’t miss any new articles and updates from Milken Educator Awards: