D.A. Hulcy STEAM Middle School teacher Rebekah Jean thought she wanted to be a doctor until one student changed her life forever. She was volunteering in preschool classrooms during college when she met a child who she said had “a lot of anxiety with reading and writing—to the point that he would start throwing things and running away anytime you would put a pencil or a crayon anywhere near him.”
Jean patiently worked with him, and by the end of the year, he wrote her a letter and was able to spell his name.
“The fact that he was finally able to release some of that anxiety and thought of me enough to do that was eye opening,” she said. “From that moment on, I knew teaching was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”
She pursued her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, studying education and applied psychology so she could continue transforming student lives. In the process, she formalized her personal philosophy behind teaching.
“I’m a strong believer that if we can’t teach children how to manage and understand their emotions, there is no way we can begin to teach academics,” Jean said. “With everything that I’ve learned in psychology, if they don’t have those basic fundamental needs met, which includes a lot of those emotional needs that some children are lacking, they can’t start to learn.”
In her four years of teaching, Jean has brought social and emotional learning to the forefront of every classroom she leads. One of her favorite ways to do so this school year has been leading a community circle every Friday.
After guiding her students through a moment of mindfulness, Jean delivers “mini lessons” in social and emotional skills or different life skills including practicing good hygiene. They then discuss what is going well in their community—whether it’s related to their classroom or to all of Hulcy—and what improvements or changes they might like to see, and they practice conflict resolution with their peers. Finally, they close with a community reward and a game to celebrate the good work they are doing academically and emotionally.
The results have been positive. For example, during one community circle, a student who was experiencing some anger was talking to another student who was upset about something that had happened at recess. Jean said she saw the first student “building up and starting to get angrier,” so she encouraged the student to take a moment and practice coping exercises.
“Ever since then, anytime he starts to notice that he’s feeling really angry, he has been saying, ‘Hey, I just need a minute. Can I step off to the side?’ Or he’ll call me over and say, ‘This is happening and I need some advice,’ or, ‘I need you to listen,’” Jean said. “A lot of things that are happening with the community circle are seeing different students advocating for themselves and understanding that they don’t have to let their emotions control them.”
Jean’s passion for mental health and wellness contributed to her becoming Hulcy’s 2022-2023 campus teacher of the year, and the community is celebrating her dedication and commitment to making a difference.
“Rebekah Jean is an amazing whole brain teacher,” said Amber Harrison, one of the school’s counselors. “Hulcy is fortunate to have a teacher with her experience, drive, dedication and empathy for the success and growth of students. She consistently brings her lessons alive and creates lifelong experiences for students to remain engaged. Her inclusion of SEL and mindfulness tools also help students to grasp core content and real-life concepts. Ms. Jean is an exemplary educator!”