Top Teachers: Annette Hodges

Donahoe E.S., fifth grade
As a student teacher in inner-city Philadelphia, one of Annette Hodges’ first assignments was to work with a Spanish-speaking youngster named Oscar.

“They sent him to me and said, ‘If you can just teach him a couple words of English, great.’ And I thought, Why only a couple?”

So for the next five months, Hodges worked with Oscar and two other students diligently – setting the same high expectations for them that she had experienced herself in private school as a child. By the end of the school year, Oscar was reading, spelling words correctly and earning A’s on tests.

“He wanted it because he was excited that someone believed he could do it,” she recalled.

That philosophy has guided Hodges through her 21 years as a teacher, including the past three at Donahoe Elementary in Sandston, where this year she is teaching a boys-only class of 17 fifth-graders.

The gender-specific class was Hodges’ idea – something she said grew from her examination of single-sex private academies in which students seemed to excel.

“I thought, Why is is that that’s not something that is offered in the public school setting?” she said. “I wanted to encourage [students] and give them expectations.”

Hodges is drilling into her students’ minds that they will become ‘men of honor’ by the end of the school year.

Every Monday, the boys “dress for success” by wearing khakis or blue jeans and a light blue Izod shirt that Hodges purchased each of them in September. The point? To teach them what success looks like and help them internalize it.

“Many of them did not know what success was,” Hodges said, recalling a recent exercise in which one student said his mother was successful because she went to work every day, even though she hated her job. “They have to see it before they can truly believe it because they know what they’re looking at. It’s about breaking habits that they’ve seen or thought were okay and rebuilding things for them.”

Her approach is working.

“Through tears, attitude, and smiles of the boys, the joy of accomplishment is the prize,” one nominator wrote. “Ms. Hodges has a heart of a lion and patience of an angel. The spirit and success of the boys are the amazing result.”

Though her students have scored well in reading and math tests, she is motivating them to achieve 100 percent passage rates in both.

“I just don’t want them just simply to pass to say they passed,” she said. “I want them to leave being able to transfer the knowledge to the following year. I want them to truly be true learners.”

“I go to bed a great deal at night with a heavy heart because I’m thinking, ‘How can I reach this one, how can I get that one to understand?’ You don’t have time to spend time celebrating successes.”
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