Top Teachers: Jill Morris

On her first day as a teacher, Jill Morris stood outside her classroom door, greeting children with a wide smile as they came down the hallway. One little girl stopped, looked up at Morris, then looked down. . . and threw up on Morris’ shoes.

It was an inauspicious start, to be sure, but it didn’t faze the young teacher.

“The nurturing side of me kicked in quickly, and I picked her up and didn’t really care about the mess on my feet,” she recalled.

The years since that day in Fairfax County have been smoother sailing, and Morris has distinguished herself as a caring, thoughtful teacher during her seven years at Henrico’s Pemberton Elementary, where she teaches first grade.

“No matter who I have in my classroom, I want them to feel loved and valued and know that there is someone in their corner,” she said. “No matter who walks through my door, I’m their champion.”

First-graders bring Morris much joy because of their wide-eyed love of school and of learning. Her students are excited about using computers, taking pictures and recording their voices for presentations.

“When a group of students smile, that means a lot,” Morris said.

Parents, including one who nominated Morris, have noticed her efforts.

“She goes out of her way to check on her past students to make sure they are still on the path to success,” one nominator wrote. “Jill volunteers her time to help with the school plays and musicals. This takes a huge amount of her personal time, but she is there to support the children and make them the best they can be.”

Morris has been in charge of the backstage crew for the school’s musical, which are produced every other year.

“You get an opportunity to see a student shine when maybe they wouldn’t in the classroom,” she said.

She experienced that firsthand several years ago when she convinced one student to participate in that year’s musical, even though he wasn’t sure he was talented enough. His enthusiasm for the role was evident throughout, though, and his mother told Morris how thankful she was for the teacher’s encouragement.

“He stood there beaming as his mother told me that,” Morris recalled. “He was so proud.”

A few weeks later, the boy’s mother died. He moved out of state to live with his aunt, who wrote Morris a letter explaining how much the experience – and the lasting memory of his mother’s pride – meant to the boy. The next year, the boy came back to visit and gave Morris a big hug.

“Those are the touching moments that you will never forget as a teacher,” she said.
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Southern soul and rock group The Ray Pittman Project will perform from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at The Lilly Pad Café, 9680 Osborne Tnpk. in Varina. For details, call 507-1997. Full text

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