The Greenwood teacher of the year teaches second-graders at Southwest Elementary School — but she started out teaching the chickens on her family farm.
“I really thought I was teaching them the ABC’s,” said Jennifer Hussung, 41, of Greenwood. “They all had names,” she said of the chickens, laughing.
“I knew I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was able to play. I drove my family and friends crazy. I just wanted to play school,” she said.
She’s been teaching (professionally) for 16 years, and is known by fellow teachers and kids for being able to keep lessons fresh and interesting, and for wanting to try teaching subjects in different ways to cater to her students’ learning needs.
She was surprised when, during an impromptu staff meeting this spring, Southwest Elementary principal Beth Guilfoy told the group that Hussung was Greenwood’s teacher of the year and that she would go on to represent Greenwood in the state competition.
“I was very surprised and very humbled,” she said.
“Jennifer is an amazing teacher. She understands how to reach every child in her classroom. She is available to help students make tremendous gains socially, emotionally and academically through her talent using the best teaching practices mixed with a lot of heart and love,” Guilfoy said.
Hussung says she personally connects with second-graders because at their age, they’ve learned basic literacy skills, so she enjoys the challenge of helping them grow as readers.
“They’re coming to you as readers — most of them have the foundations of reading. In second grade you can sharpen their skills and find books they like with something of their interests,” she said.
In all subjects, Hussung also loves the challenge of finding new ideas or ways to present material in the classroom.
“I’ve been told many times that I have good relationships with parents and students,” she said. “Not every student learns the same, so they can’t be taught the same.”
Hussung said that what makes a teacher great is his or her ability to change and grow as an educator. Much of what you need to be a good teacher is what you learn on the job, she said.
College education courses offer the skills for teaching academics, but you don’t get a class that teaches you how to handle challenging behavior with kids, or kids who have needs outside of school that can impact their performance in school. Hussung has found herself becoming an advocate for her students who don’t have enough to eat, or need school supplies such as backpacks or even shoes.
“A good teacher is someone who is an advocate for those who don’t have an advocate in their lives,” she said.
Hussung herself was painfully shy as a child, and still has vivid memories of an adult who changed her life. A student teacher who was in Hussung’s classroom in second grade worked with her and helped her gain confidence.
“I remember to this day that student teacher. She kind of took me under her wing, bringing me out of my shell, convincing me to have a voice,” she said.
Hussung says good teachers are unafraid of asking for help or seeking the advice of other teachers. Both seasoned professionals and student teachers have given her plenty of great ideas.
“While many educators are leaving the teaching profession due to politics, pay or the fact that students seem harder to work with nowadays, Jennifer continues to attend professional development workshops, apply what she has learned, collaborate with support staff and create an incredible classroom atmosphere where all types of learners can thrive,” Guilfoy said.
“Her patience, consistence and incredible grit when it comes to finding what will work with each child is something all educators can learn from.”
Name: Jennifer Hussung
Where she teaches: Second grade at Southwest Elementary School
Length of service: 16
Outside the classroom: Hussung organized and planned a community appreciation event which honored volunteers, residents and tutors who support Greenwood schools. Hussung is also organizes uniforms for Greenwood Community High School’s marching band, where her daughter, Ally, 14, a sophomore plays. She is also mom to Kenna, 11, a sixth-grader.
Students of all ages: Hussung also teaches a college level life skills course at Ivy Tech Community College.