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Honored teacher credits her students



Teacher_of_the_Year___Jan_Finney2
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Jan Finney teaches kindergarten at Springfield Plains. Photo by Wendi Reardon (click for larger version)
June 09, 2010 - No matter how many times Jan Finney walks from the parking lot to Springfield Plains Elementary, she's excited and ready for the day.

Her morning ritual changed on May 27 when she was honored with Clarkston Foundation's Teacher of the Year Award.

"I was very honored," said Finney.

"I appreciate they were highlighting me, but I am all about the kids. I just want my kids to shine. It is very important work we do as teachers. I love what I do and I am thrilled people saw it as important. I am also thrilled for the highlight on Kindergarten. It is a precious place."

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She thought about the late Dr. Sharon Devereaux, the principal who hired her and opened the school.

"'When one of us shines, we all shine,'" she said. "Family, teachers, our principal and the kindergarten staff - we are all pretty amazing people by ourselves but when we get together we can really do amazing things."

The honored teacher receives a vehicle from Surburban Ford of Waterford for a year. As Finney was picking out a vehicle, Principal K.C. Leh made the announcement to the school.

Finney's students then wrote letters and put the collection in a book.

"It was wonderful," she said.

Finney pulled up in her new SUV and students came out to check out her new toy.

"They all wanted to honk the horn," she smiled.

With hatch and sunroof open, all 26 students fit into the vehicle.

When she went back into the room with her class, they had donuts and hugs ready for her.

"It was an unforgettable day," she shared. "I know that's what my nominating parents were thinking of - a cool celebration and it was."

Finney has taught for 26 years. She taught various grades in different states - third grade in Dallas, Texas, fifth grade in Arlington, Texas, seventh and eighth grade in Kentucky and first grade in Ohio.

She has taught in Clarkston Community Schools for the past 12 years in Kindergarten at Springfield Plains.

"In Kindergarten I know where they are headed and what they are going to be asked to do," she said. "We are launching their school career and setting the tone to how they feel about school down the road."

Through the years she has watched the Kindergarten go from half-day to a full-day program for the children.

"I love the full day program," she expressed.

She admitted it was more relaxed with more time for the children to focus on academics - learning how to write, read and math. While also still having a chance to develop talents in painting, drawing and building.

"I love being able to do both," said Finney. "We can really get into the academics. We also have time for more questions and to explore.It is really lovely for the kids and a well-rounded experience for them."

Teaching Kindergarten also gives Finney the chance to show them what school is about - how to walk down the hallway in a quiet line, how to open their lockers, and how to be a good person.

"We are trying to help kids to be the best they can be," she said. "I want them to think about being the best person. It's not just academics, it's being a good person. Being helpful and contribute to the world with the gifts that they have."

They also work on conflict resolution skills and how to react to a situation when they are pushed or someone cuts in front of them.

"We teach them how to use their words and be assertive (without being violent or physical)," she said.

Finney watches them walk into school for the first time every year, unsure about leaving mom and dad behind at home to a proud student ready for first grade.

"My kindergartners know in their hearts they are ready for first grade," she said. "They know whatever is in front of them they can do."

"When they go out into the world and I am old and gray, I know I have a lot of great people out there to take care of me when I can't put two sentences together.

Finney lives in Lake Orion with her husband Cliff.

"He is a wonderful guy," she said. "He listens to all of my stories and to me."

They have two children, Jason and Kristen. Jason is attending the University of Michigan and is going to be a sophomore in the fall.

Kristen starts her junior year at Rochester Adams High School in September.

Teacher of the Year nominees were Jennifer Breen, second grade, and Angela Comp, third grade, both from Andersonville Elementary; Kristin Sprague, Kindergarten, from Bailey Lake Elementary; Kim Voog-Sabbag, Kindergarten, from Pine Knob Elementary; and Linda Zittel, second grade, from Independence Elementary.

"I am a fortunate person," said Jan. "I get to do what I love. Every day I look forward to coming in and doing what I love. Not everyone is so lucky. I always feel grateful for every day I have when I come in the classroom."

Wendi graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint with a degree in communications. She wrote for the Michigan Times college paper and Grand Blanc View before joining The Clarkston News in October 2007.
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