Teacher helps students overcome challenges, brings joy to the classroom

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DECATUR, Ala. (WHNT) – Some students face more than just academic challenges; hurdles like poverty or language barriers.

A great educator finds a way to help students past those difficulties and, as one classroom aide told WHNT News 19 recently, a Decatur teacher is doing exactly that.

Jo Lynne Hannay is a volunteer with the non-profit Community Action. As one of the group’s “foster grandmothers” she spends her days helping students in Felicia Woodruff’s first grade Austinville Elementary classroom. The work is joyous.

“It’s just fun. It’s my new career and I love it,” Hannay said, “I don’t have any grandkids yet so to me this is fun.”

One of the most enjoyable elements of her classroom time, beyond helping the children, is seeing the impact of Woodruff on children who really need the extra help.

“She’s just inspiring and she loves the kids,” Hannay said, describing how Woodruff is able to get through to students who may face financial or cultural challenges outside the classroom. “She’s firm but she’s really a great teacher.”

Many of the students in Woodruff’s classroom speak Spanish with English as a second language. Despite that barrier, the students seemed enthusiastic as Woodruff guided them in a writing lesson recently; a writing lesson interrupted when WHNT News 19 showed up with $319.

“Oh my goodness,” Woodruff said, between pauses of shocked silence, “Thank you!”

When she learned it was Hannay who nominated her for the Tools for Teachers honor, Woodruff wasn’t as surprised.  “She’s always surprisin’ me,” Hannay laughed, “But this right here is probably going to top the whole list.”

Woodruff tells WHNT News 19 she loves her job because, well… it’s not really a job. “It’s fun! Nothing is the same every day,” Hannay said,  Everything is brand new!”

She plans to turn to her students for inspiration on how to spend her cash prize in the classroom and it’s likely, given how much her students love to read, that the money will go to supplies for that subject. Or, maybe, an iPad.