Quiet and conservative Darby Jones, 8, returned home from school on the Friday of her first week in third grade at Bill Roberts Elementary. She told her mom, Stefanie Jones, that she loved her math and science teacher Ms. Beckwith.
“Oh, good. I’m really glad to hear that,” Jones said. “What do you like about her?” She expected Darby to say “Ms. Beckwith teaches cool things” or “She’s a lot of fun,” but what she said brought tears to her mom’s eyes. “Ms. Beckwith makes me feel more brave.”
“It’s almost intangible,” Jones says now. “Yes, Cheryl Beckwith is an extraordinary educator, but it’s much more than that.”
Cheryl Beckwith teaches third- and fourth-grade math and science at Bill Roberts. On July 15, she was recognized among 30 teachers nationwide as an All-Star Teacher for making a difference in the lives of students and their communities. The teachers walked on Target Field in Minnesota at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
Beckwith has been teaching for more than 40 years and has a knack for recognizing and bringing out each student’s talents. She saw a leader in Darby, and by the end of the year Darby was raising her hand and helping other students.
Beckwith is known for making the classroom a fun place to be. Every day Beckwith struts a kooky wardrobe, including disco ball earrings, snake print pants, cowboy hat, spider web glasses, and anything sparkly. At back-to-school night, she tells parents she may look goofy but that’s the whole point. “She goes to such lengths to ensure that her students are engaged and having fun,” Jones says.
On the first day of school, Beckwith wears a particularly wacky outfit to express the year’s theme. One year she wore a full astronaut suit including a helmet to encourage kids to “shoot for the stars.” Another year she dressed as a present to show “it’s what’s on the inside that counts.”
“People know her as a free-awesome-kind-of-wacky,” says 10-year-old Sophia Worth who had Beckwith for third and fourth grades and still loves her “very, very much.” Worth felt she could really be herself in the classroom.
“I think she’s a really good teacher and she wears really cool clothes and glasses and she has grey curly hair and I really like her,” says 9-year-old Jack Dougherty who had Beckwith for third grade and will have her again this year in fourth grade.
Her classroom is dripping with fun—colorful posters cover every inch of wall, items hang from the ceiling, shelves store artifacts, stuffed ducks and bones. The room is home to hamsters, snakes, frogs, toads and goldfish.
“She gives us choices for learning rather than telling us what to do. The way we learn is fun,” Dougherty says. Students learn through games like Mad Minute, when students solve as many math problems as they can in one minute, and Challenge, when students pick other students to dual in a math problem.
While fun is a big part of the classroom, students are responsible for themselves. She talks to students like adults and uses a child-first philosophy.
“I can’t help but gush. She’s changed my kid in the most positive way possible. She’s just Cheryl, a category all of her own,” Jones says.