Carla Nolan’s students are not surprised she won
By B.C. Manion
Carla Nolan’s affinity for teaching and drama began when she was quite young.
As soon as she could talk, she was teaching her dolls.
By age 5, she was directing neighborhood kids in musical variety shows.
Growing up as the daughter of an educator, Nolan recalls being at her mom’s school — arranging classrooms, creating bulletin boards and stuffing mailboxes – on teacher planning days.
She recalls the fun she had putting up seasonal decorations and remembers being attracted to the camaraderie of the teachers, and, of course, to the cinnamon rolls the kitchen staff baked on planning days.
The Sunlake High reading and drama teacher, this year’s Pasco County teacher of the year, now sets a positive tone in her Land O’ Lakes classroom.
During a recent reading class, students stood in a circle taking turns announcing sentences and clapping to the beat of each syllable. At another point, Nolan read aloud to students, probing them occasionally to relate themes in the book to their lives beyond the classroom.
Students play phonemic awareness games, learn Latin and Greek roots, go on scavenger word hunts for unfamiliar terms and use context clues to figure them out. Nolan also helps students sharpen their writing skills as part of a school-wide initiative to foster better writing.
Students in her intensive reading class said they know she wants them to learn.
“She’s taught me a lot,” said 17-year-old Angelique Dorsey.
“She explains things,” said 14-year-old Kaitlin Duenas. “If you repeat questions, she doesn’t get mad.”
“I think she really does care about us,” said Felicia Johnson-Rollock, 18: “I think she believes a lot in you.”
In her submission for the award, Nolan noted that she subscribes to Abraham Maslow’s theory known as the hierarchy of needs.
“I believe that students will respond if their basic physiological needs are met, they are physically safe in their surroundings, they feel a sense of ‘belongingness’ in the classroom, and they know that their interactions will be respected by their classmates and their teacher.”
She’s not married to time constraints and believes students should be involved in setting their learning goals, so they’ll be responsible for their learning and invested in the outcome.
“I do not believe that every strategy is appropriate for every student, and I work to provide options to my students to honor their learning styles, strengths, and needs,” she wrote.
Her drama students said that philosophy is apparent in her classes. Students do vocal warm-ups, work on improvisation, collaborate on scene development and learn the history and vocabulary of the theater.
During one class, students did a read-through of a play by Mark Kaufmann, a California writer. When the actors finished, the entire class offered comments in a vetting exercise aimed at helping Kaufmann improve his piece. The writer asked for the students’ feedback, after becoming acquainted with them last year when they rehearsed his play, “Betsy’s Inconvenient Garden,” Nolan said.
Nolan asked if the class could speak to Kaufmann to get a better understanding of his play, and the playwright agreed.
“We all came in on a Saturday and we Skyped with him,” Nolan said.
“We got clarification on the play and the characters and all that from him. He really liked the kids. They were very funny and creative in their questioning.”
That’s why he wanted to know what the kids think of his latest script, Nolan said.
The drama students said they’re not a bit surprised Nolan won the countywide honor.
“I thought she would get it sometime in her lifetime,” said 18-year-old Lucas Witthoeft. “She has zero tolerance for people slacking off,” said the second-year drama student.
Seventeen-year-old Jay Fernandez, another senior, said he was thrilled for Nolan.
“I let her know that she deserves it. To me, she’s more than a teacher. She’s a friend,” he said.
Eighteen-year-old Meghan Collins has taken drama all four years of high school, but didn’t transfer to Sunlake High until her junior year. She called the class a “delicious, helpful, fun soufflé.”
Cathy Lorenzo, 16, said Nolan is adept at working with students at every level.
“She can interact with her students and not let them feel stupid.”
Meghan Nolan, 14, who is in her mother’s drama class, is thrilled by her mom’s achievement. “It is awesome,” she said. “She loves what she does.”
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