Jennifer Regruth teaches her fourth-graders at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School to be successful in the classroom, encourages them to have empathy for others and gives them opportunities to explore the world in new and unique ways.
As a guidance counselor at Seymour Middle School, Cindy Ault reaches out to students on their best and worst days, giving them a listening ear and offering advice on making their middle school years a positive experience.
Seymour High School math teacher Ann Tormoehlen takes subjects like algebra and calculus and makes them fun and accessible to all students.
All three Seymour Community School Corp. employees were honored Thursday night as the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce’s Educators of the Year.
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Those receiving the award are nominated by their fellow teachers, former students and the community. A chamber committee then selects the winners from the nominations.
Awards were presented during the chamber’s 87th annual dinner at Celebrations in Seymour. Other winners were Dr. Matt Pierce with the Rising Star Award; The Pines, Small Business of the Year; Bob Poynter of Seymour, Corporate Citizen of the Year; and John Beatty, Citizenship Award.
‘A job I love’
Regruth said she is rarely speechless but found it hard to know what to say about being named Educator of the Year.
“It really makes me happy to be recognized for doing well at a job I love,” she said.
Her career started in the fall of 1990 when she began her student-teaching experience at Brown. The following school year, she was hired as a third-grade teacher and has been at Brown now for 27 years. The past 19 years, she has taught fourth grade.
With today’s technology at her fingertips, including Google and YouTube, Regruth is able to connect with her students in ways they understand and respond to.
“I’m proud that I have continually pushed myself to grow as a teacher and stay current,” she said.
It’s that push to find creative ways to motivate kids, to make global connections, to try new things and to share what she learns with other teachers that led to her receiving Educator of the Year honors.
She is thankful for the experiences she has been able to share with her students over the years, from Antarctic Skypes to joining a world record Paralympian on a 100-foot ladder truck to watching live as paleontologists dug up dinosaur bones.
“We are teaching students, not curriculum,” she said. “We are teaching them to love learning, be curious and work together. We are teaching them how to find what they need to know.”
Her path to education started simply with a love of learning and being around people, especially kids.
“I have an intrinsic love of learning,” she said. “I wanted others to love learning as much as I did and still do. It feels great to pass that on.”
Through nearly three decades of teaching, Regruth said she has learned many lessons herself.
“Listen. Be flexible. Focus on the big picture. Let mistakes be part of the process. Allow kids to lead. Have a growth mindset. You don’t have to pass the bar, just keep moving toward it,” she said.
Being a teacher today can be difficult, but Regruth never backs down.
“I love the challenge of showing up every day and saying, ‘Let’s do this!'” she said. “And I always feel needed and loved — always.”
‘A story to tell’
Coming from a family of educators, Ault said she never actually wanted to be a teacher herself.
“I was never one of those little girls who played school,” she said. “In fact, I remember telling my mother that I wasn’t going to become a teacher like my sisters.”
Going to Indiana University in Bloomington with an undecided major, she talked to her adviser, and when she found out becoming a teacher didn’t include chemistry, her decision was made. She had taken a fitness class and really enjoyed it, so she decided to teach physical education.
She began her teaching career in 1980 as soon as she graduated college. This year is her 37th year at Seymour Middle School, where she has been a physical education teacher and cheerleading, volleyball and track and field coach. She also coached varsity gymnastics at Seymour High School.
Although she loved teaching, she took a different position 28 years ago as a school counselor at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School, Cortland Elementary School and serving sixth-graders at Seymour Middle School.
Currently, she is a dean/counselor at Seymour Middle School, a title she has held for the past 25 years.
“I love the different personalities of the students, and I feel honored every time they trust me enough to tell me their innermost feelings,” she said.
The most rewarding aspect of being a guidance counselor is seeing students’ progress as they mature and learn, she said.
“A former student may come up and thank me for helping them get through a tough situation. When that happens, it reminds me that even when students may act like they aren’t listening, they really are,” she said.
Her career has taught her a lot not just about kids but life in general.
“All people, whether they are students, teachers, administrators or parents, all need the same thing. We all need to be heard and treated with respect,” she said. “Another thing I’ve learned is that if I could teach students anything, I would teach them how to be resilient. It is the most powerful characteristic an individual can have.”
She also has learned patience and how to listen.
“Students won’t hear what you are saying until you have truly listened to them,” she said. “They all have a story to tell. If you listen intently, you can help guide them in the direction they need to go.”
Ault was surprised to find out she had been selected as Educator of the Year.
“I feel honored to even be considered,” she said. “As a school counselor, I see myself as a peacemaker, teacher, supervisor, parent liaison, testing coordinator, troubleshooter and all-around wearer of the white hat. I’m not sure why I was chosen. I just know that I really appreciate the award and feel very honored.”
‘Doing some good’
This year marks Tormoehlen’s 19th year as a high school teacher. Her first job was at a girls Catholic high school in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1999.
Being a teacher wasn’t on her radar early on, though, she said.
“I realized in college that I needed to have a job where I felt I was doing some good for the world,” she said. “When I first floated the idea of changing my major to teaching, my then boyfriend, now husband, Nate, was the one who helped me understand what an important job teaching was and that it was a profession I should be proud to be a part of.”
After student teaching in a high school setting, she knew right away it was the right choice for her.
“Students are old enough to take care of themselves but young enough to still be impressionable and not too jaded about the world,” she said.
The most important lesson she has learned being a teacher is not to jump to conclusions about students without fully understanding their circumstances.
“A student may be sleepy because he spent all night caring for a sick sibling while his parents were at work,” she said. “A student may be sneaking food in class because she didn’t eat the night before. It’s the rare situation that is fully black and white, and my students have taught me to approach issues with kindness rather than accusations.”
Her ability to see a student’s potential and work with them to overcome their barriers is why she was chosen as Educator of the Year.
Tormoehlen currently teaches Algebra I to sophomores and AP Calculus to seniors and has developed math curriculum appropriate for students who are learning the English language.
“Three years ago, we had a large group of kids arrive unexpectedly from Guatemala and Honduras, so we have had to make a lot of quick changes to best serve those kids,” she said.
She was nominated for Educator of the Year in 2010, but this is her first time to win the award.
She thanked the chamber for taking the time to honor area teachers.
“It’s a huge honor,” she said. “(Seymour High School) is full of fantastic teachers, so I feel very fortunate to have been selected.”
One of the best aspects of teaching is that she never feels like she has to go it alone, she said.
“The math department at (Seymour High School) is a fantastic group of people,” she said. “I’m so grateful to work with a team that pulls together and helps us all to be better.”
Whether she’s working with a student struggling to grasp algebra concepts or assisting students with college-level calculus, Tormoehlen said she never has a boring day.
“High school kids are such an entertaining group to be around,” she said. “It’s up to me to create an environment that kids enjoy, and I love the challenge of trying to make my classroom a fun and caring place where kids can learn.”
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Winners at the 87th annual Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce awards dinner
Educators of the Year: Jennifer Regruth (Margaret R. Brown Elementary School), Cindy Ault (Seymour Middle School), Ann Tormoehlen (Seymour High School)
Rising Star Award: Dr. Matt Pierce
Small Business of the Year: The Pines
Corporate Citizen of the Year: Bob Poynter of Seymour
Citizenship Award: John Beatty