After more than 35 years of teaching and a Teacher of the Year Award, kindergarten teacher Linda Gentry is finally getting the recognition she deserves.
Of the almost 80,000 public school teachers in Los Angeles County, Gentry was one of 16 selected by the Los Angeles County Office of Education to receive the “Teachers of the Year” honor for going above and beyond in affecting students’ lives. The awards ceremony was held at the Universal Hilton Sept. 23 but Gentry is still in the running for “California Teacher of the Year” and may eventually go on to compete for a national title.
The honored L.A. County teachers were chosen after being interviewed and submitting lesson plans and essays to a panel of peer judges. Each won $1,000 from main award sponsor California Credit Union.
However, awards aren’t what drive Gentry to be the best teacher she can be. Quick to praise others and acknowledge others’ contributions, this unique kindergarten teacher puts in the extra time to give individualized attention to every one of her students.
Her typical day begins at 7:30 a.m. when she arrives at Carver and ends at 6 p.m. after she has prepared for the next day of class. If a child is behind, she makes a point to make an appointment and help him or her.
“My job as a teacher is to instill that love for school in the children. I cannot teach them anything unless they really want to be here. So I try to get all the enthusiasm out of them. I try and make this a happy, happy place,” Gentry said.
Positive reinforcement saturates Gentry’s teaching philosophy. At the end of every class, her students line up in front of her and exclaim in unison with their teacher, “I had a sensational day!”
Some parents are direct witnesses to her everyday patience, so much so that father Kenny Wolfrank believes, “She’s not even human!”
Magical Child Sanctuary
When parents Dr. Bill Bercaw and Dr. Ginger Bercaw learned that their daughter had been assigned to Mrs. Gentry’s classroom last year, their Carver friends acted as if they had won the lottery. The Bercaw parents deem her classroom “the magical child sanctuary” and believe that Gentry “teaches her students not just how to read and write and give a speech but how to be good friends.”
Gentry’s contagious positivity doesn’t just make a difference in the one year of a kindergarten student. To mother Gemma Iannelli, Mrs. Gentry has become like family. Her fourth grade son Grant still remembers Mrs. Gentry and can recall what he learned. A wish came true for Grant when he found out he’d get to have Mrs. Gentry, too.
Iannelli is still impressed by the care that Gentry gives to each student, especially the picture slideshow with music that every student receives at the end of the year. Mrs. Gentry shoots and organizes the photos herself.
“The more fun I make it [class], the more they want to learn. The more they learn, the harder they try, the more successful they are. In my classroom, children may not ever say, ‘I can’t,’” Gentry said.
Carver Principal Liz Hollingsworth--who attended the Sept. 23 awards ceremony with SMUSD Superintendent Loren Kleinrock--has worked with Gentry ever since Hollingsworth became principal in 1995. Hollingsworth still recalls “watching Linda praise a young boy; she gently touched his chin to establish eye contact and complimented him in her soft, loving voice. That boy joyously bounced back to his spot on the kindergarten rug, convinced that he could succeed at anything!”
In her 35 years of teaching, Gentry admits she’s had difficult days. However, her innate patience prevails. “When I get home, I ask myself, 'What do I need to do better?'” Gentry said.
For Gentry, teaching is not a job but a way of life. After she graduated from USC with a major in education in 1972, she started teaching fourth grade in South Pasadena when she was only 21 years old.
Gentry took a few years off to raise two children of her own and was soon asked to begin a kindergarten program at St. Felicitas. In 1988, she applied for the open kindergarten position at Carver and got the job. Linda Gentry has now been at Carver for 22 years.
So why has she been teaching for so long? “I love teaching. I love kids. I’m the lucky one. The day I don’t enjoy teaching will be the day I stop teaching,” Gentry said.
By the looks of her adoring students, thankful parents and effervescent passion for kids and teaching, it doesn’t look like she’ll stop brightening kids’ days any time soon.