Indian River’s Teacher of the Year: Education is relative!

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Melissa Grise, a fourth-grade teacher at John M. Clayton Elementary School, is the Indian River School District’s 2016-17 Teacher of the Year.

FRANKFORD — For Melissa Grise, Indian River School District’s 2016-17 Teacher of the Year honoree, education is relative – literally.

The 35-year-old fourth grade teacher at John M. Clayton Elementary is one branch on her family’s education tree.

“I actually married into a teaching family,” said Ms. Grise.

Her mother-in-law, Debbie Grise, was Teacher of the Year for the district (2000-01). Her sister-in-law, Lauren Grise teaches at the Southern Delaware School of the Arts and was that school’s Teacher of the Year in 2002-03.

“And my husband, David Grise, teaches here with me,” said Ms. Grise. “We all live in the area.”

An Indian River High School graduate, Ms. Grise attended the University of Delaware and earned a master’s degree from Wilmington University.

She began her education career with the Indian River School District in 2003, at North Georgetown Elementary School. Jim Hudson, current president of the Indian River board of education, was North Georgetown’s principal.

“Mr. Hudson, he was my first boss. He gave me a chance. He holds a very place in my heart,” said Ms. Grise.

She has been a fourth-grade general and special education teacher at John M. Clayton Elementary School since 2010.

Ms. Grise, who was North Georgetown’s Teacher of the Year in 2010, was selected Indian River’s overall honoree April 15 at the district’s annual Teacher of the Year celebration at Baywood Greens. She was among 16 candidates, one from each school.

Ms. Grise will represent the Indian River district at the state Teacher of the Year in Dover event this fall.

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Here is Indian River School District 2016-17 Teacher of the Year, Melissa Grise:

What was your major heading off to college?

“Honestly, I did not know exactly what I wanted to do when I would grow up in life. I had always wanted to be a teacher, but going through high school you are still not sure. I started off as a science/math major. Then I was talking with friends that are in education. And so I ended up changing probably mid first year to early childhood. My degree is actually pre-school to fourth grade. My certification runs K-6.  My certification covers my special ed.”

How about family?

“We have two boys, 8 and 10. They are students here in the district. So I have lots of hats to balance: mom, teacher, wife. We live in Selbyville.”

Room 215 is “where the magic happens.” Is there a magic potion?

“I think it is building relationships with your students I do that from Day 1. You get a new group every year and it’s trying to figure them out. You need to know them before you try to teach them. If they trust in you and they believe that you are there for them, then teaching becomes so much easier in some ways.”

“I also think that it is to really enjoy what you do every day and be passionate about it. And I do enjoy what I do every day, so I think that comes across in what I teach and how I teach it to them. I find reward in it. It is the small things. Every day there is a little something that you can walk out the door and hang your hat on.”

Work ethic is a connection with students?

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“I consider myself to be a hard worker. My students know that about me. They know when they come in, that as much fun as we are going to have we are also going to work hard. Hopefully, I provide that example for them. I also talk to them. I tell things that I am doing. I talk to them, like last summer about how I went away for two weeks. I went to school for two weeks at Yale and learned a lot. I try to convey to them, that I am still learning and that you are going to continue to do this throughout your life.”

The Yale trip ties in with students?

“The district selected me to go up to represent the district as a whole. I learned from a Yale professor. I was with other teachers from throughout the country. I am a family person and to be away from my kids for two weeks was the longest.

“But I learned a lot. I wrote a unit and the unit is actually online. So, I guess I am an author. It was one of those things that I talked about with my students, that I felt very overwhelmed at first and questioned myself; ‘Am I going to be able to do this?’ Then I talk about hard work and that you persevere through things and it pays off. I try to share struggles with my students because I think they need to see that I am a real person.”

If Melissa Grise was not a teacher what might she be?

“When you are in this you can’t imagine doing anything but teaching. People ask you, ‘What are you going to do when you retire?’ I think I would still find myself in this field in some capacity, either helping teachers, helping younger teachers. I’ve had a lot of pleasure in helping my student teacher (Meghan Clausen) this year. To think of some other field, it is hard for me to do that.”

Outside of school, what do you like to do?

“If I am not doing school things I like to be with my family. I love going to the beach. I love going out on a boat in the water. I just like to be outside.”

“I am a huge baseball fan, a big Orioles fan. I love to go up to Camden Yards. We are big sports fans. We are Redskins fans as well – through the good times and bad.”

How about Fun Fact?

“I was part of the Indian River High School state championship team in softball in 1998. I played catcher. I made first team All-State my senior year.”

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What was it like being named Teacher of the Year?

“I made the joke there was a 33-percent chance that I would get up there and have to say something. Honestly, when you are sitting there and watching all of those different videos you are very humbled by everything, to think of how many good teachers there are. I think sometimes in your everyday world you go to work, you teach and you are around the people that you work with. But you forget how many wonderful teachers are surrounding you in our district.”

“So to be selected as the winner of this award it was a true honor. To come from the district and have Mr. Hudson actually award me the certificate it meant a lot to me. It really did.”

So what now in preparation for the state Teacher of the Year event?

“Part of that process is completing different sections to a portfolio. So really I find it is more of a reflection process for teachers. They’ll ask you about your philosophy in teaching. They’ll ask about your district professional biography. So, many of those pieces I think really make the teacher think about why they teach. I think that it is important. For my message it is really help build teachers and develop teachers. I think we need to take time and help build our teachers. Because without teachers what do we have for our students? We are the people that are so instrumental in their learning. I think it is time to start investing in them.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at

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