Email nominations to Anthony Zilis at azilis@news-gazette.com

While she toyed with the idea of pursuing other careers while growing up, including becoming a courtroom stenographer, Madonna Poggendorf always came back to teaching.

When she began her career in 1983, there was no better place to do it than her alma mater, Schlarman High School in Danville. After two years teaching at the high school level, Poggendorf transitioned to second grade at Judith Giacoma Elementary School in her hometown of Westville, where she’ll finish her career when she retires at the end of the year.

“She is a pillar of our school, district and community,” Principal Nathan Ford said. “Mrs. Pogg has impacted hundreds of students’, parents’ and coworkers’ lives over the course of her career. She always goes the extra mile to ensure her students have what they need to be successful. She is always willing to serve on committees, try new instructional techniques, and offer sound advice for the betterment of the school and district. She is one of the best!”

I find my work important because ... I get to start every day greeting my students with a hug and a smile and the students knowing I am always there for them if needed. I also love it when my students from the previous year come down to say hello before they head to their classroom. We love to listen to music, exercise with pool noodles and explore with STEAM bins but also know to focus and pay attention when it is learning time.

I became a teacher because ... I love kids. I knew in my heart at an early age that teaching was what I wanted to do. Playing school when I was a little girl was always a fun thing to do. At one point I thought I would become a courtroom stenographer, but I knew teaching was the job for me. Growing up, I went to St. Mary’s grade school and always loved being in school. It was a great experience to attend school with the same students every year and develop great friendships. To this day, I am still very close with my St. Mary’s classmates.

My favorite/most unique lesson that I teach is ... I teach a lot of great lessons, but one of my favorite is a community unit at the beginning of the year. This unit teaches students how to get along with their classmates and be kind to one another. We discuss bullying, how to talk things out with each other if there is a conflict and being a good listener. We write a class promise that the students all sign and we read together. We also paint self-portraits that are hung by the promise. It is a great learning experience for all of them.

My most fulfilling moment on the job was/is when ... every year, my students would perform a Christmas play in December and celebrate our mothers with a Mother’s Day Tea in May. These were such special moments for my students and parents. Seeing how some of my students would get up and perform in front of an audience was so great. The Mother’s Day Tea was always a special afternoon celebrating our mothers and maybe a few tears being shed. To this day, I still have students from previous years remember the part they were in the Christmas play. With COVID-19, we have not been able to perform either activity for the past couple of years, which makes me sad for my kids and their parents.

Something else I’m passionate about is ... my family. Growing up with seven children in my family, holiday time and birthdays were the best. Raising two daughters of my own, I wanted to instill those family values in them as well. I am always taking pictures so I have these family memories for a long time. I am happy and excited as I will become a grandmother for the first time in March.

My favorite teacher was ... Diane Hall from Schlarman High School. She was my typing and shorthand teacher. She is the one that encouraged me to possibly pursue a career as a courtroom stenographer. She was always very kind, encouraging and willing to help when needed. I often thought of picking up classes to get certified in this one day. I will be retiring at the end of this year, so you never know. Ha.

I engage students during this strange time by ... having great communication with them. We have times where we meet at the carpet for discussion and questions. We also meet in small groups for math and reading rotations where you can get to know your students better and know their strengths and weaknesses. I use Chatter Chips in my class to help with students that tend to be a little chatty. If they have kept all of their chips for the week, they get a reward.

If I weren’t a teacher, I would be ... I can’t imagine doing anything other than teaching, but if I could, I would like to work in fashion and makeup. I enjoy shopping for clothes, shoes, lipstick and perfume. Doing this for a music artist would be fun as well. Of course, it would have to be in a warm city by the ocean that is full of excitement and fun.

I will be retiring in May after teaching for 40 years, which does not seem possible. I know I will be back to sub, as teaching has been my life and I could never give that up.

— ANTHONY ZILIS

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