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Teacher turns personal experiences into lessons

By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff Writer

Army Flier
Fort Rucker, AL | February 4, 2014

Lisa Halpin, Fort Rucker Elementary School third grade teacher, helps her student during morning math warm-ups as her class looks on Tuesday.

Lisa Halpin, Fort Rucker Elementary School third grade teacher, helps her student during morning math warm-ups as her class looks on Tuesday. | Photo: Nathan Pfau

(Editor's note: This is part of a continuing series lookingat different jobs and the people who get them done at Fort Rucker. Readers whohave ideas for jobs or people to be highlighted in the series can send an emailto for the staff to consider.)

Children pour into the classroom as the bell rings andprepare to take on the day, but one teacher has prepared her entire life to dowhat she loves most – teach.

Lisa Halpin is a third grade teacher at Fort RuckerElementary School, and although she's been teaching for 13 years, her story asan educator didn't start until later in life.

Her day starts at 5 a.m., even though her class doesn'tbegin until 7:30. She said she likes to use the extra time to get ready forwhat's ahead.

"I get up at 5 a.m. because I like to have that time in themorning to rev up and settle myself," said Halpin. "I usually watch the news,have two or three cups of coffee, and do some household things to get them outof the way and center myself for the day."

The morning is her favorite part of the day because she saidit's when the children in her class are fresh and excited to learn.

"They're just so enthusiastic in the morning," said theteacher. "They sort of wear down as the day goes on. In the morning, all thepotential is still out there and I just feel like I can take it on."

On a normal day, Halpin arrives at the school a littlebefore 7 a.m. to prepare her classroom, and once the children arrive, learningstarts immediately with analogies and morning warm-ups on the SmartBoard.

This is when the children are the most involved and aregenuinely the most excited about learning, she said. They participate inmorning math problems, help each other solve equations and, most importantly,learn to stand on their own.

That last part is something Halpin said is one of her mostimportant lessons.

Each teacher in the school posts a quote above the entranceto their classrooms that they feel is inspirational and fundamental to theirteachings, and the quote that hangs above Halpin's door reads, "Dream big anddare to fail."

"Fail seems like such a harsh word, but I think of it as apositive word and I want these kids to think of it that way, too," she said."If you don't fail, then you haven't tried. If you don't try, then you're nevergoing to succeed."

To Halpin, failure is a type of success and is anopportunity for the students to learn something. She said she wants to changethe perception that failure is a bad thing, and she wants the children tocelebrate failure because, to her, failure is growth.

Although academics are important, it's life lessons that shehopes she can get across to the children along with their everyday studies, anda large part of that is having the students stand on their own to have theopportunity to fail.

"In the morning, the children work on their math warm-ups,and I tell them that during that first 10-15 minutes, it's desert-island time,"said the teacher. "I tell them, 'You are by yourself and you've got to solve this.You have to save yourself.'

"Of course I help them eventually, but I want them to tryfirst," she continued. "Their instinct is to ask for help, and I do want tohelp them, but sometimes the best help is to let them help themselves."

Halpin, a self-proclaimed Army brat, said she feels she gota lot of her teaching philosophy because the way her life panned out early on.She had her first child when she was 16 years old – her daughter, Amy – but shebelieves it was the best thing for her.

"That's something that changes your life," said Halpin."Although I would not recommend having children at that young of an age, it wasa good thing for me.

"I have always been very quiet and introverted, and having adaughter at 16 gave me some attention, even though it was negative attention.It was a good strengthener for me," she continued. "It made me believe inmyself, trust in myself and learn to not care what people thought about mebecause I know who I am."

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