Tiffany Lachenmayr: Timber Drive Elementary

It’s a blast from the past, stepping into Tiffany Lachenmayr’s fourth-grade classroom: The alphabet, in cursive, serves as a wall border, and 26 book bags stuff numbered cubbies.

A motivational sign declares “Your choices + Your actions = Your life,” and the posted schedule includes the three R’s and then some.

But a lot more is new in today’s classroom than old, from iPads for each student to teacher Tiffany Lachenmayr, who professes hot yoga and marathon running as her afterschool passions.

Using a quiet shake of a maraca to capture students’ attention, and a soft voice that’s the essence of cultivated calm, Lachenmayr even used her recent European vacation time to gather artifacts from the “fourth-grade continent” of study to share with students.

“I wanted to be a doctor, to make an impact on people’s lives, and studied pre-med for two years,” said Lachenmayr, a self-confessed teacher’s pet and studious perfectionist when she was a fourth-grader. “Then I had an epiphany in the library while studying for a biology test: What would make the biggest impact on lives is teaching.

“I already had a love for kids. I switched majors the next day.”

An Illinois native, Lachenmayr had never heard of Garner before being offered her first teaching job here nine years ago. Eight of those years have been spent teaching fourth-graders, with specialties in math and science, and she’s since earned a master’s degree from Meredith College.

“I love fourth grade; the students are still young and innocent, but mature enough to have conversations,” she said. “The best part of my job, hands down, is my students; they’re the best part of every day, and they’re so funny it’s infectious to be with them. They keep me coming back year after year.”

Lachenmayr, recipient of the prestigious Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award in 2012, has helped lead her students to exceed state averages in math and reading.

Also a National Board Certified teacher, she guides them through busy days of lessons blended with group study, and pays attention to which children might need a little extra help.

“Start with the apples — did we get it?” she asks one pupil hunched over his iPad, with a congratulatory “There you go!” to another, as she moves from desk to desk.

The Common Core curriculum currently used in our state’s schools is rigorous, she says, in an ever-changing field that requires adaptability.

“I try to make sure I’m prepared with what I’m doing and teaching,” Lachenmayr said, “then reflect, revise and improve.

“I have a passion for math; I’m fascinated with approach and strategies, like why we break down fractions, and I like to learn, so it’s rewarding to see their light bulbs go off.”  

Timber Drive Elementary is recognized by the state as a high-growth School of Distinction. As the fourth-grade representative on the school’s leadership team, Lachenmayr says the group puts meeting students’ academic and emotional needs at the forefront, while helping them follow a path to success.  

“I have really high hopes for them,” she said. “I want each one to know, ‘I’m your biggest cheerleader, you’re college smart, and we’ll do whatever we need to, to get you there.’”

That message seems to get through, based on the number of students who return to visit Lachenmayr for advice or celebration long after they’ve left the fourth grade.

Lachenmayr believes that effectiveness in the classroom goes hand in hand with establishing these relationships with students, and perpetually striving to improve.  

“In order to really reach learners, I have to know them and they have to know me. I share as much as I can of my experiences with them,” she said. “I have to create goals to challenge myself in the classroom, then when we reach them, raise the bar to grow. And I have to maintain balance. That’s my biggest challenge. I could be here at school 24/7, but it’s best for the students and me to have family, friends and hobbies.

“Then, at the end of the school day, we can kick back, turn on the music and dance while we wait for the bus.”

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