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posted: 9/11/2017 6:00 AM

Lake Louise first-grade teacher makes kids their best

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  • Video: Teacher Donna Zimmerman

  • Teacher Donna Zimmerman reviews the alphabet with first-grade students at Lake Louise Elementary School in Palatine. She is the Daily Herald's Top Teacher for September.

      Teacher Donna Zimmerman reviews the alphabet with first-grade students at Lake Louise Elementary School in Palatine. She is the Daily Herald's Top Teacher for September.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Teacher Donna Zimmerman works with first-graders Aaliyah Ali, left, and Vincent Sapp at Lake Louise Elementary School in Palatine.

      Teacher Donna Zimmerman works with first-graders Aaliyah Ali, left, and Vincent Sapp at Lake Louise Elementary School in Palatine.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Donna Zimmerman has not only been a teacher at Lake Louise Elementary School in Palatine for the last 33 years, she also was a student there.

      Donna Zimmerman has not only been a teacher at Lake Louise Elementary School in Palatine for the last 33 years, she also was a student there.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 

By Bob Susnjara

First-grade teacher Donna Zimmerman has an unbridled enthusiasm for Lake Louise Elementary School in Palatine.

Her excitement about Lake Louise is understandable. She went to grade school there. Her children were educated there. And she's been a teacher at the Palatine Township Elementary District 15 building for 33 years.

"It's just a passion for me," said Zimmerman, 58. "I tell these first-graders once they leave my room, they're still part of my family. We have our own special cheer, that's our cheer, that they all know. Even if they're in sixth grade, they still know: 'We're the best of the best of the best. Ho!'"

Zimmerman, a full-curriculum instructor, knows how to reach children.

For example, on a day early in the 2017-18 academic season, she was observed asking a girl to read to a toy dog instead of to her classmates in an effort to make the child comfortable.

And when she read "SuperHero ABC" as part of alphabet instruction, she worked in a message to the 19 students gathered around her.

Bubbleman, who blows big bubbles at bullies, represented the letter "B." Zimmerman, known for her ability to help young students grow in literacy, went beyond the alphabet to tell the children there are no bullies in her class and they need to have empathy for each other.

Although she's created a warm classroom atmosphere and wants children to enjoy learning, the beloved educator has high expectations for them. The word "can't" doesn't fly in her classroom.

"We all try," she said. "And if we fail, we learn by our failures. It's a positive attitude. I try to make this classroom positive. And children need to learn from their mistakes. We all make mistakes."

Zimmerman's skills are impressive to her colleagues and bosses. Lake Louise Elementary Principal Jennifer Seoane said Zimmerman is a "very exceptional" first-grade instructor.

"She knows exactly what to concentrate on," Seoane said. "First, she works on those relationships. That drives her students to perform at very high levels. Her students always have a great deal of success in their reading and writing."

Zimmerman's abilities extend outside the classroom in her role as a mentor to other teachers. Second-grade teacher Melissa Warder likes that she works next door to Zimmerman and can easily tap into her expertise.

"She's so passionate and she cares about the students' success," said Warder, a second-year instructor.

"And that's one of the things I noticed right away. I've got a student that she has a good connection with, and so she will help me when I might have a problem. She comes in there right away, and it's instant -- that student is back on their feet in 30 seconds or a minute and ready to go back into my classroom. It's amazing."

Second-grader William Muller-Zelazny is among Zimmerman's young fans at Lake Louise Elementary, which has about 830 students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

William, who demonstrated outside a classroom that he still knows how to do the "best of the best" cheer, said he appreciated how much his teacher cared about him and other students.

"It was pretty fun," he said.

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