Huntley teacher stands out among peers in state

 
 
Updated 10/6/2015 6:31 PM
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  • Chris Bessey, 47, of Algonquin, a fifth-grade teacher at Leggee Elementary School in Huntley, has been named the state's top early career educator.

    Chris Bessey, 47, of Algonquin, a fifth-grade teacher at Leggee Elementary School in Huntley, has been named the state's top early career educator. Courtesy of Huntley Community School District 158

Children have been Chris Bessey's lifelong passion.

The 47-year-old Algonquin resident switched careers from being a business professional to getting her teaching certification that has paid off with her being named the state's Outstanding Early Career Educator.

"It's an honor," said Bessey, now in her third year of teaching fifth grade at Leggee Elementary School in Huntley. "I'm a lifelong learner myself that it's so neat to be appreciated for trying new things and really reaching out."

She will be honored along with 250 of Illinois' top educators at the Illinois State Board of Education's 40th annual Those Who Excel/Teacher of the Year banquet Oct. 17 at the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Normal. Among them are 10 Teacher of the Year finalists, of whom one will be named the top Illinois educator for 2016.

Bessey started getting involved in Huntley Community School District 158 as a volunteer, being active with the parent-teacher association at Conley Elementary School in Algonquin, before working as a substitute teacher in the district for eight years.

She worked in product design and financial planning for several retail firms and quit to raise her three children -- now a freshman in college, and a junior and sophomore at Huntley High School.

"My husband and I always have wanted to keep children the main focus," she said. "I ended up going back to school at 44."

Local school district leaders and community members nominate candidates for the awards. A committee of peers, organized through ISBE, chooses winners on three levels -- excellence, merit, and recognition -- across multiple categories, including classroom teacher, school administrator, and student support personnel.

This is the ninth year the state has recognized early career educators.

"We decided that it was a good way to kind of build young teachers up," said Ann Muraro-Lacopo, ISBE spokeswoman. "It's hard for teachers in their first five years."

During her time substitute teaching at Conley, Bessey was an administration favorite for her adherence to plans while proctoring tests.

"It was then I recognized her talent and gift for being in the classroom," Leggee Principal Scott Iddings wrote in his nomination letter.

Iddings urged Bessey to take up teaching as a career, seeing her ability to communicate and her rapport with young children.

"It was a thrill," Iddings said of her recognition by the state. "She cares about every single student and she knows that each of those children learns in a different way. She truly does individualize her (teaching) to the students."

Bessey said she has done a lot of global integration in her classroom using online tools.

"We have our own blog, Twitter account, we do Skyping ... anything that gets them out of these four walls," she said. "I have so much fun and I feel like we're making such a change ... affecting the new millennium learner."

For a complete list of local recipients by county, visit isbe.net.

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