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Digging a little deeper and going the extra mile to teach lessons helped give Gale-Bailey Elementary School’s Carol Eaton the nod for The Washington Post’s Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award.

Eaton teaches first grade at Gale-Bailey and has done so for 11 years. She has 18 years of teaching experience.

Prior to teaching at the Marbury school, Eaton taught several years in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties with a break for several years to raise her children.

When her children grew older, she decided to get back to teaching. She accepted a job at Gale-Bailey and said one day she was walking down the hall of the elementary school, and something clicked.

“I felt I was finally home,” she said.

Teaching first grade, Eaton said, feels as though she has come full circle. She recalled when she attended private school, and when she reached the fourth grade she was selected to help out in the first grade.

“I thought that was the greatest thing in the world,” she said.

Now, many years later having taught first, second and third grade in her career, she has planted herself in grade one.

“I love first grade,” she said.

She said teachers want every child to move as far as they can each school year, and she feels first grade is a foundational year, and if she doesn’t do her best to give each child a strong foundation she said she would just be stringing them along.

“Teachers need to encourage children to be lifelong learners,” she said.

One way Eaton encourages her children is through reading. She said encouraging her students to read allows them to explore and learn about all types of genres and learn about the world.

Reading is Eaton’s favorite hobby, and she talks with her students about the books she is reading and encourages them all to have books by their beds to read.

Eaton said what might set her apart from other teachers is her ability to dive deep into a lesson and plan it out in a way that will allow students to get the most out of it.

For example, a student field trip to George Washington’s birthplace becomes more than a bus ride to the location and some activities about it.

“I really enjoy planning and really getting into a lesson,” she said.

Eaton said she travels to the site prior to the trip and reads all the signs and talks to people about the place. She looks through the gift shop and finds books that are suited for her students, purchases them and uses them in lessons prior to the trip.

“That way, in class, I can prepare students,” she said.

Amani Berry, 6, said she likes that Eaton teaches the class about math.

Amani said she liked using the 10-frames, which are grids used to help visualize numbers when adding and subtracting figures.

Amani said she also likes how Eaton helps students figure out tough words when they are reading.

Reagan Toder, 7, agreed with Amani that Eaton was a good teacher.

She said when you come to a word you don’t understand, Eaton “helps us figure it out.”

Students said sometimes Eaton covers up a word all but the first letter and by thinking about the word before the tough word and what word that starts with the uncovered letter might make sense, they can sometimes figure out the word they are having trouble with.

Aiden Graves, 6, said he really likes how Eaton uses the Smartboard — an electronic white board — to do various exercises such as dice games.

Eaton uses dice to select various lessons for students as an “exercise break” when students are getting a little restless. The exercises help get students back on track.

Aiden said Eaton was deserving of the Agnes Meyer award because she is “nice, helps kids and helps them learn.”

Eaton said she is sharing her award, which they understand mostly to be a bouquet of flowers, with her children.

Eaton told her students that they along with all the other children she taught through the years helped her get where she is today and helped her become recognized.

Knowing that she was nominated for the award, Eaton said, was both overwhelming and scary.

“To have people who work with you every day, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and to nominate you,” was overwhelming, she said.

To watch the committee work on the application process, taking time away from family to do so and for them not to get anything from it was “overwhelming and humbling,” she said.

Eaton said she is a strong believer that teachers should be recognized for their efforts. She said she can see the dedication from administrators to teachers aides.

“Charles County is a wonderful school system to be a part of,” she said.

Lifting up her arm, Eaton showed off a blue bracelet that reads, “Be the Difference.” She said staff in the school system received the bracelets from Charles County Superintendent Kimberly A. Hill, and Eaton said she believes in that message. She wants to be the difference for each individual child.

She said it was really nice to receive the teacher of the year recognition, and she “represents one of many teachers throughout our county that work hard and put kids first.”

The Washington Post each year honors outstanding teachers throughout the metropolitan area through its educational foundation. A committee reviews nominations throughout the school system, and one teacher is chosen to represent Charles County in the program as its Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award recipient.

The Washington Post Education Foundation in May will honor Eaton during a ceremony. She will be recognized by the board of education during its June 10 meeting.

gphillips@somdnews.com