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ODU Graduate Monica Chattin Holland Honored as Virginia New Teacher of the Year


ODU graduate Monica Chattin Holland is the first recipient of the New Teacher of the Year Award presented by the Virginia Federation of the Council for Exceptional Children (VA CEC) to extraordinary first year teachers.

People who know Holland are not surprised that this Cedar Road Elementary teacher would garner such an award. Most agree that Holland has a natural ability to connect to her students, making her an exceptional educator.

"She is one of those teachers who has that special something - an oversized heart that cares immensely about the success of each and every one of her students. She works diligently to address their diverse learning needs, and has such a positive outlook coupled with strong determination, so failure is never an option, "says her former ODU professor, Jody Sommerfeldt.

However, Holland gives most of the credit for her selection as New Teacher of the Year to her former ODU professors, current students, administration, parents and fellow teachers.

"I couldn't have done it without their help, says Holland. "The first year is a little challenging for most new teachers, but mine was a rewarding and fun experience thanks to those around me. I received wonderful support."

In fact, many years ago it was a parent who suggested to Holland that she become a teacher. Born in Pennsylvania, she moved to Virginia during kindergarten and attended the Chesapeake Public School System, where she now teaches first grade. She was captain of a swim team and later coached younger kids in Western Branch. A parent saw her interacting with young swimmers, told her she was a natural instructor and encouraged her to consider teaching as a career.

In 2007 after obtaining an associate degree from Tidewater Community College, Holland enrolled at Old Dominion University. She earned a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies and Elementary Education, an M.S. in Elementary Education, both from ODU, and chose to return to Chesapeake Public Schools as a teacher because of the collaborative atmosphere.

After viewing her contagious and welcoming smile, it is easy to see why her students love her, and why one would nominate her for this award.

When she speaks, you can hear her excitement for teaching and the joy she feels when she reviews student progress throughout the year.This school year she is excited about incorporating a surfer themed reward system in the class.

When her new husband presented her with a pink surfboard, she saw an opportunity to bring the enjoyment of her new hobby to her students through a surfing chart. Students in her class move up or down the chart each day, with the goal of reaching the number one spot - Catching the Monster Wave - and avoiding lower spots such as Rescue Me. The children start the day at Surf's Up with each child determining his or her location on the chart based on his/her actions throughout the day.

"I consistently use positive reinforcement," says Holland.

Each word Holland speaks makes it clearer that her never-ending positive attitude and enthusiasm for the job also helped her earn the New Teacher of the Year Award. Her motto for life is "a day without laughter is a day wasted" and each day she strives to make teaching as fun as possible.

"I want my students to look forward to coming to class, so I make it a positive experience from the beginning. I greet them at the door each morning with a smile and focus on routine, so they know what to expect. I am fortunate that I get to do what I love every day in a place I love. All of the preparation was worth it."

"Though Monica is a general education teacher, she teaches all students (at-risk, special education, general education) in her classroom, so that they are able to meet their own potential," says Dr. Hope Jordan, board member and Vice President for VA CEC.

When asked, Holland doesn't hesitate to tell other first year teachers that the road to success is relying on advice from veteran teachers. "It saves time because they have already faced the issues and found solutions," says Holland. "One day, I emailed a former ODU professor, and her suggestions helped me in class the next day," she adds.

Holland was presented with a trophy and certificate at the VA CEC fall conference held at Regent University and Founders Inn & Spa in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

In addition to teaching, after school Holland mentors students through Girls on the Run, a program that teaches female students in grades 3-5 how to deal with peer pressure. "I love children, and I love spending time with them even out of the classroom," states Holland.

The Virginia Federation of the Council for Exceptional Children (VA CEC) has been active since 1958. The organization continues the Council for Exceptional Children's (CEC) mission of excellence by adding local resources for teachers, administrators, parents and other special education professionals. The CEC is the leading voice for special and gifted education. Through the vision and dedication of more than 30,000 members, CEC sets the standard for high quality education for children and youth with exceptionalities.