Gail Smedley has seen three-decades of students come through her classroom and she remembers most of them. She says there are many moments that will stay with her. One, she shares here, “I remember one young man who came to my class insecure and almost unable to do the advanced assignments required in the Magnet program. I worked closely with him, meeting with him twice a week outside of class to talk about personal matters and to help him academically. I also allowed him to have extra time on assignments and put him on a pass/fail grading system to alleviate some of his stress. I gave him honest feedback about his work, but he received a pass/fail on his report card. As the year went on, he began to turn in work in a timelier fashion, and the quality of his work improved greatly. At the beginning of 8th grade, I asked him what he wanted to do about grading, and he decided that he wanted to be graded just like the other students. I will never forget the look on his face when he got an ‘A’ and an ‘A-‘in our two classes. It made me cry.”
Ferndale School District Executive Director of Teaching and Learning, Mr. Mark Hall, describes some of the characteristics of the Talented and Gifted (TAG) students that Gail has taught, “They come to the Talented and Gifted program with differing backgrounds and a wide range of interests. They are invited to participate because their ability is significantly above the norm for their age. Their desire to learn and know and question and grow is what brings them together. They like to discuss and argue and debate. They like to create and perform and sing and recite. They challenge and push one another to excel and accelerate their learning. These are motivating and at the same time challenging students to teach. They expect a lot of themselves, their peers and their teacher. Gail expects a lot right back and she gets it from them because she expects it of them. Gail Smedley knows how to take each student and patiently push them to their next level, and then the next level after that.”
Vista Middle School Principal Heather Leighton has seen Gail in action for three years. Leighton says, “Gail inspires love. That is the best way I can describe it. She advocates for all students and encourages them to reach for their very best potential and, in doing so, she forms connections with students and families that last a lifetime. Gail has a powerful yet compassionate presence. I admire her ability to connect with kids at all levels - she truly is an inspiration. Personally, I am going to miss our impromptu morning meetings in which we attempted to solve world problems!”
When asked what inspired her to become a teacher, Gail says, “I had previously been both a dance teacher and a counselor focusing on the teen population in both areas. I love helping teens recognize their strengths and giving them tools to deal with the areas in their lives they need to work on. I also enjoy the “aha” moments when students make a cognitive, social, or creative leap in their development that enable them to be stronger critical thinkers and positive participants in our democracy. I always say that I have the best job in the world teaching and counseling students while dancing in between their ups and downs.”
The ‘ups’ have been almost too numerous to count. Between 1988 and 1995, Gail’s students placed 1st or 2nd in State each year in the Odyssey of the Mind competition - an international program that provides problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college. Gail’s students have included State History Day Winners as well as two National History Day winners. Gail has had a student place 1st in State in The Geography Bee and numerous first place winners in the Future Problem Solving Scenario Writing. There are many more highlights that Gail holds dear to hear heart as a teacher.
Ferndale School District Superintendent Dr. Linda Quinn describes how the program Gail has stewarded over the years has benefited the District, “Gail is a powerful force for good. She has done wonderful things to encourage the potential, not only of the students, but of this entire district. I appreciate Gail’s passion for diversity. Gail has planned the Martin Luther King Jr. Assembly at Vista for many years. I have had the privilege of attending many assemblies during my time as an educator and Gail’s respect and professionalism for this important event is unique and touching.”
If you ask Gail about one special day in her career, she will say that there have been many. “My best days are when I get to see transformation happen because of my relationship with a student. I feel that successful teaching is based on positive student/teacher relationships. I build relationships through conversation – sometimes those are tough conversations but my best days are the result.”
The relationships that Gail speaks of are real and lasting. Former student and current Ferndale School District colleague Patti Hoelzle talks about how Gail has influenced her life, “I am lucky to have had Gail as a teacher and now as a colleague. During both ‘seasons of life,’ she showed me unconditional positive regard, grace, and passion for BOTH her pursuits in life and in encouraging me to follow MINE. I continue to channel her engaging teaching practices in my roles as a school counselor, a mother, and a human being interacting with others on this earth.”
As she concludes her career in the Ferndale School District, Gail says that she will remember the wonderful relationships she has forged with students and staff and says, “The world of teaching is all about relationships, so it is the people I will remember most.”
We will miss you too, Gail. Congratulations on your upcoming retirement.
This story is brought to you as part of a series of stories about our teachers in the Ferndale School District. Teacher Appreciation Week is being celebrated May 6th – May 10th in the Ferndale School District and around the country.