South Bend Riley Graduate Lisa Wills Children’s Book Teacher’s Love
SOUTH BEND – As Lisa Wills promotes her children’s book “A Teacher’s Love”, she can’t help but think of the teachers who encouraged her and ultimately inspired her to teach.
Wills, a graduate of Riley High School and Ball State University, currently teaches fourth grade math at Victory College Prep in Indianapolis, where she has worked since 2015. Wills said the teachers who stood out in her memory were those who let her know that they believe in her while making sure she has mastered the skills that will eventually lead to her earning a master’s degree from Indiana University at South Bend.
Wills said educators like Ron Wilson and Dan Walkey, who taught her at Studebaker Elementary School and Jackson Middle School, saw her and saw what was going on in her life. They also saw its potential, Wills said.
“I wasn’t the best student because I had a lot of adversity at home and that was reflected in my grades,” Wills said. Wilson “noticed he saw me.”
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Wills noted that Wilson, who retired from teaching in 2001, also taught all of Wills’ siblings. She said the way Wilson relates to students and runs her class is similar to how she runs her class, as well as the teacher described in the pages of “A Teacher’s Love.”
“He taught us about life, travel and our future,” she said. “He taught us to be respectful of ourselves and all the teachers around us.”
Wilson said Wills was a co-op student who received a lot of support from her family. Still, like many students, there were times when Wills needed encouragement.
“Some of the kids came in with different difficulties and you just hang out with them and encourage them to tell them to keep going,” Wilson said.
Walkey was Wills’ physical education teacher in Jackson and coached her in basketball to Jackson and Riley. He was a constant presence who took Wills home after training every day.
“From my freshman year to my senior year, he made sure I attended games and brought me home,” Wills recalls. “He advocated for me so that I could play sports and stay off the streets and I will never forget him for that.”
Wills majored in criminal justice at Ball State and worked for several years as an adult probation officer, and even helped start a prison education program that helped about 100 ex-offenders get their GED.
Wills said it was this experience that led her to education, and she joined the Teach for America program in 2003. Wills taught in Atlanta, the United Arab Emirates, and Washington, DC before occupying his current position in 2015.
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“I’ve been teaching third and fourth grades for 19 years, and especially after this pandemic, I just realized that the world needs to know how incredibly important the teacher-student relationship is,” Wills said.
“This message is so appropriate at this time for teachers, but also for all those who work with children such as coaches and pastors.
“These relationships are critical.”
The book tells the story of a relationship that a student has with their teacher from the perspective of the student. He describes how his teacher creates a caring classroom environment and encourages students to reach their potential and knows what is going on in his life outside of the classroom.
Wills said the past year has been tough for students and teachers. The pandemic has closed school buildings and made in-person learning impossible. Students, teachers and parents have had to adjust to distance learning through Zoom, and some kids have struggled, Wills said.
“We were all starting from scratch and it was all very difficult,” she said. “Parents are the real heroes, and we had to collaborate, we had to work together.”
Despite those efforts, Wills said, many students fell a step or two behind during the pandemic.
Wilson said he was proud to see Wills decide to pursue a career in education.
“It makes me feel like I did some things well,” he said, “and it’s pretty cool to see that she became a teacher.”
Email South Bend Tribune reporter Howard Dukes at [email protected]
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