by Mary Wilson
Grandview Middle School eighth grade science teacher Hannah Davis, along with the rest of the GMS staff, teaches one block of reading each day. However, she doesn’t just teach reading to her students, she lives and breathes it. Now in her seventh year of teaching, Davis started her career as a student teacher at GMS before being offered the full-time position in 2009.
“I’ve never taught anywhere else; this is my home,” said Davis.
Davis said she loves her reading class yet faces some challenges with the curriculum. Despite not having the newest materials to teach with, GMS’s librarian, Claudia Kimrey, has helped Davis to find books her students will want to read.
“She’s the one who helps come up with different books and getting our kids into different reading programs,” said Davis. “Every time she hosts a book fair, I spend about $100 on new books.”
Davis has a personal library in her classroom, filled primarily with books she has read and recommends to her students. She said that students who don’t particularly like reading will come to her for recommendations.
“I want to know what they’re reading,” said Davis. “If I read what the kids are reading, then we can talk about the books together and bond over them.”
She even gets into friendly competitions with students. One in particular has read ten books as part of Kimrey’s Reading Counts program.
“I’ve only read seven,” said Davis. “She’s kicking my butt!”
In 2014, on tax day (April 15), the 32-year-old was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. The devastating news floored Davis and her family, husband Bryan and daughters Isabella and Siobhan.
“I only found it because my mom was diagnosed and I went and got checked out,” said Davis. “If it weren’t for my mom, I would never have known.”
Starting chemotherapy in May of 2014, Davis said her students were more than supportive and helpful. At the end of that school year, her hair started to fall out. Davis had most of her chemo done over the summer before the start of the next school year.
“The school district was so helpful in making sure I had enough days,” said Davis. “Coworkers were even offering me their time off.”
Davis returned to school in the Fall of 2014, completely bald and wearing a face mask. When students asked her what was going on, she’d use the opportunity to educate them. Each Thursday during the fall, she went to receive treatment.
“The kids were so supportive,” said Davis. “During that time, I’d be gone on Thursday, and then I might be gone on Friday, too, depending on how I was feeling.”
She then was out for a longer period of time when she underwent a double mastectomy. Upon her return, Davis said her students were constantly making sure she was okay.
“They’d wash their hands and sanitize them all the time,” said Davis. “The parents were incredible, too, bringing me treats and checking up on me.”
Being a science teacher, Davis took the opportunity to teach her students about the different types of chemotherapy and cancer cells.
“What a perfect class for this real-life example right in front of them,” said Davis. “My oncologist even gave me different ways to explain what was going on with me to my students.”
She finished treatment at the beginning of the current school year. While her students this year haven’t witnessed first-hand most of Davis’ health issues, they continue to be supportive.
“It’s so nice to work in this environment,” said Davis. “I don’t need to go anywhere else. We have our challenges, but the kids make my job easier.” Davis said she appreciates the interest the students and parents have shown in her.
Recently, Davis posted a writing opportunity for her students in her Google Classroom. The contest, Read to Achieve, was sponsored by KCTV-5 and the Missouri National Education Association. Students were asked to nominate a teacher to win $1000 during the 2015-16 school year.
“I thought it was for the district to receive the money, I wasn’t even thinking about me at all,” said Davis. “I told them they could write about whoever has inspired them.”
Six students wrote letters nominating Davis for the prize without telling her. The letters stated that Davis inspires them to be self-confident; she makes them feel better about themselves; and that she has shown them how to appreciate reading.
“They were so kind in what they wrote,” said Davis. “It made me feel good to be able to help them love reading as much as I love reading.”
Davis said it was teachers when she was younger who taught her to love to read. Those teachers knew which books to pick from and inspired her to read new things. Davis is working on motivating her students while holding them accountable.
“The day I found I won the contest was the same day I found out my grandpa died,” said Davis. “I thought at first it was a joke, and it was not funny.”
It was no laughing matter: Davis was presented last week with a check for $1000 from the Read to Achieve contest. She is the first Kansas City-area teacher to win this year.
“I’m crying because my grandpa died and I’m crying because I’m happy I won,” said Davis. “My emotions were all over the place.”
She plans to use the money to add to her classroom library. Her list of upcoming books has grown on her wish list and she’d like to get more series of books into the hands of her students.
“Teaching reading here is hard because it’s a random class that is not part of my normal science content,” said Davis. “Adjusting to that has been good and I have so enjoyed teaching it.”