Lauralee Richardson probably didn’t appreciate her struggles with reading when she was in elementary school, where she grappled with the subject through first, second and third grades.
But had it not been for those early struggles, she likely wouldn’t be the woman she is today.
“After I went through that, it was pretty life-changing, to struggle with something like that,” said Richardson, seated in one of her seventh-grade student’s chairs at William Allen Middle School, the words “Soar To New Heights With a Great Book” stenciled above the whiteboard behind her. “Once I grasped it, I just loved it … The fact that I was able to grasp it, to master it, and teach it to others, it was amazing.”
Richardson was always driven to help others— “There’s just something about (it) that uplifts me”—but through her early tussles with reading and the influential Moorestown High School teachers who turned her on to books and showed her how to write, her career path crystallized.
“Teaching was it,” she said.
After earning a bachelor’s at The College of New Jersey and a two-year stint as a substitute in the Moorestown School District, Richardson landed her dream job at the end of 2011 when the district put her in her own classroom at the middle school as a language arts teacher.
She admitted to being “absolutely terrified” as a student teacher, but said, “When it came time for me to get a job, I just felt so ecstatic about the fact that they were giving this to me, that I just couldn’t even be scared.”
Though many teachers gravitate toward the ends of the educational spectrum—elementary or high school—Richardson said she was drawn to middle school education early on because of its position as the crux of a child’s formative years.
“It’s a challenging age … They’re trying to figure out what they want, what they want to do, basically what person they want to be,” she said. “So I think that’s interesting for a teacher to see. And I think because of their age group, you can teach them more challenging things, things that they can take with them forever.”
At the same time, Richardson is aware her students are entering that age where adults—any type of authority figure—are viewed as uncool, embarrassing, someone to be tested and challenged.
It’s not enough to simply talk at them and try to cram a lesson plan into their heads. It has to be more than just “‘You’re a student and you’re this age and you need to be in seventh grade.’ Who cares about that?” she said. “The whole true core of it all is making the students believe that it has meaning, past the fact that they need to be sitting here and getting an education. You have to make them believe it’s going to make them better through doing it.”
Richardson also practices what she preaches. Whatever she tells her students to write, she writes as well: “It keeps me focused, keeps me fresh, keeps me thinking like my students think … We write it together, and I think that makes it special for them.”
She also chaperones school activities and runs a literary magazine club at the middle school. For Richardson, as is the case with so many educators, teaching is not a simple matter of punching a clock, putting in her hours and heading home at the end of the day; she carries it with her everywhere.
“Teaching is a lifestyle,” she said. “There’s not a time that goes by that I’m not thinking about my students and how I can be a better teacher for them.”
Each month, Moorestown Patch will profile a different Moorestown School District teacher. This is the first in the series. Have any other suggestions for people in town we should profile? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know.