Local Schools

Gardendale Teacher Spotlight – Jennifer Bensko

The Holy Spirit talks to me in a way that I can understand it. Admittedly, I am trying to get better at following what He is telling me to do.

In this installment of our Teacher Spotlight Series, He told me to just let what Jennifer wrote speak for itself.

So I will only add that God called Jennifer to teach. I am so happy that she listened to Him, and Gardendale is very fortunate to have her as a first grade teacher at Gardendale Elementary.

Treye Hanner: Tell us a little about you and how you decided to become a teacher?

Jennifer Bensko: I am a first grade teacher at Gardendale Elementary. This is my 24th year to teach.  I taught 8 years at Brookville Elementary, and this is my 16th year at Gardendale Elementary.

I actually went to Gardendale Elementary as a child and graduated from Gardendale High School. I attended UAB and have my Master’s degree in Elementary Education.

I originally thought that I wanted to be a nurse. I worked with children with cancer through Camp Smile-a-Mile as a counselor in high school. While working with cancer patients, I thought that I wanted to pursue a career in the nursing field. I took a human anatomy class at UAB. While in the class, I worked on a cadaver and soon realized that the nursing field was not for me!

However, I did know that I wanted to work with children. I felt that God was calling me to be a teacher.

Treye Hanner: What is your favorite part of being a teacher?

Jennifer Bensko: I have two favorite parts of being a teacher. The first is relationships. Relationships that are made with the students, families, and coworkers are priceless. Teachers are invested in the life of their students. We want the best for them.

A teacher, however, cannot teach alone. We depend on each other tremendously. It takes a village to make an amazing school. Gardendale Elementary is an amazing school.

We have wonderful parents and PTA that are very involved. We have volunteers like Miss Brooklyn Pickle who give of their time to help our students. Our administration and staff are very supportive.

So much of what they do often goes unnoticed. Our teachers encourage and help one another. My coworkers are the best!  I am so thankful for each of them, especially my first grade team. Kindness truly is contagious, and I see this every day at GES.

My second favorite part of being a teacher is seeing the growth of students from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. It is rewarding to see the progress in first graders.

Reading books aloud to my students is my favorite part of the day. Seeing students engaged and excited about learning makes my heart happy. Setting a foundation for a love of reading and learning is so important.

I want them to know that learning is fun. I want my students to love to come to school because they know they are loved at school.

Treye Hanner: Are there special moments where you say to yourself, “this is why I teach?”

Jennifer Bensko: When a child has been struggling either academically or socially and the “light bulb moment” happens I know that this is why I teach.

When a child writes me a note or says I love you, I know this is why I teach. At the end of the school year when students and I both tear up because they are moving on to the next grade level, I know this is why I teach. When former students come back just to say hi and to give a hug, I know this is why I teach. When days do not go as I have planned and God whispers to keep going, I know this is why I teach.

Treye Hanner: What challenges have you experienced while having to teach through the pandemic?

Jennifer Bensko: In the beginning of the pandemic the greatest challenge to me was that students were not physically in the classroom. Remote learning is hard, especially for the younger students. We need each other.

First grade students are learning the foundations of education and many of these skills cannot be taught via the web. The social skills that were lost due to not being with each other for me has been the greatest challenge in the classroom.

Some students of course are behind academically, but we are working hard to make progress.

Treye Hanner: What’s the one thing you would like people to know about teachers?

Jennifer Bensko: One thing that I would like people to know about teachers is that we are on your team. We want what is best for your child. Teachers work hard. We pray for your children and your families.