DiFusco-Funk has been named Region Six Teacher of the Year
On Sept. 14, Natalie DiFusco-Funk, a fifth grade teacher at West Salem Elementary School, was notified of the greatest achievement of her teaching career, thus far.
Superintendent Alan Seibert was on hand for a surprise assembly in the cafeteria to announce that DiFusco-Funk has been named Virginia’s Region Six Teacher of the Year. Schools from the Alleghany Highlands all the way to Danville are included in the Region Six category, with eight regions overall
“That was very surreal,” she said. “It’s taken all week to sink in that I’m now in a position of one of eight. I just keep saying to be honored for something that I already feel honored to do is very surreal.”
DiFusco-Funk, who graduated from Boston College in 2003, started her teaching career in Newton, Mass., where she taught fourth grade for seven years. Through mutual friends, she met her now husband, Brandon, at a horse race. Only he was from Roanoke.
“I thought it was be best if we lived in the same city,” DiFusco-Funk said, smiling.
She worked a year in Botetourt as a reading specialist before accepting a teaching position with West Salem Elementary School, where she just started her fifth year.
“I love the classroom,” she said. “I love teaching all of the subjects and building community in the classroom. It’s been wonderful. I feel very lucky to be supported by such a great district.”
Candidates were nominated by school divisions, and each submitted portfolios highlighting their accomplishments, community activities and educational philosophies.
A panel reviewed the material, and the same panel will interview the candidates next month in Richmond.
DiFusco-Funk has known she wanted to be a fifth grade teacher since she was in the fifth grade. She said she even uses some of the same learning tactics in her classroom as her fifth grade teacher, such as the comma dance, and the energy that she approaches the classroom with.
“I have thanked my former fifth grade teacher on social media,” she said. “I’ve called my mentors in Massachusetts. There are so many things that I do that I’ve learned from them.”
“I’m a product of previous great teachers,” she added.
She will travel to the Governor’s Mansion in Richmond on Oct. 19 for a ceremony hosted by Gov. Terry McAuliffe for a chance to be named the Virginia Department of Education’s Statewide Teacher of the Year.
She will be interviewed during the first part of the day, and the Statewide Teacher of the Year will be announced that evening.
“I have bought a new dress, because on Monday I was wearing the same dress that I was wearing when I was photographed for other things,” she said, laughing. “I have broken the cardinal rule of Elle Woods to never be photographed in the same dress twice. It’s apparently a lucky dress.”
“I have to prepare a three to five minute opening to a prompt that they’ve provided.” she added. “It’s 25 minutes in all of conversation, or an interview, with a panel of 10 people. I’m reading up and talking with others, and I’m basically going to be myself.”
Fifth grade does come with some challenges, such as SOL’s and preparing students for middle school. Life skills and emotional education are something that DiFusco-Funk tries to incorporate into her lesson plans.
“One of my favorite things to do is teach writing,” she said. “I feel like it opens a door to a child’s world, and I learn so much about them through their writing.”
DiFucso-Funk has been trained in a program called Responsive Classroom, which she said is a philosophy on how to build community in the classroom and the way to structure classrooms.
“The main thing in that philosophy is that every child should feel a sense of belonging, significance and fun,” she said. “Social and emotional learning is just as important as academic learning.”
DiFusco-Funk said it has long been her dream to travel to the White House to speak on education, and if she wins, she will have a chance to do just that.
“I have always joked that I’m going to go to the White House to tell the president my thoughts on education,” she said. “To go to the White House would be another dream come true.”