Teaching was not Turner’s original plan. After starting her career working in a large public accounting firm, she found herself unfulfilled, she said in her application: “I just did not want to work in corporate America anymore … being a parent greatly changed my perspective and was a significant factor in influencing my deep desire to do something meaningful.”
She went back to school, taking night classes to earn her master’s degree in elementary education while continuing to work full-time. At age 40, she became a teacher.
As an educator she strives to make learning relevant to life outside the classroom, teaching every lesson through a real-world lens.
“In each subject area, if I present opportunities for students to connect the work they do in class to the real world, students overflow with enthusiasm,” she said. “Writing about current issues that reflect students’ personal beliefs has meaning and passion. Learning the science of how plans grow is more compelling when students cultivate plants in an outdoor garden.”
Her students also practice social skills and citizenship. She works to educate the“whole child” throughout the year. From the start of the year, her students learn what respect, empathy, growth mindset and perseverance mean. Her goal is “to develop caring human beings with a strong sense of responsibility for themselves and the community.”
She models this for her students and provides them opportunities to learn and grow.
“I was terrified about how to help him and how to guide others in supporting him,” Turner said.
The boy’s father told her that he needed to learn how to cook. Turner initiated a cookbook project, collecting simple recipes from school families and staff to create a family-friendly cookbook. The class presented an illustrated copy to the family. Then they decided to sell copies to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
First, they collected recycled crayons, baking them into new shapes, such as hearts, and selling them. Those proceeds funded the printing of 500 cookbooks, which they then sold to raise $5,000 for the American Cancer Society.
“Through the process, we engaged the community in a project that helped many trying to process a senseless loss. We channeled grief into a positive endeavor, a life lesson that cannot be measured,” Turner said. “My students learned how to organize, work together and champion a cause they had a direct connection to. With guidance, second graders benefited the community and helped a friend.”
Brandywine Superintendent Mark Holodick cited the project in his letter of recommendation for Turner.
“The lesson was not only academic in nature because it included Common Core math, science, technology, and language arts standards, it was steeped in community, collaboration, caring, and empathy,” he said. “Wendy pours knowledge, heart, and soul into her students because she herself is filled with knowledge, heart, and soul.”
Parent Holly Feldman said both of her sons, who have different learning styles and needs, thrived in Turner’s class.
“She has emboldened my children by making them feel as though they can tackle absolutely anything with the right attitude … she asks them to take risks and dream big, making it clear that she believes in them,” Feldman said in a letter recommending Turner for the honor.
The environment and community involvement are other passions of Turner. She worked with Healthy Food for Healthy Kids to create a school vegetable garden at Mount Pleasant and organized a bi-annual community recycling event, “Greenfest,” partnering with the local solid waste authority.
“Through collaboration … we engaged many individuals in not just science education, but in the power of working for the good of the community and those in need,” she said.
She also is a 2016 state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. She previously has been honored by the Delaware Valley Green Building Council as a Green Schools “Changemaker” and by the Delaware Nature Society as Outstanding Environmental Educator.
By action of the General Assembly, she will receive a $5,000 grant to use for the educational benefit of her students, as well two personal grants totaling an additional $5,000. The remaining 19 school district/charter candidates each will receive a personal grant of $2,000. Turner also will receive: a $1,000 grant for educational/classroom use from American Institutes for Research; grants from the Delaware State Education Association, the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce and the Delaware Professional Standards Board; a State of Delaware Teacher of the Year commemorative plate from the Division of Motor Vehicles; free graduate-level courses from Delaware’s higher education institutions, including a full doctorate program from Wilmington University and University of Delaware; a gold watch from the Delaware State Teachers of the Year Association; a 10-karat gold ring from Jostens; and lunch in Washington D.C. with U.S. Sen. Tom Carper.
Other organizations that honored the newly-selected Teacher of the Year include: the Delaware Chief School Officers Association, Delaware Association of School Administrators, Delaware School Boards Association, Delaware State University, Wesley College, Educators Rising and Advantech Incorporated.
Turner’s selection as Delaware’s top educator makes her the 53rd Teacher of the Year since Delaware’s recognition program began. This year’s celebration was sponsored in part by Voya Financial and Hope Street Group.