Terri Wilson, Grade 2 Teacher

Grade 2 Teacher Terri Wilson has been a staple in the Lower School community for the last 39 years. Beloved by current students, former students, and alumnae, Ms. Wilson is committed to teaching girls every day that they can learn, do, and achieve anything they set their mind to. By teaching girls to adopt a growth mindset, her students learn important lessons on failure, resilience, and hard work from a young age and practice it over time. With her soothing voice and warm smile, Ms. Wilson’s passion for education, and most noticeably for her students, is palpable each time her second graders greet her with hugs and stories about their adventures on the playground.
Years at Ellis:39
Title:Grade 2 Teacher
Education:B.A. Teacher Education, State University of New York at Potsdam

How did you get started at Ellis?
I moved to Pittsburgh in 1976 after I did my student teaching in Syracuse, New York. I remember when I moved here one of the first headlines I saw in the newspaper was about how many city school teachers were being laid off and I thought oh geez, great timing! After my first year teaching in a preschool program, I was eager to work with older children and substituted in several suburban school districts for a semester. One day I bumped into a parent from the preschool and she suggested I look into Ellis. It just so happened that the first grade teacher was moving and I was offered the position for the following school year. In the interim, Ms. Jacobs hired me as a permanent substitute teacher and an assistant to Mrs. Fran Koch, who was Head of the Upper School. My experience had always been in a coed setting so this was a wonderful opportunity for me to see teachers in action in an all-girls environment. I taught in first grade for about 15 years and have been in second grade ever since!

Did you always know you wanted to be a teacher?
I knew I always wanted to work with children. When I was a dancer in college I taught classes to little kids and was also involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. I learned that I loved to teach through those experiences.

What is most important to you that girls learn in your classroom?
I want the girls to believe in themselves. I want them to recognize their strengths and understand their areas for growth. Second grade is a big year of independence. I want my students to develop the foundation and building blocks they need to succeed. I teach them to rely on themselves first when they have a question or problem that needs to be solved and to know when it is time to ask for help. We talk about stretching yourself by trying new things and potentially failing at them, and in turn, being okay with that because sometimes you do your best learning through failure. I want the girls to know when they make a mistake we’re here to help them learn from it. In addition to that, I really want all of the girls to be caring, contributing members of the second grade community and the Lower School community. We talk a lot about building community and what that means, and how we can all work as a team together.

What do you think are the advantages to Ellis’ all-girls environment?
Each student can explore her interests and passions, and contribute her talents because each role at Ellis is for a girl. From a very young age, the girls begin to learn that there are so many opportunities for them, they need to set a goal and work toward it!  Also At Ellis, girls have the advantage of seeing and working with older students, whether that’s in collaborative learning groups or in a school play. This year Corinne Hartman who is now a senior and former student of mine is joining the second grade to add a technological component to their Metropolitan City Project for her senior project. The opportunity to have Corinne come in and show the girls something new is very exciting.

Was there a teacher or teachers in your life who had a particularly strong influence on you?
My first grade teacher, Sister St. Thomas. She laughed a lot and she made learning fun. Her expectations for us were clear. She really knew and cared about us, and that’s what I want my students to know, that I care about them.

If you had to describe Ellis to someone outside of the community, what would you say?
Ellis is a place where people come together. We all work as a team—teachers, students, and families—to make sure the girls can be the best they can be. Whether it’s just faculty, just students, or faculty and students together, we always have a sense of purpose and a sense of fun. The camaraderie and support are second to none.   

What is your favorite Ellis tradition?
The Lower School musical. It’s such a special time when the whole community comes together, every adult and student on campus comes to the show before winter break. When all of the Lower School girls are on stage for the finale at the end and they’re singing their hearts out, it’s just magic to me.

How would you describe Ellis girls?
Bright. Ellis girls love to learn. They’re creative, inquisitive, independent, and supportive. I see girls being supportive of each other every day. Even when two girls are having a disagreement, they work together to come to a conclusion and see things in a different light.

How do you spend your free time?
Spending time with my son and daughter-in-law, family, and friends is really important to me. Also, I recently started tennis lessons! I’ve dabbled in tennis before, but actually this year, Mavis Close, a former Ellis physical education teacher and tennis coach, has been teaching me to play. I also love genealogy and tracing my family’s history. It’s so easy to get drawn into, so I limit myself to researching during the summer and vacations. I’ll start looking into something in the early afternoon and the next thing I know, it’s midnight!

Where do you most want to travel, but have never been?
Prague—I’ve heard it’s beautiful. The architecture, views, and people there are supposed to be pretty spectacular.

What is the last book you read?
Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt. It tells the stories of the women who worked as mathematicians at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California in the 1940s and 50s. I was reading it as we were preparing the second grade for Space Day. It was a real inspiration!