Teacher Spotlight: Melissa O'Brien Plays School...for Real


It’s a familiar scene, especially for kids who've had inspiring teachers: a room full of dolls and stuffed animals are seated in a semicircle, adorably attentive and patiently waiting for further instruction. Playing school is still a popular pastime for children, as it was for Laurel Springs teacher, Melissa O’Brien. She credits her high school English teachers for helping to set her on this path, and now it’s Mrs. O’Brien’s turn to inspire grade 10-12 students in the world of literature. 

Starting at the Top

One day, during a Google search for Top Online Schools in the Country, Melissa found herself clicking for more information about Laurel Springs. “LSS was right there at the top—who wouldn’t want to work for the top school in the land!” Although, now that she has the job of educating Upper School students in World, American, British and Drama Literature, plus SAT Prep, and being a Mentor teacher for the English Department, she doesn’t consider it “work” at all. “LSS is the best teaching job I have ever had! I do not even think of it as a job--I’m just so passionate about my courses.”

Laurel Springs appeals to more than just students and families. Teachers also gain a lot from the experience. “I love the flexibility and personalization that we offer for our students. I feel like I am even closer to my students in the online setting.” When it comes to personalization, Melissa O’Brien goes above and beyond. “Not only do I provide authentic, personalized feedback for each assignment, but I also provide links to outside sources as well as videos and other helpful resources to ensure that the concept or lesson is understood. Sometimes just reading a lesson or idea isn’t always the easiest way to understand something so I try to provide other avenues or platforms to understand concepts.”

Not only does Melissa go out of her way to ensure a lesson is learned, but she admires students that go out of their way on a project. “I love any lesson that allows a student to think outside the box and utilize a Web 2.0 tool—this is so much fun for me to see the creativity that a student can put into a module and lesson! I love to hear my students and see all of the hard work that they put into their projects and then connect it back to the literature—this makes me so happy!”

Even in an online setting, there’s still an academic bond being formed in Mrs. O’Brien’s virtual class. “I love to meet students in my [live] iClassroom too—this is such a fun way to connect and screen share to really drive a point home and make sure that a concept is understood.

Building on Connections

Once the foundation of open communication is set, Melissa backs it up in a number of ways. “I constantly reach out to my students...several times a week through phone calls, silly memes, book recommendations, podcasts, surveys, Google forms, videos—anything to just say ‘Hey, I’m thinking of you.’ For me, it isn’t just all about my academic subject—it is about my student.”

Remember that above-and-beyond attitude we touched on before? Well, this teacher is just as focused on teaching students as she is in showing them they matter. “I’ve always lived by an adage I heard in one of my first education classes: ‘Students will never care about how much you know, until they know how much you care.’ For me, this has always been true, and I hope my LSS students and families truly know how much I care about them.”

When she says she cares about the whole family, she means it. “I always tell new parents (and students) that there is a learning curve to the online atmosphere. There is a certain level of autonomy that comes with this environment for students: learning time management, how to effectively communicate and self-advocate. That certainly does not mean that parents should not be involved; but parents should absolutely encourage the 5 P’s... be proactive, be prepared, be present, be positive, be persistent. These are skills that will prove invaluable in both high school and collegiate work.”

Another valuable lesson Melissa lives by: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you’re young and it is never too late to be who you want to be—just don’t give up.” Solid advice for people of all ages and backgrounds--whether you’ve spent your childhood playing school, sports, or video games. While Melissa may enjoy movies and cooking and could have chosen another career path related to her English and communication skills, she’s certain of one thing: “I could not imagine doing anything else.”


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