Putnam County teacher enjoys the challenge of educating pupils: ‘They are like little puzzles’

1st grade teacher Abby Delvallee enjoys getting to know her pupils

Abby Delvallee, a teacher at Putnam County Primary School, poses for a photo on Tuesday, March 28, 2023.

From babysitting early in her life, to helping with multiple arts and crafts camps and being involved in sports programs, children always seemed to be in Putnam County first grade teacher Abby Delvallee’s career path.

“I don’t see myself anywhere else,” Delvallee said. “I genuinely love to teach. I love the kids and I love to hear their stories, get to know them and see what works for them because they are like little puzzles. You have to figure out what’s going to help them work best.”

These early experiences with children led her college path where she continued to progress toward working with children, this time as an educator.

She attended Illinois Valley Community College and Illinois State University before getting her first position as a third grade teacher in Midland, where she ran into a situation most first-year teachers would never have to experience.

“I worked with a lot of great people and learned a lot over there,” Delvallee said. “I was actually there when our school got shut down from lead, asbestos and mold. It was super interesting and a great learning experience.”

During her first year on the job, Delvallee taught from three classrooms while she was moved around to accommodate the building’s circumstances. She later settled into a first grade position at Midland before accepting a position closer to home at Putnam County Primary School, where she has taught for six years.

As a first grade teacher, Delvallee said she enjoys the personalities of students she sees on a daily basis.

“First grade has a ton of great things that I like,” Delvallee said. “That’s where they really learn to read and I love teaching reading. It’s really fun to see them understand or find their love for reading.”

Abby Delvallee a teacher at Putnam County Primary School cuts out a piece of paper for her students on Tuesday, March 28, 2023.

She said in kindergarten, many students still are learning the fundamentals of reading, while by first grade they are beginning to read and understand stories. While Delvallee loves her time in first grade, she said for her it’s fun to teach different grade levels.

“I also love the older kids,” Delvallee said. “My rule of thumb is that I don’t want to teach anybody taller than me so that caps me at about fourth grade. There’s perks of all the grades. I wouldn’t say that I would want to be stuck in one grade forever, I like to move around because I just like to see all of the different things.”

Despite her nine years in education, she continues to believe much of what she learns as a teacher are things that she continues to pick up through being in the classroom.

You have a different group every year who have different needs and interests. Finding things that appeals to them is the great challenge to me.

—  Abby Delvallee, teacher at Putnam County Primary School

While her education prepared her to be a teacher, for Delvallee, the experiences she has gained while interacting with students and working alongside fellow teachers and administration have been of utmost value.

“Getting to know students is kind of what changes everything,” Delvallee said. “You have a different group every year who have different needs and interests. Finding things that appeals to them is the great challenge to me.”

Digging into the individual student and finding out what motivates them or helps them grasp a lesson continues to be a large part of what she does with each class she comes across. While it can be challenging at times, Delvallee said that it’s one of the things about teaching she enjoys the most.

“They each need different things and they are each at different levels,” she said.

This approach to teaching has led to a decrease in whole group learning in the classroom and an increase in small group or individualized learning where students are grouped with those who have a similar learning style or interests.

At Putnam County, Delvallee said she often collaborates with her fellow first and second grade teachers as they come together in attempts to provide what is best for the individual student. Her experiences in the classroom also helped her become more flexible and organized.

“You have to be flexible and be able to learn and move with the kids,” Delvallee said. “We have to get to know them in order to know what they really need. I just think collaboration is huge.”

For Delvallee, the teamwork between teachers, administration and parents all come together to define the education of an individual student.

That collaboration also has led to Delvallee taking part in committees in Putnam County as well as serving in training and leadership roles.

She has served as a junior high and freshman volleyball coach, participated as a mentor teacher, been the teacher for a number of students serving clinical hours and student teaching and assisted a number of high school helpers.

While she continues to enjoy her work with current and prospective teachers, for Delvallee the reason she is in the classroom comes right back to her beginnings: the kids.

“It’s fun and every day is different. You never know what you are going to get,” Delvallee said. “Every year is different and you have to change from year to year and adjust based on the needs that they have.”

Abby Delvallee, a teacher at Putnam County Primary School cuts out, a piece of paper for her students on Tuesday, March 28, 2023.