A slip on ice was lifesaving for preschool teacher at Minooka Primary Center

Tonya Best: ‘I miss my students, more than I ever thought possible’

Every Tuesday when Tonya Best, a preschool teacher at Minooka Primary Center, has her treatments for multiple myeloma, the MPC staff wears their Tonya’s tribe shirts. The shirts say "Tonya’s tribe" on the front and “find your tribe, love them hard" on the back. Best and her family also received shirts. The back of Best's shirt says, “ I can do hard things with the love of my tribe.”

Few people would welcome a fractured hip. But the fractured hip helped save Tonya Best’s life.

Best, a preschool teacher at Minooka Primary Center, was leading the dismissal of car riders on Jan. 11, a typical day for her so far, said Teresa Miller, principal at Minooka Primary Center.

Miller said the job entails calling the cars as they arrive and then walking four blocks (and back again) to get to the end of her line.

But this particular day was slick, and Best fell on a patch of ice, Miller said. Best radioed for help, staff and parents rushed to help and then Best was taken by ambulance to the hospital, Miller said.

“The staff and her family waited to hear the updates, days began to pass, and the fractured hip turned into a discovery of a blood bone marrow cancer: multiple myeloma,” Miller said in a written statement. “Little did we know that the slip was going to be a key to discovering and changing the course of the year for Mrs. Best and her “Turtle” classroom of students.

Best, of course, is missing her students and school community and was happy to discuss her 20-year teaching career.

Baran-Unland: Have you spent your entire career at Minooka Primary Center or other schools, too? Which schools?

Best: I began my career teaching first grade at St. Rose School in Wilmington. I taught first grade for three years and then decided to stay home with my children. I was home for four years before deciding to go back to teaching. I taught preschool for one year at White Oak and then moved to Coal City for seven years. I then moved to Minooka and have been there for 11 years.

Tonya Best has taught preschool at Minooka Primary Center for 11 years.

Baran-Unland: What led you to become a preschool teacher?

Best: I’ve always loved little kids. Many of my role models growing up were teachers and coaches. I saw the way they affected the lives of their students at every grade level. I wanted to have a positive impact on children like they had on me.

Baran-Unland: I heard you never back down to a school initiative or curricular change? Can you give some examples of what that means – and why you never back down?

Best: In the preschool world, we have various guidelines that we follow from state expectations, district expectations, curricular expectations and building expectations. The world of education is ever-changing and as new proposals and ideas are brought to my attention I don’t hesitate to find a way to make it work for my students.

Baran-Unland: I also heard you “bring great ideas” to the table. I’d love to hear about some of those ideas and how you implemented them.

Best: Everything we do at MPC is done through teams efforts. The teachers plan together and consistently share ideas. We are like a family and we all work together to help all of the students be successful.

Baran-Unland: Where do you get your strong drive?

Best: My strong drive comes from my students. I love to see them smile, and I love to hear their laughs. Also, teaching preschool is very rewarding. The students begin the year and don’t even know how to walk in a line. By the end of the year, they have mastered recognition of their letters and numbers. They share and take turns. The growth that they students make in one school year is what gives me my drive.

Baran-Unland: What have you learned from teaching preschool?

Best: I’ve learned that preschool is extremely important. It is the child’s first time being away from their parents. It is their first time ever in a school setting. It is important for me to instill a love of learning early in their school career.

Baran-Unland: What do you hope your students remember about you when think back at this time in their lives?

Best: I hope they look back and remember the fun they had in the turtle classroom. There is so much to learn, but it’s also so important to laugh and have fun.

Baran-Unland: “Turtle” classroom”? Is that a theme?

Best: Yes, we are the turtle classroom. Each classroom at MPC is named after an animal. I can’t tell you why I chose the turtle. I think it’s because cartoon turtles are so cute.

Baran-Unland: What do you miss most about being out of the classroom at this time?

Best: This is an easy one. I miss my students, more than I ever thought possible. I miss everyone I work with. It’s like not seeing your family for months at a time.