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Teacher Maintains Creativity, Patience Over Course of 22 Years

By Serena Dai | March 4, 2013 8:04am
 Hamilton Elementary multicultural studies art teacher Esther Pullman smiles in front of a gallery of student work.
Hamilton Elementary multicultural studies art teacher Esther Pullman smiles in front of a gallery of student work.
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DNAinfo/Serena Dai

LAKEVIEW — It'd been 20 years since Shawn Garber had seen his eighth-grade teacher, Esther Pullman, when his son started at Hamilton Elementary last year. 

After Garber's son had a rough time in sixth and seventh grades, Pullman taught him how to study and made him love school for the first time, Garber said. Even though his class had about 40 "out of control" students, Pullman was patient, kind and went the extra mile for students, he said. He knew he would "never forget her."

Lo and behold, Pullman remembered Garber, too.

"She looked at me for one second, and then she said 'Shawn Garber,'" he said. "How could you remember my full name after all the students she’d went through? ... She's just awesome. It would be an honor if I could be taught by her all over again."

Instead, Pullman is teaching Garber's son, Myles, in a multicultural art class, and Myles has the same opinion that Garber did: Pullman is kind, understanding and knows how to explain concepts. She may be a 22-year veteran of the Chicago Public Schools, but her passion and creativity are still as strong as when Garber was a student, colleagues said.

"She's not one of these people who's stuck," said Karla McReynolds, who teaches kindergarten and first grade at the school. "A lot of people want to do cookie cutter. She's not like that."

Pullman no longer teaches just one grade, instead collaborating with all the teachers at the school to create art projects that match up with the curriculum. For example, when McReynolds was teaching a unit on rocks, Pullman suggested doing a hands-on Japanese zen garden project with McReynolds' students in art class to reinforce the study of different rock types.

And when a teacher needed help with a math unit, Pullman had students do a stained-glass project using symmetry to reinforce geometry concepts.

The projects constantly change, and Pullman usually suggests how they can enhance other teachers' curriculum. She's always willing to help build upon the work of other teachers, colleagues said.

But connecting with students such as Garber and his son Myles is what Pullman finds most rewarding. Now that she teaches all grades, she loves that she gets to see students grow up, from kindergarten to eighth grade.

"Even if kids aren't good artists, I want them to develop a sense of self-worth," she said. "I just want them to feel successful."

And it works, if you ask Garber — he and his friends still chat about the way Pullman made them feel like they could learn. 

"At the end of the year, even those really tough kids seemed to really like her," Garber said. "Now every time my son makes something in her class and brings it to me, it's 'Oh my God, she's gotten better.'"