Teacher of the Year Wilbur giving back to her native city

Teacher of the Year Wilbur giving back to her native city

Lori Wilbur, front right, a special education teacher at Shea High School, poses for a photo with her family after being named Pawtucket’s Teacher of the Year for the 2018-2019 school year at an event on Aug. 26.

PAWTUCKET – A city native and Tolman High School gradudate was named Pawtucket’s Teacher of the Year for the 2018-2019 school year at a back-to-school event held Aug. 26.

Lori Wilbur, a special education teacher at Shea High School, she she was surprised to learn of the honor.

“It was a shock,” said Wilbur, who has taught in Pawtucket for 10 years. “It was more shocking when (my) principal came into my classroom and told me she wanted to nominate me. I thought, ‘why me?’”

Shea Principal Jacqueline Ash told The Breeze that Wilbur is a phenomenal educator.

“If I could clone her, I would,” she said. “She is an exceptional teacher and leader … She was really, truly called to teach. She’s a very powerful thread of Shea’s tapestry.”

Wilbur makes her students feel respected and safe, Ash said. “She’s very intuitive. She just knows what the students’ needs are.”

While many students have to balance learning issues with behavioral issues, Ash said Wilbur has a very calm temperament and is able to reduce students’ anxiety so they can focus and learn.

“Her classroom is a family,” she said.

Though Wilbur, who now lives in Burrillville, has her own family, “she spends an awful lot of time (at Shea),” Ash said. “She’s always (staying) after school. I don’t even know when she sleeps … She gives it her all.”

For most of her working life Wilbur worked for The Providence Journal until she was laid off in 2009, she said. That’s when she decided to go back to school for a degree in education.

“It was something I had wanted to do after high school,” she said.

After substitute teaching in Pawtucket, Wilbur said, she was offered the special education position at Shea and accepted it because she wanted to give back to the community where she grew up.

Working in Pawtucket, “it feels like home even though it’s changed over the years,” she said. “I’m giving back to a community that gave to me.” While she started out co-teaching in inclusion classes, Wilbur now has a self-contained class where she teaches the core subjects to a group of 10 to 12 students with the help of a teaching assistant. Wilbur also teaches a life skills class.

As part of the honor, the Pawtucket School Department and the Pawtucket Teachers’

Alliance both awarded Wilbur $500 grants to use for her classroom. Wilbur said she isn’t sure what she’ll use the money for yet. Interim Supt. Cheryl McWilliams told The Breeze that the Pawtucket School Department recognized Wilbur with a certificate and flowers, as well as the grants. She was also presented with a ring, sponsored by Herff Jones, at a PawSox game Aug. 27.

“She’s done a great job,” McWilliams said of Wilbur.

Wilbur’s current class is small with just six students, but she said that number generally increases over the course of the year, capping at 12.

She said she’s looking forward to a successful school year and watching the students grow. It’s awesome to see a student come in in 9th grade as an immature teenager and leave four years later as a young adult, she said.

Wilbur credits her administrators and fellow teachers forher success. “I don’t think I’d be the teacher I (am) today without my colleagues,” she said. “The women and men I work with are always there to support each other.”

Wilbur is part of the state’s Special Education Advisory Committee and said she would like to be involved with the Rhode Island Teachers of English Language Learners group.

She also helps with the school’s unified sports teams, Ash said.