Mrs. Atkinson: Gaining a New Perspective

Anyone who had the opportunity to have a semester of Health class with Ms. Atkinson knows that she is a remarkable teacher. Even those who haven’t had her as their teacher know just how big of a mark she has had on the school. And now that Ms. Atkinson is retiring from teaching this year, I interviewed her to find out just what makes her such an integral part of the school community. 

It’s difficult not to notice the excitement Ms. Atkinson has for teaching Health. In fact, she wanted to be a teacher since she was in the second grade. At first, she had wanted to become a foreign language teacher and took classes in French, Italian, and Spanish, and was also interested in teaching Art. When Ms. Atkinson attended college, though, she was required by her school to take Health courses. Once she took the Health classes during her first semester, she found a love for the topic and declared it as her major. She also took inspiration from all her elementary school teachers and her high school Phys-ed teacher who helped to instill her passion for Health. 

This passion for Health is something that Ms. Atkinson hopes to instill in all of her own students as well. She believes that Health class is the most personal class you can take, in that it gives the tools you need to make good choices for yourself. Not only does Ms. Atkinson give the tools needed for students to succeed in the real world, but she does so in fun and engaging ways. Most of her students would remember the many jokes and interesting stories sprinkled throughout her lessons. Her method of teaching is in truth very simple, she says, “Be real.”

Ever since Ms. Atkinson began teaching as a substitute teacher, she engaged her students with fun activities. She finds that giving an entertaining and different perspective, especially when it comes to units that would otherwise be awkward, is one of the best and most rewarding parts of teaching Health. And this is just the reason why one of her favorite units to teach is death and dying–because of its meaningfulness and impact on students. “I’ve gotten thank-you notes from parents and students after the death and dying unit,” Ms. Atkinson says. “Because they experienced a death before that and it helped them cope better, or it was like around the same time or shortly after and they felt like it really helped them.”

And now, Ms. Atkinson spends on living her long deserved retirement with as much enthusiasm as she put into teaching. She says that “the best thing that I’m doing in my retirement is spending time with my grandbaby.” She is also looking forward to some world traveling and attending class reunions. 

Over the 20 years that Ms. Atkinson has been teaching at Smithtown High School West, she has made a lot of great memories. As a memento, she has made a book for former students to sign to keep the memories with her. She fondly recalls fun events like doing sumo wrestling and the lip sync challenge around five years ago where she dressed up like a Viking and sang a song from Shrek. Ms. Atkinson has clearly always been a cheerful and upbeat presence in the school, and will be missed. Whatever Ms. Atkinson has in store for the future, the High School West community wishes her the best of luck.

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