USD 480 TEACHER FEATURE - Anita Gleason

For this Teacher Feature, we would like to introduce everyone to Anita Gleason, a first grade Teacher at Sunflower Elementary. Mrs. Gleason is halfway through her third year of teaching first grade at Sunflower, but her teaching career extends beyond the last 14 years.

After retiring from her “first career” in the Navy, Mrs. Gleason found her calling in education while working at a daycare center where she worked with students at the preschool level. It was in 2004 that she made the decision to become a certified teacher and returned to school.

As a new mother, she worked as a long term substitute teacher in four different grade levels at the elementary level for the next six years all while going to school to get her teaching certification. In 2010, she earned her teaching degree and began her “second career” as a special education teacher for students with moderate to severe needs in Sacramento, California.

In addition to her experience in the Navy and in classrooms of different age groups and varying levels of special needs, it is her sweet and soft-spoken demeanor that make her a wonderful teacher. She has a way with her students that even with her quiet disposition, she always has complete control of the classroom.

Mrs. Gleason works with her entire class to collectively breakdown a story they read individually. 

Her ability to maintain control of her classroom without ever needing to raise her voice or be stern speaks to the love and respect her students have for her. This was something Sunflower Principal, Ashley Lehnert noticed immediately when she took over as principal this school year.

“Mrs. Gleason is known for her sweet, kind, and loving demeanor. She has a way of making her students feel cared for and valued, which creates a positive learning environment. Her classroom management skills are also top-notch. She has fantastic techniques to correct behavior and keep her students on task, which helps them stay focused and engaged in their learning,” Lehnert said.

While teaching from the head of the classroom and to the entire class is very natural spot for her, it is her one-on-one instruction where Mrs. Gleason really shines. While going around and answering questions it is evident immediately that she has taken the time to truly get to know and understand each of her students as individuals. Each student is interacted with and taught in a unique way according to their needs and abilities; this is likely the biggest factor in earning and keeping her student’s admiration.

Mrs. Gleason works individually with one of her students to help them sound out a word they were having trouble spelling. Each student receives help according to their individual needs and personality in Mrs. Gleason's classroom.

Mrs. Gleason chose to become a teacher for a very personal reason and that shows in everything she does for her students in and out of the classroom. The personal touch she brings to every student makes each of them feel seen and heard and in a classroom of 20 students that is a great accomplishment.

“I was encouraged to pursue teaching from my son's teachers,” said Gleason. “They were a tremendous help and resource when he was diagnosed with developmental delay as a toddler. They helped me learn so much about how children learn before I ever thought about returning to school.”

In addition to finding her passion for teaching from her own child’s experience, she also looked to her past to find her career path. She credits seeing the experiences of those who did not have the opportunity to pursue educational opportunities as one of her biggest motivators to return to school to become a teacher.

Growing up her parents stressed the importance of education as it was an opportunity they were not given. This was compounded by her time in the military where she saw people overseas who still do not have the opportunity to pursue an education.

“Two major factors in choosing to pursue education were meeting people overseas while in the military who never had the same opportunities to go to school that we have here in the U.S.; as well as, how important education was to both of my parents,” said Gleason. “They grew up under Jim Crow Laws and always told my siblings and myself to learn as much as we could from anyone willing to teach us. They led by example throughout their lives.”

Leading by example is also something that Mrs. Gleason is known for at Sunflower Elementary. Perhaps it was her time in the military or something she learned from watching her parents while growing up; or most likely, a combination of both, that made her a strong leader in a team atmosphere like teaching.

While she may never be the loudest person in the room, her dedication to her profession, and more importantly her students, is contagious to those around her. This, combined with her kind heart and positive attitude, makes her the teacher any school would want their other teachers taking cues from.

“She is an encourager by nature,” Lehnert said. “She always has encouraging words to help motivate and inspire her students and her colleagues throughout our school. She works hard to get to know each of her students and fellow teachers, so when it is necessary for them to seek out help, they know Mrs. Gleason will always be there for them.”

Her willingness to help anyone and everyone is well known and appreciated in her classroom and throughout Sunflower. She is approachable to her current students and former students as well as those students who have had the privilege of getting to know her during Gardening Club. Beyond the students of Sunflower, she is approachable to her colleagues and looked to for answers and examples as a leader within the school.

“One of Ms. Gleason's strengths is her ability to work well with others,” Lehnert said. “She is always willing to collaborate with her colleagues and share her knowledge and expertise with them. She is open to trying new strategies and techniques in the classroom and is always looking for ways to improve her teaching.”

Sometimes after years in a job or profession people tend to become rigid and stuck in their ways, this is not Mrs. Gleason. With new challenges in education becoming the norm each year, Mrs. Gleason meets those challenges head on and is always willing to find and implement new strategies and techniques to make sure each of her students have their needs met.

“Mrs. Gleason is always willing to take on new challenges,” said Lehnert. “She is always willing to learn and grow and then share her experience and new knowledge with those around her. She has even taken on a student teacher this semester and we are so grateful that they will be learning under someone like Mrs. Gleason.”

The gratitude people have for Mrs. Gleason was on full display when she was named the Sunflower Teacher of the Year last year. She isn’t one to ever seek the spotlight, so when the spotlight showed up at her classroom in the form of a recognition this big, she was shocked and surprised, but also very grateful. Her humility and kindness were on full display when administrators showed up at her classroom to recognize her, it was a wonderful experience for everyone involved that day.

Mrs. Gleason (center right) poses with Ashley Lehnert, Sunflower Principal (right); Lana Evans, Assistant Superintendent (center left); and Nathan Smith, Sunflower Assistant Principal (far left), after being named Sunflower Teacher of the Year this past October.

“It is a great honor to be recognized in this way, but also more than a little embarrassing because I am definitely a more "behind the scenes" kind of gal,” said Gleason. “If my photo doesn't show it, I was still grinning on the inside like a crazed person from happiness! I just really want to say thank you to everyone. I know so many other teachers who deserve this honor, so I really appreciate and will cherish this award!”

“Anita Gleason, our beloved 1st-grade teacher, was the perfect candidate for the Sunflower Teacher of the Year award,” said Lehnert. “She is a dedicated and hardworking teacher who always goes above and beyond to make sure her students are learning and growing.”

Despite teaching for many years and in many different grade levels, Mrs. Gleason remains as motivated and committed to teaching as she has ever been. She also continues to have a wonderful sense of humor and understanding of the ups and downs of teaching.

“What motivates me to keep teaching are the kids,” said Gleason. “They are awesome even on the days when lessons blow up in my face and I've visibly aged from the morning to the afternoon.”

While a sense of humor is almost a necessity in the field of teaching, she also understands the importance and significance of education. She doesn’t take this job lightly and relishes the moments her students have a breakthrough.

“I've seen my special education kiddoes work harder than just about anyone I know to make progress,” said Gleason. “I've seen kids who have been beaten down suddenly realize that they are smarter than they ever thought they could be and kids who have come from loving homes who are just genuinely curious about how the world works and want to learn more. All of it makes it worthwhile.”

Always welcoming a new challenge, this semester Mrs. Gleason helped to start a gardening club at Sunflower. She is in charge of the kindergarten through second grade group and the main focus at that level is general knowledge and hands-on experience. Like the other clubs at Sunflower, students at those grade levels have the opportunity to join a new club every six weeks, while intermediate students, those in third through fifth grade, stay with their club all semester.

“We want kids to know how to start seeds, keep young plants alive, work through possible setbacks, and to know where their food comes from,” said Gleason. “Since it's wintertime, we're teaching how to sow seeds indoors and focusing on quick growing crops like spinach, carrots, snapdragons, etc. If the spinach seedlings survive, they'll learn how to transplant them into bigger pots and take them home to eat with their families.”

Mrs. Gleason currently has 13 students in the "Guiding Green Thumbs" Club and, like the other clubs at Sunflower, was started to provide students with an opportunity to be exposed to a field or area of study they might not have otherwise seen. It helps students find different or unique areas they might be interested in and teaches them what jobs might be related to that particular interest.

“Today we drew faces on cups and planted wheat grass that the kids could take home to care for and watch grow as a fast sprouting crop,” Gleason said. “If there's time this semester, I want to teach them how to winter sow outside to get an earlier start on cool weather crops and flowers.”

Since moving to Liberal with her family in 2021 after her husband got a job at Seward County Community College, Mrs. Gleason has made a tremendous impact on the students and staff at Sunflower. In just her third year in the building she has already been named teacher of the year and become a teacher other teachers look to for guidance and advice.

“I never wanted to be a teacher growing up because I always saw how hard they worked and how difficult the job could be,” said Gleason. “I came to teaching as a second career primarily because of my son, but I discovered very quickly just how much fun it can be. The kids teach me so much, my fellow teachers teach me so much, and there is a lot of camaraderie within the profession that helps us all through the ups and downs.”

Sunflower, USD 480, and the Liberal community are all fortunate to have Mrs. Gleason guiding our students. While her time here in Liberal has been short, we hope she makes it her home for the foreseeable future.

“Overall, Mrs. Gleason is an outstanding teacher who deserves to be recognized for her hard work and dedication,” said Lehnert. “She is truly an inspiration to her students and colleagues alike and is a shining example of what it means to be an excellent teacher.”

“I love working at Sunflower because all of the staff is so supportive,” said Gleason. “Even when we don't always agree, we're still respectful of different opinions and open to new ideas.”

Mrs. Gleason is quick to praise Sunflower and her colleagues, but we hope she knows just how much Sunflower and the district appreciate her. She is an enormous asset to the staff and students of Sunflower and USD 480.