Caitlin Pugh ’07, ’19 MEd, a reading specialist at Robert S. Payne Elementary School in Lynchburg, has been named “Reading Teacher of the Year” by the Piedmont Area Chapter of the Virginia State Literacy Association.
Pugh, a Lynchburg City Schools teacher for 14 years, said the recognition was “unexpected and an honor,” and continued, “I am just an average teacher, doing my part for my school and my students. I feel I was born to be a teacher and have had many mentors along the way, including my mother.
“I strive to be more effective each day, and if I do something wrong I will find a way to fix it. I am always learning and trying new things. There are so many amazing reading teachers that I have worked with and learned from and it is thanks to them that I am who I am.”
The Piedmont Area Chapter, which spans Central and Southern Virginia, praised Pugh for her work at R.S. Payne. “Throughout her tenure at Payne, instilling a love of reading has been her mission,” they said in a press release, adding that Pugh “loves collaborating with her colleagues and helping them broaden their knowledge of reading instruction, too.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated that mission, but Pugh remains undaunted. She said “this unprecedented year” has forced her and her colleagues to “be more creative,” resulting in new initiatives aimed at both students and faculty.
One of the ideas Pugh came up with was “Family, Food and Fun,” which integrates reading, cooking, and crafting. “Each month has a different theme, recipe or activity to follow, and books to listen to or read together,” Pugh said.
Past themes centered on fall, giving thanks, holiday celebrations, and Black History Month. In March, Pugh said students will read books from a “diverse library” that has been created for each classroom with the theme of “Read Across America, celebrating a nation of diverse readers.”
Pugh said she and other “remote teachers” at Payne also created a “support group to help each other teach and reach our students. We created an outreach plan to help parents who don’t have what they need at home for their students.
“To do this, our teachers, our school counselor, and our family liaison representative work with families to get supplies and other items to them.”
Asked how the University of Lynchburg helped prepare her for this “unprecedented year,” Pugh said choosing Lynchburg “has been one of the best life choices that I’ve made. I was prepared to become a teacher with some fabulous faculty and friends along the way. The experiences in the schools helped shape the teacher I have become.
“I know, when I wanted to further my education and become a reading specialist, Lynchburg was the only choice. In the two years it took me to get my master’s in reading, my eyes were opened to what being a reading teacher really meant and that I am capable of so much more.
“I learned more about myself and was pushed way outside of my comfort zone, which has opened more doors for me professionally. The professors treated us like professionals and were there, and are still there, when needed.”