Braden River Middle's Faith Bench named Educator of the Year.
When Mica Kondo-Chatlos was a seventh grader at Braden River Middle School, she struggled with math.
Faith Bench, a math teacher at Braden River Middle, would sit down with Kondo-Chatlos and work through the problems with her.
“She’s an incredible teacher,” said Kondo-Chatlos, now a senior at Southeast High School. “I’ve always hated math. I despised going to class, but with [Bench], it was always fun. She incorporated the concept she’s teaching in fun games and websites, and it was never boring.”
As a senior in high school, Kondo-Chatlos still uses some of the techniques and tricks Bench taught her in her math classes and even visits Bench in her classroom after school.
Kondo-Chatlos said Bench had a “huge impact” on her, which is why she nominated Bench for the School District of Manatee County’s Educator of the Year.
On Feb. 5, Kondo-Chatlos watched as Bench was named Educator of the Year during the district’s Excellence in Education Awards at Manatee Technical College’s main campus.
“I’m surprised she didn’t win sooner,” Kond-Chatlos said. “She deserves this.”
Bench is in her seventh year as an educator and has spent six of those years at Braden River Middle.
After Bench was announced as the winner, she said she was shocked and in disbelief.
“It’s incredible,” she said. “I’m still shaking. I can’t even believe it. There were so many amazing other finalists. I didn’t think I would get this far.”
Bench will advance to the Florida Department of Education’s Macy’s Teacher of the Year competition.
Jaden Rim, a seventh grader, is a current student of Bench’s. He attended the awards ceremony to support his teacher.
“I thought it would be nice to see my own teacher get Teacher of the Year,” he said.
Roth Rim, Jaden’s mother, said this year has been the first she’s seen her son “so excited to go to school” and engaged in class.
“Him wanting to be at the awards ceremony is big for me,” she said.
Several students described Bench as nice, funny and positive and said she deserved the Educator of the Year title.
Jaliyah Elder, a seventh grader and current student of Bench’s, said her teacher not only ensures her students understand the different concepts they’re learning in class but also gets to know the students personally.
Landen Parks, a seventh grader and one of Bench’s current students, said there’s never a bad day in Bench’s class.
Parks has had difficulty learning geometry, but Bench has “taught it better than any other teacher” by using different sayings and ways to talk about angles. As the semester continues, Parks looks forward to learning more than he thought he could in math.
Tyler Grant, an eighth grader who was in one of Bench’s math classes last year, said she makes hard concepts easy to understand.
“She’s not like other teachers that teach the same way,” Grant said. “She has a different aspect of doing it and has a different attitude with it. She’s always happy and never mad at all.”
Haylen Hang, an eighth grader and former student of Bench’s, loves Bench’s “bubbly” personality.
“It’s the way she acts that makes everyone really happy,” Hang said. “It makes everyone really want to learn.”
Elder said she and her classmates hope Bench wins Teacher of the Year at the state level.
“We’re her No. 1 supporters,” she said.