Teaching wasn’t originally in the books for Danielle Esola, but things changed when the human resource job she’d earned a degree for was eliminated by her company. They gave her another position in sales, but this wasn’t the path she wanted to take, so she was left at a bit of an impasse when her husband made an observation.
“He said ‘Dan, you’re the house that all the kids come to, you do crafts with them, have you ever thought about becoming a teacher?’” Esola recalled. “I gasped and thought, ‘Why did I never think of that?’ It’d be perfect! So that’s where it kind of snowballed, and I enrolled in school while still working full time.”
Inspired by the idea, Esola finished college for the second time and now serves as a third grade teacher at Cooks Corners Elementary in Valparaiso.
“I was definitely meant to be a teacher,” she said. “It took me a little bit longer to get there than it does for others, but it’s been worth every minute of the work.”
One of the reasons she loves Cooks Corners is the team of incredible educators she sees every day, including one of her biggest role models, Stacy Allison, a fourth grade teacher at the school.
“She has such a positive attitude when it comes to teaching,” Esola said. “She thinks outside the box and gets so creative in adapting and presenting her lessons to fit the needs of her class.”
Esola worked under Allison as a student teacher, and the experience helped shape her teaching philosophy.
“I think education should be fun because once we get children to want to come to class, learning is just second-hand,” Esola said. “It’s kind of like we’re tricking them into learning because they’re having so much fun. We can make education so much more than it has been in the past.”
One of Esola’s favorite ways of engaging the kids is to transform her class into something more than a room filled with desks and school supplies.
“We’d just turned the classroom into the Polar Express for a couple of weeks before Christmas,” she said. “By doing things like that, we’re able to make the curriculum more rigorous because the kids are having so much fun learning.”
But academic or textbook learning is only one part of being a teacher. Esola’s favorite part of the job is helping her students grow as people.
“There’s so much to teach kids about life lessons, like how to get along with one another or dealing with difficult situations,” she said. “It’s awesome to be that facilitator. They come to me as babies, but the amount they grow in one year is so rewarding.”
Outside of her work at Cooks Corners, Esola is an avid outdoorswoman. She is also a lifelong Valpo resident and always appreciates the diverse ways the community rallies.
“There’s so many amazing programs that make us feel like a really tight community, especially in our school system.” she said. “We’re constantly doing food drives, giving back to our soldiers, and all kinds of collections. I’d just say look into the many different programs around the community, because there are so many small ways to give back.”