Sandra Fitzgerald- Charles Pinckney Elementary
Sandra Fitzgerald is a fourth grade teacher at Charles Pinckney Elementary School who is honored to have spent her entire 30-year teaching career with Charleston County School District (CCSD). Other than a brief stint at two other schools in Mount Pleasant (teaching grade first through third), most of those 30 years have been spent at Pinckney teaching third and fourth grade.
“Pinckney is my home,” said Fitzgerald. “I would not be where I am today without each and every teacher at my school. They have supported me, encouraged me, and challenged me to be the best teacher I can be. I am still, even in year 30, learning and growing in order to perfect my craft.”
Fitzgerald is an award winning teacher who has been National Board Certified twice, Pinckney’s Teacher of the Year, Pinckney’s Reading Teacher of the Year, and CCSD’s Reading Teacher of the Year.
Those awards and honors would make anyone proud but what the Isle of Palms native is most proud of is the thousands of students she has been privileged to teach.
“My students work hard for me because not only do they genuinely care for me, but they know that I care for them as well,” said Fitzgerald. “We have a mutual respect, love, and understanding. When kids know that they are loved, they will work hard for you! I really cherish the personal relationships I am able to build with my students.”
Fitzgerald knew from a very young age that she wanted to be a teacher. The CCSD alum was fortunate enough to have been taught by the best educators in the industry and is honored to pay that forward to her students every day.
“That is easy to do in a school where you are made to feel important and valued,” said Fitzgerald. “From students to staff, we are all recognized for our own individual strengths and gifts. No two teachers are alike and we stress the same concept to our students by encouraging them to be themselves.”
Fitzgerald is quick to note that the philosophy of encouragement comes from Principal Tiffany Henderson.
“She is an amazing administrator,” said Fitzgerald. “The strengths and talents of my colleagues are so diverse. I’ve learned through her that you have to tap into those strengths if you want to learn. That not only benefits me as a continual learner but it motivates me.”
Henderson described Fitzgerald as a mentor to her peers.
“If you need someone to prop you up or give you a pat on the back, Sandra's your gal,” said Henderson. “She is quick to give a hug or an encouraging note to her students and her teammates. She often mentors new teachers in the profession and in our school. Her gentle coaching style brings out the best in everyone.”
Fitzgerald is often asked if she is considering retirement, but she thrives on change and challenges. Fitzgerald described the environment at Pinckney as one where everyone learns from each other.
“Ms. Fitzgerald is not afraid to tell me when she doesn't agree with something or thinks we can make a change for the better,” said Henderson. “I am thrilled she is a Pinckney Pirate and I hope she never retires!”
According to Fitzgerald, change happens when you’re out of your comfort zone.
“I relay that to my students so that they will try hard things without fear,” said Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald’s classroom is brightly decorated around an annual theme. Through the years, students have been immersed in the teachings of Doctor Seuss or challenged with the theme of Survivor. The United States Army was a popular theme for 11 years followed by Mission Impossible. This year’s theme is rainbows.
Each theme is designed around core values or principles that help build character.
“We work heavily on character-building traits and I ask my students what words would they want someone to use to describe them,” said Fitzgerald.”
The rainbow theme was born out of COVID-19 where there was a need to “brighten things up.”
“Rainbows bring happiness and smiles so I designed character expectations around the colors of the rainbow,” Fitzgerald explained. “I want my students to learn to be the best version of themselves that they can be.”
It is important to Fitzgerald that her students learn to consciously be better people.
“We can all work on ways to improve our character and who we are,” said Fitzgerald. “I teach them that they are guarding and protecting their character for future success.”
Fitzgerald describes herself as a feel-good person and that shows when she describes how much she loves her students.
“When I get these kids in my room, I just love on them and I love on them good,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s the same with my colleagues. Whether it is a student or a staff member, we all have such great mutual respect for each other. The adults model the behavior we expect to see from our students.”
As Fitzgerald’s students learned, so did she. Fitzgerald was one of many teachers that volunteered to pilot the new EL curriculum, now fully adopted by CCSD.
“The program has so many ways to engage the students and make the work come alive,” said Fitzgerald. “I am able to teach beyond the curriculum and make learning more engaging for my kids. It is very collaborative and keeps the kids on their toes. They’re more excited than ever about learning.”
Fitzgerald looks back on her 30 years of teaching with fondness. Many of her former students are graduating from college and some have gone on to become educators as well. Many stay in touch and recall with happiness what they learned in her classroom. That speaks volumes about her success as an educator, according to Henderson.
“Mrs. Fitzgerald's greatest strength is the confidence she gives both her students and her colleagues,” said Henderson. “The impacts she had on her students not only molded their childhood but followed them into adulthood as well. Her students have and continue to go on to do amazing things.”
To Fitzgerald, being an educator is more than just a job.
“It is important to love what you do,” said Fitzgerald. “I am blessed to get to do what I am passionate about. I am proud to be a teacher.”