• August 12, 2020

Longtime Odessa teacher scores - Odessa American: Education

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    Reading through Sleeping Beauty, Don Potter reads aloud while 6-year-old Troy Mai acts out the book with the provided finger puppets Wednesday afternoon. Potter tutors around 35 to 40 students that range from kindergarten to adults on how to read and write.

Posted: Thursday, June 18, 2020 3:48 pm

A longtime Odessa teacher has won the prestigious Teaching Superstar honor from Gov. Greg Abbott.

Don Potter was shocked when he received the certificate and letter in the mail. The certificate says it is in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week. He was recognized for being an innovative, hardworking teacher in the classroom and virtual classroom and not missing a beat throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now retired from Ector County ISD and Odessa Christian School, Potter tutors 35 to 40 students from kindergarten through adult in his office at 2020 E. Eighth St.

Potter said he was very proud of the award.

“And secondly, I don’t think I’m the only one doing this,” he said. “All through Ector County, there are many teachers and maybe there’s others that have gotten the award. It’s amazing that I was able to continue tutoring 35 to 40 kids without missing a lick right in the middle of the whole coronavirus. We never slowed down. I didn’t slow down one bit. We just all slipped over to Skype. I have some that don’t have computers and it’s a little more awkward, but we do FaceTime and I actually hold the camera while I’m having them read. The reason I’m still in this business after all these years is when I started work with Ector County they taught me how to do a reading inventory. I told myself if I don’t get results every year, I’m going into another business.”

“All these kids they take a test when they come in and they take a test throughout the program and so I know the results I’m getting. I’m happy with that and I love helping kids,” Potter said.

A native of Rising Sun, Ind., Potter said he subbed at every grade level and every campus full time for five years and found he had a knack for teaching. He has taught bilingual education, reading dyslexia and writing in cursive, to name a few.

Potter’s teaching philosophy, written on a chalkboard, says:

“To teach the heart

Where lies the gold

My goal shall ever be

With warm love and true kindness

For all the world to see.

“It’s a joy unspeakable,” Potter said of teaching.

His tutoring business serves children from public, private and home school environments.

“I have a lot of documents and books and things that I’ve written that I put on the screen; a lot of what I do uses a document camera so when the kids come to me I can put a book or anything I want to teach down and they can see it online so this is how I can teach cursive handwriting, or I teach printing. I have two methods that I’ve developed. I call it shortcut to manuscript and the other one’s called shortcut to cursive, so I have two methods and a lot of my material is online for free, in fact almost everything I do, so teachers can access it and I have a lot of YouTube training for teachers that shows exactly how I teach my cursive, and my manuscript and how I teach phonics and quite frankly it’s very exciting to be working on my own. I enjoy it …,” Potter said.

He laid out a number of books that he’s published on phonics and on a recent Wednesday was teaching 6-year-old Troy Mai how to read.

Kevin Adkinson, who was helping Potter, said Mai would notice the same word in multiple places and point out similar words in a story.

“He’s really, really smart,” Adkinson said.

Potter said he wants to bring the science of reading to the Permian Basin.

“The science I think is really important, so when I give my assessments I give what they call phonemic awareness tests. … I think if we teach the kids to spell, they’ll learn to read. I think spelling is the basis of the whole thing …,” Potter said.

For his part, Mai is happy he’s learning to read, as is Potter.

“I like to read a lot,” Mai said softly.

Two of Mai’s favorite books are “The Princess and the Pea” and “Sleeping Beauty,” both of which have finger puppets so he and Potter can act the story out.

Mai is also learning to write in cursive, which he said is pretty.

Potter said he keeps progress sheets on his students and about half the parents stay around to see how their child is doing. Potter said he has a lot of his PowerPoints online for free.

“It’s not all me,” he said. “A lot of it is what the parents do in between with their kids, and again, that’s what makes it fun because it’s drawing families together,” Potter said.

Originally from Rising Sun, Ind., Potter started out at Indiana University and got his degree in Bible from Cincinnati Christian University. His major was in Bible, but his minor was in education.

He also has attended Odessa College and got his certification from the Region 18 Education Services Center.

Twyla Greenfield has known Potter for about 40 years and nominated him for the governor’s award. She was the principal at Odessa Christian School during some of the time Potter taught there.

Greenfield said Potter has his own method of teaching that has proven effective and she has nothing but praise for him.

“His dedication and devotion ensured that everybody learns how to read because that is the No. 1 priority,” she said.

Greenfield said she was surprised that Potter won the governor’s award just because you never know.

“I just took a chance and nominated him and was pleasantly surprised,” Greenfield said.

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