Anna Barba’s favorite grades to teach are third and fourth because the students aren’t “too cool” to hug the teacher. The kids are in a sweet spot of not being “too young” or “too old,” she says, which is why “they’re the most endearing,” says the Northern Virginia Magazine Teacher of the Year finalist.
While pandemic restrictions were in place, Barba taught a class of Arlington Traditional Elementary School third graders virtually — and then she was lucky enough to teach those same kids in person when they were in fourth grade.
“Calendar-wise, they were still young — they still had a third-grade mentality, which I enjoyed,” she says, adding that this happened due to virtual learning.
Barba doesn’t have children of her own, and she calls her students her “school family.”
“[Ms. Barba] knows her students inside and out and takes an interest in their interests,” says Liz Maranto, a fourth grade teacher at the school. “You can find Ms. Barba playing kickball at recess, painting pictures with her students during art class, or discussing ‘monster cookies’ that she baked using a student’s family recipe.”
Barba tries to get to know her students’ parents as well. “Parents play an essential role,” Barba says. “There should be a parent-teacher triangle with the child. I firmly believe that if kids know that you love them, they’ll do anything for you. They want to be heard and understood and acknowledged. As long as teachers, as well as parents, build that bond with kids, it’s a seamless day.”
When classes were unexpectedly held virtually again after Thanksgiving last year, Barba drove to each student’s home to drop off worksheets. “She selflessly puts her students first — not because anyone has asked her to or because she expects recognition for it, but because she truly cares deeply about her children,” says Louisa Irvine, a parent of one of Barba’s students.
“Every class is a little family to me,” Barba says. “We work through things and become stronger. I want my kids to come away with an awareness of themselves and of who they are.”
Her kids remember her influence, too, with some reaching out to her even though they’re now in their 20s. Barba recently heard from a student who was in one of her first classes in 1997 in the Atlanta area. She contacted Barba when she moved to the DC area to pursue her master’s degree at Georgetown University.
“When the kids reach out or come back to visit, it means a lot,” Barba says. “The kids drive me to keep teaching, and I give all the credit to my kids.”
This story originally appeared in our October 2022 issue’s Teacher of the Year cover story. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.