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Nashua Lions Club honors its Teacher of the Year

By Barbara Taormina
Union Leader Correspondent

May 22. 2014 8:04PM
Nashua Lions Club President Elaine Lecius and Peter Testa, former chairman of the Mine Falls Park Advisory Committee celebrate Nashua High South math teacher Jacalyn Lesser’s Teacher of the Year award. (Courtesy)

NASHUA — Jacalyn Lesser remembers when she told her family she would be teaching math, they laughed.

She wasn’t exactly a math whiz in high school, and it seemed like an unusual choice. But Lesser and her family were all smiles this week when she was honored as the Nashua Lions Club pick for Teacher of the Year 2014 at a club meeting at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

“I was honored and humbled,” said Lesser who chose education as a second career and now teaches at Nashua High South.

“I had always wanted to go into teaching, but the field was overcrowded when I was in college,” she said.

She opted instead for a career in the hospitality industry and a second full-time job as a wife and mother.

But during the ’90s, the number of math and science teachers dwindled as college graduates gravitated to more lucrative fields, and Lesser saw an opportunity.

But she didn’t choose math. She went back to school with the plan of teaching elementary-age students and discovered quickly that she enjoyed working with older students.

Math was where she was needed, so math is the direction she took.

“I had to learn math again, and it wasn’t easy,” she recalled. “I had to work hard at it. But that’s helped me understand my students who have to work hard at it.”

Lesser said that unlike most math teachers who are mental mathematicians, she tends to be a visual mathematician and that’s been helpful in reaching students who would rather be anywhere else on the planet rather than math class.

“Kids who struggle with math are usually visual learners,” she said, adding it really helps to be able to see those types of differences and details in how students learn.

But Lesser wasn’t honored just for her work in the classroom. She also coordinates volunteer work for Nashua High South’s Honor Society, and it was her success in getting students to step up and help with Trail Days at Mine Falls Park that caught the attention of Lions Club members, who nominated her for the Teacher of the Year award.

For Lesser, encouraging students to take on community service projects is a natural step. Originally from Massachusetts, Lesser lived in different parts of New England and the Midwest before she and her family settled in Nashua about 15 years ago.

“That’s why I have kind of an unusual accent,” she said with a laugh.

But Nashua is home now, and she loves the combination of having big-city resources close by, while still being able to feel like a part of a close-knit community.

And she especially loves being part of Nashua High South.

“It’s very rare that you find a place that you love, and you feel you belong and where everything comes together,” she said. “That’s the way it is at South; it’s an amazing group of students and teachers.”

Now that she’s been honored for her work in a field that her family once saw as an unlikely road to success, Lesser said she won’t be wasting time resting on her laurels.

“That’s the fastest way to get them to wilt,” she said. “There will always be things to do to improve, and there will always be another teacher to work with and another student to help.”

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