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An art to teaching science
Arnsdorff makes education her passion
Yvonne Arnsdorff
Yvonne Arnsdorff

In 1989, the year the current building was opened, Yvonne Arnsdorff began teaching at Effingham County High School.

“I never student taught it was a really scary day for me,” she said. “It was natural because I’ve always enjoyed sharing with people. If I understand something, I like to explain it and break it down where other people can understand it.”

Arnsdorff had not planned on being a teacher; originally, she intended to become a nurse.

“I’m a little too tender hearted for that,” she said. “I would go home and cry about the patients. I realized it was the science that I liked. I changed my major to biology and was asked if I would teach. I tried it and I loved it.”

During her time at ECHS she has seen former students become teachers.

“I have a lot of my former students teaching here,” Arnsdorff said. “In fact, my principal (Yancy Ford) was in my homeroom. He is wonderful. He was a good boy then. He’s a great principal. He loves the kids.”

Ford had Arnsdorff for homeroom his freshman year.

“The one thing I remember most about her was every day when we came in she always had a smile on her face, and she was always in a good mood,” Ford said. “I thought that was important.”

“I didn’t realize it then, but I realize it now being principal that students coming into a classroom for the first time in the mornings that positive influence and that happy atmosphere can really help set the tone for that kid having a good day,” Ford said. “To this day when you go see her, we could go down there right now and she’s happy and she’s excited about learning, and excited about her kids being in school.”

Ford has worked with Arnsdorff as a teacher and administrator and said she has always been easy to work with because her primary concern is what’s best for the students.

He describes Arnsdorff as dedicated, caring and willing to go the extra mile.

“She does everything in her power to do what’s best for kids, and she always keeps the kids’ best interests at heart,” Ford said. “That’s what makes her such a wonderful teacher. She will do whatever it takes for that kid to be successful.”

Ford said Arnsdorff is an asset to the school and to the community.

“Kids respect her, and kids don’t respect you unless they know you care about them,” he said.

He said when students realize teachers care they will do their best for the teacher.

“I respect her a great deal,” Ford said.

Arnsdorff said she enjoys seeing her students after they have taken her class, and they come and ask if she remembers things about them from class.

“I had one come to me in the store and say my mom still calls me ‘Bubbles,’” Arnsdorff said, adding she had given the student the nickname.

She recalled having one student in class eating peppermints, and she told him that unless he had enough for the whole class that he couldn’t eat the peppermint.

“He produced a pocket full, so I knew who to go to if I ever had a sore throat,” Arnsdorff said. “I saw him six years after I taught him, and he walked up to me gave me a big ole hug and pulled a peppermint out gave it to me.”

“(The students are) so sweet,” she said. “They don’t forget, and they always have something nice to say. It’s a good feeling. I’ve had kids who have said they can’t believe my kids are so big.”

Arnsdorff moved classrooms this year to teach in the freshman academy.

Her classroom is decorated with things made by former students.

“I’m the biggest pack rat,” she said as she pointed out some of the objects that have been given to her through the years. “You just don’t even know what was in my old classroom. I was in there for 18 years, so when I started moving, people were like, ‘you have got to throw some stuff away.’”

She has had former students who have been teachers to her children. Ramona Lovett, assistant principal at Ebenezer Middle School, taught Arnsdorff’s daughter, Amber.

Lovett said she remembers how outgoing Arnsdorff was when she took her biology class.

“She made the class so much fun,” Lovett said. “She was one of the classes that you were actually excited about going to, not only because she made the information so realistic, but because we were able to go and do hands-on activities. Things you never thought of doing before, she made it fun.”

Lovett said Arnsdorff showed the students in her class she cared, and the relationship has continued. Lovett taught Amber her first year as a teacher.

“It was like a cycle — she was my teacher, and now here I am teaching her children,” Lovett said. “I gained a lot of respect seeing what she went though as a teacher, and working with Amber. Amber is a delight.”

Lovett said it is nice to now have the same rapport with Amber that she has with Arnsdorff.

Arnsdorff said her love for teaching is not only due to the students.

“I enjoy them very much, but I love the subject,” she said. “It’s constantly changing it’s exciting. Just the other day I’m doing a little research on epigenetics. All the things they’re saying now is your DNA is not just set — it can change one of the reasons they know is because they have identical twins, and they’re showing different gene expressions. It’s really kind of neat.”

She said there is still a lot to be discovered in science.

“The kids will tell me something that they saw,” Arnsdorff said. “Sometimes they get things crossed up. I have one who will say Eboli — they’ll cross over Ebola virus with E-coli bacteria. It’s easy to do — it’s a foreign language for heaven sakes.”

Arnsdorff said she doesn’t mind telling her students what she thinks, but she doesn’t contradict parents.

“Kids are just kids,” she said. “I don’t mind telling them you don’t need to talk like that. I don’t mind saying you need to go to bed earlier because you’re going to sleep in my class.

“I’ve had some that have majored in biology,” she said. “That made me really happy. I’m so excited to hear that.”

Arnsdorff said she doesn’t like to have students who don’t like science.

“They think they’re not good at it, or they think it’s too hard,” she said. “It can be broken down and simplified. There are some things you can’t make everything simple, but you can explain it in such a way that it’s understandable. I think everybody can do science — we live it.”

She said there are also has the ability to use current events to teach, such as the staph outbreak.

“We’d already talked about bacteria somewhat,” Arnsdorff said, “but this was a great opportunity to say this is real life.”

She said the most difficult thing about teaching is when there is something she can’t help a student with.

“You do what you can at least they have a wonderful environment at school,” Arnsdorff said. “I feel like they need a good environment at school. You have to give respect. I want them to feel like this is a safe place to be.

“I’m not going to be a counselor because I’m not,” she said. “There have been times when they just want you to listen. That’s easy to do. Some of them don’t have or don’t feel like they have anyone to talk to.”

She said it is also hard when students are involved in accidents.

“That’s a tough part when your babies get hurt,” Arnsdorff said.

Laura Ike began teaching at ECHS three years ago and said Arnsdorff made her feel welcome in the community when she moved here.

“She has that personal quality,” Ike said. “She’s got a strong Christian faith, and she shares that. As a colleague she’s very loving to her students and supportive of them emotionally, and they need a lot of that.”

“She knows her subject matter very well,” Ike said. “She’s really sweet, and she’s very consistent. I think teenagers get a lot of ridicule from all sides and it’s easy to ridicule them because of their behavior and their confused state, but she’s just consistently supportive for them. She provides a really good role model for them.”

Arnsdorff said her faith is the reason she is always happy.

“It’s because I love Jesus,” she said. “That’s what I always say because I know whatever happens I have faith. I’ve had some things happen. Honestly, with my students they make me happy. One today came up and said you always match. They say the funniest things.”

She said even though she will tell people her faith is why she is happy, she will not preach to her students because her classroom is not the appropriate forum for that.

“I don’t think that that is my place,” Arnsdorff said. “That’s the parent’s place.”

Arnsdorff also believes it is important to be a good role model for her students.

“They need to see that we’re doing what we’re saying we’re doing,” she said. “They have all these wild people. This is not who they need to be watching. I try to point out people who are better role models. I feel like if you’re in the public eye and you know kids are watching you, you have a responsibility.

“It’s like if I went out to a restaurant and I was sitting there puffing on a cigarette cussing, that would be horrible because I have these kids coming into my classroom.”

She enjoys rewarding her students as well.

“I always said that when I retire I’m going to open up a bakery,” Arnsdorff said. “I love to bake. My kids were competing who ever got the highest class average on their benchmark gets a treat. So the class that won is excited they’re trying to decide if they want cake or cookies.

“I love that something that I love to do that’s easy is something I can reward them with,” she said. “It doesn’t take a lot. It’s the little things.”