PUNXSUTAWNEY — If the size of a smile on the face of a student indicates the type of impression a teacher has made upon his or her life, then the sheer happiness expressed by the boys and girls gathered around Michele Basile-Long Monday morning as she was presented with The Punxsutawney Spirit's elementary “Teacher of the Year” award told of a positive one.
Long, a second-grade teacher at West End Elementary, credits her parents, Gary and Nancy Basile of Rossiter, for instilling in her the values and qualities which have shaped her into the person she has become, in addition to influencing her career choice.
"My parents are both wonderful speakers and teachers," she said, recalling the roles both have played in their church, as well as her mother's natural way with children. Likewise, Long said that through the guidance and support of her parents, she learned that she was capable of accomplishing all that she wanted.
"I've always wanted to share that and give kids that same belief," Long added.
A 1993 graduate of Punxsutawney Area High School, Long pursued an interest in art history at Edinboro University.
Although her original plan was to become a professor in her field, she earned a bachelor's degree with a minor in history. However, her enthusiasm to teach still persisted.
"When my oldest daughter, Alexandra, was born, I decided that I wanted to teach young children," Long said of her decision to return to college for certification in elementary education.
After serving the district as a substitute for only a short period, Long claims that it was her determination, coupled with luck, that landed her a position nine years ago at PAMS, teaching eighth grade reading under a newly-adopted program.
"It was challenging, but I enjoyed my time there," she said.
The following year, Long was transferred to Mary A. Wilson to teach second grade alongside a woman whom she admires, Dee Chicka, as well as many other educators of whom Long had been a pupil years before.
"I had good teachers the whole way through school," she said. "It's nice to come back and work with them now."
As Long's family grew at home and her second daughter, Elizabeth, was born, she said her bond at the school with her students and colleagues experienced a similar maturation.
In fact, Long said that perhaps it's hard for others to understand, but when she spends 180 days with her students, it is difficult to let them go at the end of the school year.
"They're like my kids," she said. "I have 18 kids in the day at school and two at night," referring to her own children at home. Long admits that, for her, the toughest part of being a teacher is that she gets attached to her class.
Two years ago, with the consolidation of students in the school district, Long was moved to her current position. According to Long, it was hard to leave Mary A. because it was like losing a family; however, she said the staff of West End welcomed her with open arms and they bonded very quickly, forming strong friendships and productive work relationships.
From the neat, yet lively appearance of her classroom, brimming with charts, displays and artwork, it seems as if Long has successfully acclimated to her new environment. And if the joyful disposition of her students who occupy this space weren't reward enough to Long, she said that her biggest gain has been in knowing that, "You could change lives, even at this age: You could make a difference in someone's life."
Long said she has also been grateful to the principals with whom she has worked over the years — elementary principals Travis Monroe and Sharon Weber, as well as former PAMS Principal Richard Galluzzi, who is now the district's director of curriculum and federal programs.
"You can only be as good as your bosses let you, and they've all been wonderful," she said.
After being presented by Spirit editor Tom Chapin with a plaque, balloons and a gift certificate, Long remarked that it felt as if it were her birthday.
"It's great to be able to love your job and I hope it shows," she said. "I hope I set a good example."