By Annette McLoughlin
At the end of every school year, teachers, students, parents, and alumni nominate exceptional teachers in the Rye City District whose qualities make her or him stand out among the rest. This year, the Teacher of the Year honor was bestowed on Rye’s own Chrissy Connor, who is a Special Education teacher at Rye High School.
After a brief stint in Miami, Connor returned to her hometown in 1974 and began a long career in the District, earning her Master’s at Manhattanville along the way. Initially a teaching assistant at Milton, she was eventually offered her own class at Osborn. Cutbacks at the time, however, forced her to become a permanent substitute. She persevered and, after 17 years, was hired as a Special Education teacher at the high school, a job she seems to have been born to be.
Special Education includes students who, for a variety of reasons, are developmentally delayed and subsequently vulnerable to falling behind their peers in traditional learning environments. Teachers like Connor work to ensure that these students have the necessary tools and added teaching to give them the same opportunities as the rest of the student body.
“Chrissy is a tireless advocate for students with learning differences, has the patience of a saint, and enriches the lives of those families,” says RHS Guidance counselor Sue Dickson.
Parents of children in the program give Connor much credit for their children’s achievements. One said, “My daughter’s confidence as a learner and self-esteem as a person have grown so much because of her. This year she made the honor roll and received three departmental awards, an accomplishment she never thought was possible.” This mother also praised Connor’s devotion, which often extends beyond school hours and job expectations. “Chrissy goes above and beyond what is expected from a teacher. She sends my daughter little messages of support when she is feeling down or frustrated and has come to our home several times when my daughter has been sick, bringing missed work and sitting in our kitchen to go over it with her.”
When asked to comment on her longtime colleague and friend, Assistant Principal Suzanne Short said, “There are only a few people in my life who I can call who will drop everything to help. Chrissy is one of those people. She genuinely cares for everyone she meets and wants nothing more than to make life fulfilling for everyone around her.”
The daughter of a teacher, Connor is the mother of one as well. Her daughter, Katy Ridley, who teaches at Milton School, credits her mother with inspiring her own drive to make a difference as a teacher. “She makes herself available to families year-round. Growing up, my brother and I always knew if our mom didn’t answer her phone that she could be found in the high school well into the evening hours. To this day, I laugh as I drive by late afternoons and see her car still parked in the lot.”
The close relationships she develops with students are a boon for all. “We’ll be driving through town together,” shares Ridley, “and my mom, seeing one of her students, will pull over, and ask, ‘Did you study for Mr. So and So’s test?’ or ‘I just spoke to Ms. So and So and she told me you did well on your exam. Way to go!’ What shocks me most is that, rather than shrink away out of embarrassment, these students are generally happy to stick around and chat by the car.”
So beloved by her students, Connor is often invited to their college graduations, once receiving a young man’s only family ticket for graduation.
A current senior who has been her student for the past three years sums up this gifted teacher perfectly. “Mrs. Connors is loving, patient, and kind. She helps us become the best learners we can be. She makes us feel we belong and that we are more than our learning disabilities. I am very lucky to have her for my teacher. Rye is lucky too.
Chrissy Connor’s classroom walls are covered in inspirational sayings, including one from Goethe, which reads, “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you will help them become what they were capable of being.” It is this one that seems to best sum up her approach to a job she was born to do and does so well.