Potter Mania

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Potter Mania

This story originally appeared in the spring/summer 2016 issue of The Jag magazine.


It seems fitting that a literary icon to countless young readers should share the same last name as one of Wellington’s greatest treasures, Middle School Language Arts Teacher Mary Potter P ’01 ’04.

A bonafide Wellington institution, she has a fan following that could rival Taylor Swift. Walking through the school halls swarmed by students, with a dozen children at any given time telling MP, or Potts, or Potter, as she is called affectionately by her admirers, about their day, their dreams, their trials and tribulations through adolescence. Amazingly, she juggles all of the conversations with thoughtful responses. Mary Potter does not just nod and smile, putting on appearances. She truly is listening and the students know it.

“I take them seriously,” Potter says of her uncanny ability to hear so many voices at once and finding their individuality in what many other adults would consider chaos. “I always try to dig deeper and find out what makes them tick.”

For over 30 years, Potter has dedicated her life to finding out makes kids tick. She first came to Wellington not long after it opened as a favor to a friend and fell in love with the autonomy and respect granted to teachers. A graduate of Upper Arlington High School, she attended The Ohio State University before teaching in Southwestern schools for a number of years. When she got the call about an opening at Wellington, Potter had a two-month-old son at home and wasn’t necessarily seeking a full-time position. But the interim head of school at the time offered her flexibility in scheduling and Potter, who had experience teaching education students at Otterbein University about technology integration in the classroom, found herself instructing computer science at Wellington. She had also established herself as a leading expert in the field of children’s literature and writing. Her visionary approach to education was a natural fit for the new school.

“I have always felt supported here. Wellington’s focus on community and giving teachers the resources they need to be effective in the classroom is very empowering.”

Potter finds working with students on reading and writing most fascinating because there is no right or wrong answer. Examining text from multiple perspectives and asking questions about what they’re reading emboldens children’s innate curiosity about the world as they take their first steps toward adulthood. Students discover new ideas and identities in others and themselves as they learn freedom of expression. “They need to feel safe to be different,” Potter said. “They find that here at Wellington. We embrace students as individuals.”

The palpable compassion Potter shows for her students extends far beyond the walls of Wellington. With a commitment to service she learned from her father, himself a school teacher, she has been a caregiver to many in need through the years. Potter never hesitates to volunteer her time or her home to someone struggling. From organizing clothing and book drives to personally delivering homemade peanut and jelly sandwiches to the homeless, she has been a longtime proponent of service learning for all ages. She also does not see it as an experience for only students, but the whole family as well. “My dream is for every Wellington family to find a way to serve the community,” she said.

Potter feels the most validation from her hard work when she sees how supportive students are of one another and how often they pay her kindness forward long after they leave middle school. It is not uncommon for former students who once struggled with reading and writing to come back and offer their assistance in Potter’s classroom.

The mother of two Wellington graduates, Sarah ’01 and Seth ’04, Potter is fiercely protective of her time with them. She likes travelling to the Dominican Republic with her daughter to practice her Spanish and looks forward to fishing with both her kids and brother every summer in northern Canada where she calls the night skies “amazing.”

More than anything, Potter is excited to teach kids how to fly, believing in themselves and their abilities. “I’ve seen a lot of cool things happen to kids around here. Sometimes students will leave and then come back because they miss it so much. They never find another place like Wellington.”