SUNBURY, N.C. (WAVY) — May is Teacher Appreciation Month and at WAVY-TV 10 we’re honoring Excellent Educators.

Mary Catherine Saunders usually teaches 1st grade at T.S. Cooper Elementary School in Gates County, but when there was a need for 2nd grade teachers, she took on both classes herself.

Saunders knows a thing or two about patience and perseverance.

“This is my 19th year teaching,” Saunders told 10 On Your Side. “It just happened that I know both of the groups of kids and we were kind of doing like a team teaching scenario and something fell through with the other person that came to teach.”

25 kids make up her blended class–a class she knows pretty well because she taught them last year as first graders.

“Right now we’re just trying to fill in the gaps,” Saunders explained.

She’s worked tirelessly to get her children up to speed when the pandemic took hold during their Kindergarten year.

“When they stopped Kindergarten that was the pivotal year when all of those letters that you’ve been learning about and those sounds come together to make words and they missed that instruction. I had one child last year that knew maybe 14 of the letters of the alphabet. She could name 14 of them and maybe knew 11 sounds. Right now she’s one of my top readers,” Saunders said.

This year Saunders has focused on helping each of her students learn at their own pace.

“Watching these kids that had a hard time counting or just knowing basic math facts and now they’re adding and subtracting and interested in multiplying. It’s just like ‘wow, that’s why I love what I do’ It’s really taught me to look at them as a child and not so much about the scores,” Saunders said.

As for if she’s going to follow them to 3rd grade next year, her students are already asking.

“They’re already begging me to go with them and I would go,” Saunders said.