By Elio Gugliotti, Editor
BEACON FALLS — With a blend of maternal instinct and unbridled enthusiasm, Woodland Regional High School English teacher Nancy Manning immerses herself in the lives of her students.
There’s a reason she’s affectionately known as “Momma Manning.”
“I think what sets her apart from a lot of other teachers is that she truly cares about the student as a person rather than just a student,” said senior Austin Roberts, as he and several other students wrapped up an AP literature class on an early June afternoon. “I feel she always wants to know what’s happening in our lives outside of school.”
Whether loudly cheering on the Hawks from the sidelines of whatever game is being played after school, or asking students in the hallway how they did on their driver’s exam, Manning engages with students and connects what’s going on in their lives with those of the characters in the tales they’re reading in class.
“Otherwise, who cares what Shakespeare wrote about, but if you can make connections to their own lives, it comes alive,” Manning said.
Senior Judy Lippa described Manning’s teaching style as “holistic.”
Senior Anna Canas added, “She’s just an engaging teacher and she connects with everybody on a personal level. She’s much more than just a teacher to people.”
Manning’s fervor for teaching earned her the honor of Region 16’s 2022 Teacher of the Year.
“I don’t think it necessarily means you’re the best in the region, I just think it’s about being recognized for the connections you make with kids, for working so hard,” Manning said.
Manning said teaching and learning through the COVID-19 pandemic made the past year or so especially difficult.
“It’s been a really tough year, so we’ve all been working hard,” Manning said. “It’s not one person; it’s a team philosophy. As a team, we all have worked hard.”
Manning, an Oxford resident, grew up in Windsor Locks. The youngest of four children, she learned to read and write from her older sister, Carol, before kindergarten. She developed a love for reading at a young age, and reading out loud as a child helped her overcome a severe stutter.
In first grade, she knew what she wanted to do with her life. While reading one day in class, Manning recalled telling her teacher, “I want to become a teacher because I’m having so much fun and learning is just so great.”
After graduating from Windsor Locks High School, Manning earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Southern Connecticut State University, a teaching certification from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in English from Central Connecticut State University. In May, she completed her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing with an emphasis on poetry from Southern Connecticut.
“There’s just such joy in learning and that’s what I love fostering,” Manning said.
Manning’s teaching career spans 38 years. She is in her 12th year at Woodland. She spent the previous seven years as an adjunct professor at Post University and Naugatuck Valley Community College while her daughter was young. Before that, she taught in Seymour, Tolland and at Oak Hill School, a school in Hartford for students with disabilities.
Aside from teaching, Manning is the adviser for Woodland’s quiz bowl team, and co-adviser for the staff and student book clubs. She also co-hosts Morning Mayhem — a daily morning podcast that highlights news at Woodland and from around the world — with fellow teachers Chris Tomlin and James Amato.
Manning, an avid sports and New York Giants fan, fittingly covers Woodland sports for the podcast. She’s a fixture on the sidelines at most — if not all — Woodland sporting events.
“She’s just honestly the biggest supporter of like every single sport at Woodland,” said senior Ava Delucia, who played basketball and soccer for the Hawks.
Delucia said Manning sits in the student section donned in Woodland gear and is the loudest fan cheering on the Hawks. She said Manning talks sports in the halls with students and gets them pumped up on game day.
Going to games combines Manning’s passion for sports and her students.
“They (students) see me and they become more interested in my class because they see that I’m invested in what they like,” Manning said.
The moniker “Momma Manning” came about by chance. While teaching in Seymour, students greeted Manning with a “Yo Manning,” like in “Yo Manning help me with this.”
Manning tried to bring that to Woodland, telling her students during a lesson once to say, “Yo Manning it’s correct,” if an answer was right. That was met by puzzled looks from her class.
Then, Manning recalled, one day in class former student Vigan Pacuku asked, “Would you repeat that momma, I didn’t hear you?”
Manning stopped the lesson and asked what Pacuku called her. He replied, she recalled, “Momma,” before explaining that she resembled his mother and loves everyone in the building and adding, “You’re like a momma to everybody.”
The nickname caught on with other students as well as coaches and parents at games.
“It just spread like wildfire,” Manning said.