Professional Teaching & Testing
Penny M. Smelcer, M.A.
1107 Fallen Oak Drive, Apex, North Carolina 27502
(919)362-1658 * psmelcer<AT>nc.rr.com *
Woodcock-Johnson IV Testing Hiatus
I am scheduling no new appointments for spring and summer, 2021, testing.
I apologize for the inconvenience, but I appreciate your understanding.
I am taking a rare hiatus this year for personal reasons.
You can find a list of other qualified testers by visiting
Registration for 2021-22 classes is now open!
Please select "Classes" from the menu above to view class descriptions.
Seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
To view or print the registration form, hover over "Classes,"
and a drop-down selection will appear.
How to Access Your Class Via Google Meet
To join your meeting each week via Google Meet, follow these steps:
Hover over the “Homework” heading at the top of this page. A drop-down box will appear, listing all the classes I teach. Click on your class.
You will be directed to your class page where you’ll see a message that reads, “Guest Area: Please enter your password below.” (All my class pages are now password protected. Please do not share the password with anyone outside of your home or class.)
Your class password has been emailed to you. Type in the password in all caps (lowercase letters will not work), and then click “Go.”
The meeting link will be visible near the top of your class page. Your detailed homework assignments will also be posted on this page each week.
You will use this same procedure each week to access Google Meet and your homework assignments.
Please scroll down below "Mrs. Smelcer's Top Ten" to view my responses to the
most frequently asked questions regarding Covid-19 and my plans to teach virtually during the for 2020-21 school year. You will also find a separate list of FAQ
regarding the classes themselves and my philosophy of teaching.
Welcome to my web page! My name is Penny Smelcer, and I am passionate about helping students experience the joy of learning. To learn more about me, my qualifications, and my philosophy of teaching, check out my Top Ten get-to-know-me facts below which are followed
by a list of Frequently Asked Questions.
Mrs. Smelcer’s Top Ten
1. I love what I do! Yes, indeed, I love teaching kids. From the time I was six years old, I never wanted to be anything else except a teacher. Thank you, Mom, Dad, and Mrs. Hartley (my first-grade teacher) for instilling in me a life-long desire to learn, to teach, to strive for excellence, and to have fun.
2. I am qualified. I have BS degrees in English and in education, both from Longwood University, located in central Virginia. Additionally, I earned my MA degree from Liberty University. I received all three degrees with honors. Additionally, I am a member of Lambda Iota Tau, a national honorary society for literature, as well as Kappa Delta Pi, a national honorary society for education. Now, as far as I’m concerned, parents have the only qualification needed for teaching their own children. They’re yours! However, I would not personally teach other people’s children on a tuition basis, especially on the high-school level, without being degreed in my field.
3. I am experienced. I have taught in both public and private schools, and I have over 30 years of experience as a superior-rated classroom teacher, an inner-city counselor, a tutor, and a private business owner. In 2010, I graduated my son, who is now an NC State graduate (Go Pack!) after homeschooling him through middle and high school.
4. I teach kids to write. I don’t just tell them to write. Students develop negative feelings toward a subject over time when it is not taught in a way they can understand it and successfully apply it. Over the years, I have observed how often writing prompts are thrown at students without any helpful instruction. It’s no wonder kids have learned to dread writing! If a calculus problem were thrust in front of me without any instruction on working it, I’d be frustrated, too, and I’d probably say things like, “Why do I have to do this?” “This is stupid,” and “I hate this.” These complaints are kid-code for “I don’t understand how to do this.”
5. I teach formal grammar. Sadly, grammar is more and more being thrown out of the classroom as “unnecessary.” I couldn’t disagree more. How can you master a language if you don’t know its basic structure? We would never expect a student to successfully perform algebra without first teaching him arithmetic. Yet, every day in classrooms around this country, students are expected to write well without having been taught the basic skills needed to eloquently communicate their thoughts.
6. I don’t believe learning and fun are mutually exclusive. I want my students to look forward to coming to class each week. I want them to feel competent and capable, and I want them to have fun. Yes, FUN! Who says learning grammar, writing, and literature has to be boring? Language is a gift from God, not a curse. We have the unique ability among creation to communicate with one another in profoundly meaningful ways. We should celebrate the beauty of language, not turn it into miserable drudgery.
7. I edit student papers thoroughly. It is time-consuming, to be sure, but it is necessary. Too often I’ve had students tell me they’ve had teachers who never even returned their compositions, let alone offered them any useful feedback on their writing. Students cannot learn to correct mistakes if they aren’t shown what they are doing wrong and how to correct it.
8. I teach students to edit their own papers. Although I will complete the final editing on students’ papers before they write the final drafts, I teach them to self-edit as well. They won’t always have me to edit their papers, and I won’t be going off to college with them, so they must learn to do this themselves. Oh, my, how they dislike this step at first! However, I will teach them a step-by-step process for proofreading their papers that will take the mystery out of improving their compositions and encourage them to strive for excellence.
9. I am a writer. Okay, I’m not a published writer – yet. Oh, but I do love putting words down on paper, and I love telling stories! Right now, I am working on a collection of short stories which draws heavily on my childhood experiences growing up in rural central Virginia. Most of us write best about what we know, and I’m no exception.
10. I enjoy the life God has given me. When I’m not teaching or editing papers, I enjoy hanging out with my beloved husband, son, and soon-to-be daughter-in-love, and I can often be found reading, writing, drinking coffee, gardening, exercising, or watching birds. What do these things have to do with my classes? Well, nothing, but I don’t teach 24/7! Life is full of an endless variety of worthwhile pursuits and simple pleasures .
Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Covid-19
Are you going to teach classes next year?
Yes, I am definitely planning to teach classes during the 2021-22 school year. To be honest, I have considered just retiring after almost 40 years, but I love my job, and I look forward to getting to know my students and playing a small role in their education.
Will you teach in person or virtually?
As of February 1, 2021, I have decided to continue to teach virtually during the 2021-22 school year. I know a virtual class may not be a
family’s first choice, but I would rather teach remotely rather than not at all. To the best of my ability, I resolve to make real-time, online classes as user-friendly and as interactive as possible. Eventually, after the pandemic has diminished, I plan to offer both in-person and virtual options, but I cannot speculate on when those options will be offered.
What made you decide to teach virtually?
First and foremost, I considered my students and their families. With between 50 and 60 students coming in and out of my home each week and with no way to distance them adequately from one another, I refuse to take any unnecessary risks that might jeopardize their health and well-being.
Second, my husband and I are now in our sixth decade, and we both have underlying health conditions that place us in a higher risk category for complications if we contract covid-19.
I have sought counsel from medical professionals – my own personal physician as well as the numerous doctors and PAs with whom my husband works – and they have all advised me to teach virtually next year.
Can't you meet in person and practice social distancing?
The simple answer to this question is, “I can’t.” Because of the size of the adjoining rooms I have designated as classroom space in my home, there is no way I can keep even a few students six feet apart.
Can’t you hold classes in your yard, your garage, or perhaps somewhere other than your home?
Planning to hold classes in my yard or in my garage is not practical. My garage is neither heated nor cooled, and it is not big enough for the students to spread out much more than inside my house. Teaching in the yard is dependent on the moody weather of North Carolina. As for teaching somewhere other than my home, I cannot afford to rent space nor do I desire to travel when all my teaching materials are here in my home.
What virtual format will you be using?
I used Google Meet during the 2020-21 school year, and I am pleased with it. Additionally, my IT husband has set up a top-of-the-line system for me to use so students will be able to see and hear me clearly as well as interact with me and their classmates.
May I [a parent] send you information about why you should or should not maintain distance, wear a mask, etc.?
No. I have already read extensively about the pros and cons surrounding these issues.
My child doesn’t learn best through online classes.
I realize this isn’t a question, but it is a comment I have heard from several parents. I doubt any child learns best through an online format, although I understand how some students struggle with it more than others. My own child never took an online class, not even in college, because he is a face-to-face kind of person if there ever was one. I, too, would rather teach face to face, but, given the circumstances, I pledge to make my virtual classes as user friendly and as interactive as possible while maintaining my high standards for professional teaching and editing.
Don’t you think news of the pandemic has been blown out of proportion?
My personal opinion about the pandemic and the measures taken by officials in response to it are beside the point. I simply want to keep my students and my own family as safe as reasonably possible while providing quality instruction and building relationships with students and families.
Will you comply with government orders regarding covid-19?
Yes, I will comply with state, county, and Town of Apex directives.
What if I disagree with how you plan to teach virtually rather than in person?
It’s a fact of life – and business – that I cannot please everyone. We all must use our own best judgment when it comes to decisions that affect our children and our families. If you decide to remove your child from a roster before classes begin the week of September 7, 2021, you will forfeit only your non-refundable registration fee. However, the sooner you can let me know, the better, so I can contact families who are waiting for seats.
Frequently Asked Questions
This section needs to be updated since I will be teaching virtually during the 2021-22 school year.
How do I know which class is right for my child?
The course descriptions and suggested grade levels should be helpful when deciding which class is right for your child. If these are not sufficient, I will be happy to speak with you personally about which class would be the best choice for your child’s needs and current skills levels.
How do you deal with different ages and grade levels in each class?
All my classes are multi-age and multi-grade. In most cases, the students seem unaware of each other’s ages and grades, and I do not mention ages and grade levels in class. Also, when I read and edit, I do not compare student papers. Instead, I am always thinking, “Is this the best work that this child is capable of doing?”
How much homework will my child have each week?
Kids are busy nowadays, and I understand that. However, it is necessary for them to practice the grammar, writing, and analysis skills they will be learning in class each week. Homework varies from class to class, but the amount of homework time is reasonably commensurate with a class’s level. For example, high school students, especially those enrolled in an honors level class, should expect to spend more time on homework than elementary students. Students should plan to work on their assignments on a daily basis and avoid procrastination. Those who follow this plan should find the assignments to be quite manageable.
Should I help my child with his/her homework?
Middle and high school students should be able to complete their homework assignments independently, although they may need occasional guidance from a parent. Elementary students may need help following the assignment directions and getting organized. Parents will have to judge how much assistance to provide since every child has different needs. Most importantly, parents need to make sure that students have completed their homework. Remember, there’s a reason we call them children.
Will my child receive a grade in the class?
Yes. Middle and high school students receive grades on each assignment, and I will issue a final grade at the end of the year. Mid-term grades are by request only. Elementary students will receive a skills assessment rather than a number or letter grade so parents will know on which skills the child has demonstrated mastery and on which skills the child needs more practice.
If my child has questions about an assignment, may we contact you?
Of course. You may email me or call me if you have questions about an assignment or anything else.
What happens if my child has to be absent? Do you give make-up lessons?
Occasional absences are common, and I expect them. However, since the class meets only once per week, please try to guard the time that your child's class meets. They cannot benefit from the information taught in the lesson and the instructions given for the assignments if they are not present. Individual make-up lessons are not possible, and students will have to review the lesson missed and complete the homework assignments on their own. Middle and high school students have a syllabus. Weekly assignments for all classes may be viewed on my website
Will you proofread a composition that my child has written for another class or requirement, like college admissions essays?
Maybe. I spend the better part of each day reading and editing papers for my students. This rarely leaves me extra time to edit other papers except for the professional proofreading jobs I sometimes accept. You are welcome to ask me about proofreading a paper or a college admissions essay, and I will tell you honestly whether or not my schedule will allow me time to edit it. Please be aware that there is a charge for my editing services.
Will you write a recommendation for my child?
Yes. I write recommendations free of charge, especially for high-school students seeking college admission and/or scholarships.
Are parents allowed to sit in on classes?
Absolutely. Parents are always welcome at any time. I proceed with my lesson plans no matter who is in the room.
How do you deal with discipline issues?
Rarely do I have to deal with a severe discipline issue, and I have been blessed with well-mannered, respectful, and enthusiastic students over the years. Talking out of turn and goofiness are the two discipline matters I encounter most often. (As I said before, there’s a reason we call them children.) If needed, I call parents to let them know of a more severe infraction, and that usually takes care of the problem.
We have an exchange student staying with us. May this student participate in the class?
Exchange students may audit a class without charge with a paying student. If an exchange student will be an active participant in the class, tuition for that student is required.
How do you justify your tuition rates?
My class tuition rates are comparable to other local classes whose teachers are degreed in their academic field. With two undergraduate degrees in English and education and a master of arts, I am highly qualified to teach writing and literary analysis. Moreover, your tuition pays not only for a superior-rated teacher but for a professional proofreader who has readied numerous documents for publication, most notably the dissertation of a Harvard expatriate PhD candidate who designed a computer chip for the PS2. You get what you pay for in shoes, paper plates, and writing teachers.
When are payments due?
Most parents pay by the month. Payments are due by the 5th of each month. Checks should be made payable to Penny Smelcer. Cash must be placed in an envelope with the student’s name printed on the front so I’ll be sure to know whose account to credit. A few parents pay for the entire year or a semester in advance. This is fine, but please keep in mind that there are no discounts given for advance payments.
Do you give any discounts or scholarships?
This is a frequent question indeed. If you consider my qualifications and the time I spend on thoroughly reading and editing each and every paper a student writes, the tuition is already a bargain. I won’t be spending 10% or 20% less time on a student’s papers even if I were to grant that amount as a discount. However, I do offer a multiple-child discount which is explained on the page that lists the classes I offer.
If my child misses a class, do I still have to pay for it?
Yes. Attendance does not affect payment. Tuition is paid by the year, not by the class.
Are your classes faith-based?
The curriculums I use - WriteShop I, WriteShop II, and Windows to the World: An Introduction to Literary Analysis - are faith-based curriculums that espouse a Christian worldview. Most of the assignments, however, are not religious in nature. Families are not required to profess any particular faith or sign a statement of faith to enroll in classes. However, class presentations and assignments will not be altered to accommodate other worldviews.
Do you proselytize?
Well, I'm a teacher, not a preacher. However, kids are bright, and they tend to figure out my worldview. I make a conscious effort to follow the precepts of the Bible, and I start each class with a prayer. Additionally, I try to treat others the way I want to be treated, and I respect those whose beliefs and opinions differ from my own. Students do not need to worry about lower grades based on their personal beliefs. I grade them on their writing, not their worldview. Nevertheless, if your family seeks freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion, my classes will not be the right choice for you.
Where are you from?
I grew up in rural Buckingham County in central Virginia, located at the base of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains near the James River. I was a tomboy who loved to roam the woods, play with my pets, and ride my pony.
Do you have a family? Did you homeschool your own child?
I married my high school sweetheart Donald right after I graduated from college in 1981. We will celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary on October 3. Our son Mark was born in 1991. Mark attended a private Christian school during his elementary years; we homeschooled him through middle and high school. Mark has now graduated from NC State, and, on April 7, 2017, he married our dear daughter-in-love Haley. They live in Cary and both work in RTP, and, as my husband says, "They are saved, happy, and employed, so we did something right."
Do you have a favorite book?
Well, I am a daily Bible reader. Additionally, I read (or listen to) either Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice around the time of my birthday every year as a gift to myself. Also, my husband surprised me with tickets for our 25th wedding anniversary to Prince Edward Island, Canada, the setting for the Anne of Green Gables series of books. To Kill a Mockingbird is another personal favorite. As for modern writers, I like Mitch Albom, especially his book The Five People You Meet in Heaven.
Inclement Weather Policy
(Not applicable for the 2020-21 school year)
In the event of inclement weather which makes it necessary to cancel classes, I will notify families of cancelled classes in several ways. First, I will post an announcement on the home page of my website – http://www.psmelcer.wix.com/classes. Second, I will email each family. Third, I will send texts to those of you who can receive texts. I do not follow Wake County Public School’s decision to close school, mainly because my classes meet in the late afternoon when roads may have improved from morning conditions. I try to use common sense when making the decision whether to have classes or to cancel them, and I never want to put anyone in harm’s way. I also take into account the considerable distance from which some of you must travel. Even if I decide to hold classes as scheduled on a hard-to-call foul-weather day, please exercise your own judgment on travel safety. If your child misses a class, he/she will not be penalized in any way and will be allowed to make up any work that was missed. Make-up dates are built into the calendar for classes which are cancelled due to weather.
(Not applicable for the 2020-21 school year)
Please keep your children home if they are ill, both to help them recover faster and to protect everyone else from sickness. As a mother myself, I know it can sometimes be hard to determine whether a child is too sick to attend class. Healthcare professionals generally advise parents to keep children home if they display the following symptoms: 1)fever over 100 degrees, 2)vomiting or diarrhea, 3)severe sore throat or persistent coughing, 4)extremely irritated, runny eyes or an unexplained rash, 5)extreme fatigue or headache, 6)pain and unusual body aches. Also, students should be symptom-free for 24 hours before returning to class. Please rest assured that if your child misses a class, he/she will not be penalized in any way and will be allowed to make up any work that was missed. Your child’s well-being and the health of my other students and my own family take priority.