WEAKLEY COUNTY (January 20) – Weakley County Schools’ Teachers of the Year range from those working with three-year-old preschoolers to 12th graders and those already in dual enrollment for college. The District Teachers of the Year include a UTM graduate who is in her fourth year of teaching and two veterans who have decades of classroom experience and are consistently recognized as Highly Effective educators by the state. While the group is diverse, these celebrated educators all profess a love for their profession and a commitment to their students.
Teachers of the Year are first voted on by their peers at each school. Divisions are pre-K through 4th grade, 5th grade through 8th grade, and 9th grade through 12th. Those winners are then asked to complete an application that focuses on evidence of student success, how the teacher contributes to improving the school culture, and how they connect students to the community. Administrators and former District Teachers of the Year form the committee that then selects the District representatives. District representatives then move to regional and, if successful there, then state opportunities.
This year, Michaela Frederick, a special education teacher in Sharon School’s three-year-old preschool program; Jo Robbin Buckley, the veteran math instructor at Dresden Middle with 32 years of experience; and Linda Farmer, a high school math and ACT Prep teacher at Greenfield in her 15th year of teaching were chosen as District Teachers of the Year.
The two math teachers at the District level reflect a trend in this year’s voting. Five of the 16 school representatives spend their days focused on all things mathematical. In the younger age band, three of the six are second grade teachers covering all topics. Two of the school representatives work with special education students. All reflect the many roles educators now play at schools as they take on additional duties such as serving on school improvement, character recognition, or school data teams and/or filling the advisor role for Beta Clubs, cheerleading, or Student Council.
Frederick notes that most of her three-year-old students have Individualized Education Plans with individualized goals. Of those students, 80% return to their home schools and attend a pre-K there with support as needed. She sees success as students with delayed communication learn different modes of communication such as sign language, communication board use, and verbal language and can use these skills to generalize in different environments. As noted by parents, these students learn to socialize with other children, use other modes of communication, and use more verbal language at home.
She communicates daily with parents through notes capturing moments of the school day, weekly with parents via a newsletter, and suggests monthly projects for parents to work with their children at home.
Using play-based activities to develop skills such as cooperating with others, solving problems, and making decisions, she plans lessons that offer students the chance to “break barriers” to their learning.
“When faced with challenges, my students often use the phrase, ‘I can’t do it,’” she noted. “One quote I use to encourage them is ‘You can’t do it … yet.’ This quote builds their growth mindset and empowers them to try when faced with obstacles.”
While Buckley brings 32 years of teaching experience to Dresden Middle, she readily acknowledges, “I can genuinely say that I still love every day that I get to teach!”
Practices that she uses include constant review; showing students how to solve problems as easily and succinctly as she can; adding challenging problems on quizzes and tests to teach diligence, tenacity, endurance, creativeness, and “stick-to-itiveness;” providing immediate feedback; offering opportunities for all students to go to the boards throughout the classroom to allow her to see their work at a glance; and, as she puts it, “we just plain work hard every day from bell to bell.”
One of the rewards Buckley enjoys is having former students return to her for additional tutoring when they move on to high school and college and then seeing them as “awesome contributing citizens and leaders throughout their communities and careers.”
Farmer shares her fellow math teacher’s joy at engaging with former students.
“I know students have learned when they come back and speak to me after going to college and relate how my classes helped prepare them,” she said. “Those times mean more than any scores and help keep teachers going.”
Farmer is aware that math often intimidates students and therefore measures success as students are increasingly willing to speak up and share answers or ask questions.
“Once they realize that their questions and thoughts are valued, some of that anxiety eases, and they are in a better position to learn. It takes time and practice to build math skills,” she added.
Farmer also observes that “mathematical and statistical literacy is a growing need in our world as people must make sense of so much information and data.” She cites as an example the need to understand how numbers are presented and how to look past “eye-catching headlines and into the actual facts behind stories.” Even the pandemic gives opportunities to discuss relevant examples of math topics such as exponential growth as the virus has progressed and research is unveiled.
“Math classes are certainly important steps in students’ journeys to all sorts of fields, including engineering, nursing, carpentry, teaching, etc.” she pointed out. “As students gain knowledge, critical thinking skills, and attention to detail they learn in mine and my colleagues’ different classes, they will be able to become productive members of our community in whatever career they choose.”
School-based teachers of the year by age band groupings are:
Kristy Jolley, a second-grade teacher at Dresden Elementary, who also helps teach the newly-formed Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Art, and Math (STREAM) program.
Amy Lawrence, Gleason School’s librarian, who counts among her successes the Reading Partners program that pairs older and younger readers and the Read in the Dark Library Week that has now been duplicated statewide.
Beth Ann Sawyers, a second-grade teacher at Greenfield School, who helped create the Pride Patrol, a positive behavioral reinforcement program that recognizes students for exemplifying the school principles of integrity, unity, and respect.
Tina Brown, a fourth-grade teacher at Martin Elementary, whose interest and love of technology has allowed her to provide input on implementing iPads for each teacher at MES, train her colleagues at the school and district level, research appropriate applications, and evaluate interactive touch panels before the recent purchase for the district.
Nicki Moore, a second-grade teacher at Martin Primary, who has modeled classroom management to encourage positive behaviors, helped improve school culture with the suggestion of implementing a joke of the day with announcements, and whose collaboration efforts range from a recent “election” across all second-grade classrooms at MPS to serving on the Charger Advisory Board to collect data on how the Charger Foundation can best serve Martin schools, teachers, and students.
Melody Hopper, a Gleason fifth-grade teacher who is also the Elementary Beta Club sponsor and as a new initiative of the club this year has started a Teacher Appreciation Project for Elementary faculty and staff.
Anna Bryant, a math teacher for Greenfield’s sixth, seventh and eighth grades, who ensures education transcends the classroom by connecting specific standards to places in town, showing how math is used round the community. “When we discuss positive and negative numbers, we connect our local bank to specific problems/questions. The students also enjoy discussing tax using our Mexican restaurant or a local fast-food restaurant,” she explained.
Carrie Stringer, a Martin Elementary fifth grade teacher and coordinator for the school improvement plan, who has worked with administration to put in place strategies that have expanded the RTI resources with the addition of interventionists, further training on new reading materials and on small groups and how to use data to drive instruction as a whole group and in small groups.
Kristy Shumake, an eighth-grade math teacher at Martin Middle, who creates a culture of “yet” in her classroom by promoting thinking that says, “I don’t know how to do this yet” and deals with math “tasks” rather than math “problems.” She counts among her success stories a recent encounter with a former student who told her she was studying to be a math teacher herself because “you showed me I can do math and I want to do that for others.”
Caitlin Tucker, the speech-language pathologist at Sharon School, who works individually with students and helps her colleagues understand new assistive technology such as augmentative alternative communication now available for students with complex communication needs. Among her triumphs was helping a student successfully present her part – impairment free – at a schoolwide program and ultimately, after successful therapy sessions, recently dismissing the student completely as more therapy was no longer required.
Danielle Garner, a math teacher at Dresden High as well as a co-Student Council sponsor and cheerleading coach, who has pushed to increase school pride and ownership. She says it is a priority because “if students have pride and ownership in their school, it becomes a cleaner and healthier environment for all and leads to more success both in and out of the classroom.” Helping students engage with the Weakley County Backpack Program, Iris Festival and, in recent days, tornado cleanup is her means for meeting her goals.
Phyllis Gearin, a math teacher at Gleason who has sponsored the high school Student Council for the past 31 years, helps organize the high school portion of the annual field day, and who loves to link mathematics to the community and the real world in general. She notes, “When teaching ratio and proportion, we discuss agriculture. For example, farmers who need to know the ratio of cows per acre of grazing pasture, those who mix fertilizer and pesticides for crops or simply the ratio for mixing gasoline and oil as fuel for small engines. The Pythagorean Theorem brings about conversations of carpentry and building rafters in Ag class. We link the use of Punnett squares in science to factoring polynomials in Algebra class. While studying exponential growth and decay models, we discuss events in the news … .”
Kristen Vernon, a Westview English teacher who returned to her alma mater and has seen consistent high test scores in her students and who utilizes projects like Write a Veteran, interviews recording memories of 9/11, and interacting with the author of a novel.