|Congratulations to Oak Ridge Schools Teachers of the Year|
|The Tennessee Teacher of the Year program is designed to promote recognition, respect and appreciation for outstanding teachers in Tennessee, to stimulate interest in teaching as a career, and to encourage public involvement in education. Each year, the Tennessee Department of Education applauds teachers who care about children, who devote their professional lives to enriching the lives of Tennessee students, and who demonstrate exceptional gains in student achievement.
Each district in the state may submit one nominee for the state-level award. As part of this process, we seek teacher candidates from each school in the district. Oak Ridge Schools would like to congratulate the school-level winners nominated by their principals and peers for the 2018-2019 application. The biographies of the teachers below are written largely in their own words to provide a window into each candidate’s authenticity and commitment to our students.
|Oak Ridge Schools Preschool: Principal, Lisa Downard; Teacher of the Year, Melissa McMurry
Early education is not just important, but vital. If we don’t begin thinking about education in the early years, our children are at risk of falling behind by the time they start Kindergarten. At Oak Ridge Schools’ Preschool, this belief is demonstrated every day. I have the added honor of working with the special education population as a resource and inclusion teacher. My classroom may be located in any part of our building from the drop-off line to an actual classroom. I rely on the latest research, proper implementation of the curriculum, and individual student data to show growth. I value the input I receive from staff, students, and parents to show how effectively we work. Because my work is relational, growth is a direct result from the investment I make in people, and the teaching methods are more effective when each individual feels valued. Richard Riley once said, “The stronger the start, the better the finish.” I am involved in a partnership with the Oak Ridge Schools’ Preschool, Helen Ross McNabb and The United Way. The heart of the initiative is to address a need in the community to provide support for the ever-increasing behavior needs of our population. I am acting as a liaison between the students, parents, and Helen Ross McNabb staff members to find the best services available for families. I am excited about this partnership as it has the potential to change the course of an individual’s life.
|Glenwood Elementary: Principal, Amelia Bell; Teacher of the Year, Amanda Fitch
I create a classroom climate of high expectations focused on student accountability and social-emotional growth for all students. It is important to me to communicate and build strong relationship with caregivers while I work collaboratively with grade level team members in the school community to ensure a high level of learning for all. In just two short years, one student has completely changed the climate and culture of our school, as soon as we he was provided a place-to grow and be his best. The transformation in our school culture though our combined efforts has been amazing to see and I’m so proud to be a small part of it.
|Linden Elementary: Principal, Roger Ward; Teacher of the Year, Steffanie Smith Greer
I consistently keep student needs in mind, considering diverse cultures. I thrive on choosing lessons, literature, and hands-on activities that will reach all learning styles. I collect student interest inventories and have student conferences during writing lessons, which builds my knowledge of personal experiences so that I can choose materials aligned to their interests. I have developed various forms of communication to promote relationship building. Within the school, I have been involved with the Hospitality Committee to organize staff holiday celebrations and monthly luncheons to bring staff together throughout the year. I send cards and flowers for those in need, and keep a finger on the climate of the school, looking for things that improve teacher attitudes and bring smiles to their faces.
|Willow Brook Elementary: Principal, Sherrie Fairchild-Keyes; Teacher of the Year, Melanie Bloomer
I recently experienced a journey that changed the way I teach reading. A program titled Literacy Lessons for the Individual taught me how to use what students already knew to solve the unknown. It taught me how to focus not only on the visual information a word gives, but to consider the meaning and structure of the word within the text. Suddenly I understood why my students could pass their sight word test and then not recognize the same words in a text. Words in isolation lack meaning, but words in text carry meaning. I was not teaching the connection before. Now when my students are solving an unknown word, they ask themselves, “Does that make sense? Do we say it that way? Does it look right?” Confidence has soared, as they are no longer stuck trying to sound out word after word only to still be confused. Since changing the way I teach, several of my special education students have made growth comparable to their peers. I will no longer accept the belief that special education students are supposed to grow at a slower rate. My change in practice has brought about a growth mindset for both my students and me, as we are all learners. Recently a student said to me, “I’m so proud of you, you are working so hard.” This is why I must never be satisfied with mediocracy, but always teach and learn for the best. My students deserve nothing less.
|Woodland Elementary: Principal, D.T. Hobby; Teacher of the Year, Inger Scudder
I strive to use innovative practices that fit the talents of my students. I believe that classroom management is essentially the organization of teacher attention to individual students, and is a cornerstone of teaching. Good management and discipline habits allow students to feel safe. Students come to us from a variety of socio-economic, cultural and racial backgrounds, and each background brings with it different strengths, needs, and aspirations. Children are intuitive and have an innate ability to determine our level of commitment and trustworthiness. Gaining the trust of so many different little individuals is not an easy task, so they must know that everyone will be treated fairly, which does not necessarily mean they are treated the same. Students must know that we respect who they are and from whence they came. It is important we understand their emotions before speaking to their intellects, as no one can learn academically when their emotional needs are not met. I try to remember that teaching is not the same as learning. When instruction relates to the interests of the students, ingenuity occurs, which plays a major role in sustaining interest in content. Differentiation of learning allows students to find academic success with high interest. Creating lessons that yield success for every student helps to create an enjoyable classroom environment. I have former students who are now writing plays on Broadway, some who are school teachers, and some who have financial investments in professional sports teams. I have former students who are pharmacists, nurses and physicians. All of these students came from diverse backgrounds, and each has a unique story to tell of a third grade teacher at Woodland, Mrs. Scudder.
|Jefferson Middle School: Principal, Phil Cox; Teacher of the Year, Michael Murphy
I teach science through hands-on activities. An experiment actively tests a hypothesis, so students are consistently involved in laboratory activities. They don’t just read about science, they do it. Students use triple beam balances, spring scales, thermometers, test tubes, chemicals, and graduated cylinders. They make predictions, perform experiments, collect data, and draw conclusions from this data. Students are involved in frog, sheep brain, and cow eyeball dissections. All of these laboratory experiences promote team work and collaboration. This hands-on approach promotes a student-driven classroom that encourages ownership in the work, and I believe that nothing beats hard work. I take tremendous pride in my work ethic and attendance, and seldom miss school. My students see the effort that I give to teaching on a daily basis, and I trust that this work ethic carries over to them. A collaborative team does not show up for an athletic event without practicing and preparing, and school is no different. Holding students accountable contributes to their success. My students know that I care, as I demonstrate it through positive reinforcement combined with correction, followed by student growth; as well as coming in early to provide extra help, and attending extra-curricular activities after school.
|Robertsville Middle School: Principal, Kirk Renegar; Teacher of the Year, Michael Mott
My students’ success can be explained by the growth mindset culture I have built in my classroom. It is an atmosphere modeled after the research of Angela Duckworth and Carol Dweck, including a mindset that encourages students to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, value effort, and foster the grit necessary to be successful. This approach to teaching governs my conversations with students. For example, if a student makes a mistake on a math task I often respond with, “Awesome, you messed up on that which means you are about to learn something.” On the other hand, if they complete a task without much of a struggle I might apologize for not challenging them enough. At first, mindset statements like these perplex the students; however, they quickly realize this allows them the freedom to challenge themselves mathematically. As a result, all students are challenged to grow academically. The freedom for students to challenge themselves can only take place if one additional aspect is present in the classroom; that is, the safety net of the teacher. I am convinced that students will challenge themselves and will put forth effort when they know the teacher will be there to support them when needed. I try my best to convince them that I will not let them fall short of success.
|Oak Ridge High School: Principal, Martin McDonald; Teacher of the Year, Kayla Gass
When I first entered English Education, I thought that teaching meant I’d be helping my students understand metaphors, themes, and how to perfect a thesis statement. After several years, I realized that more than that, I was also teaching students about building courage, asking for help, finding their own identity, and standing up for what is right. Although content is why I initially entered teaching, it didn’t end up being my purpose for teaching. My students are my why. What I realized is that the stories that matter the most aren’t the ones in the books, but the ones sitting in our desks. Daily practices I use to build and maintain strong relationships are making sure to address individual students every day, sharing out our “peaks” and “pits” for the week, choosing texts that serve as both mirrors and windows to our students’ lives, discussing real-word problems and multiple perspectives, and connecting writing to their own experiences. Starting with relationships over content transformed me from teacher to educator. Through those relationships, I am better able to know my students and push them to their fullest potential.
|Secret City Academy: Principal, Christopher Scott; Teacher of the Year, Tobran Tillman
I have worked with kids for over 25 years, and I have only been a paid educator for the last 12 years. My experience with students in different settings (residential facilities, group homes, alternative schools, adaptive schools, and urban schools), have changed me into the educator that I am today. My classroom practices consist of motivating students through organizing content so that it is meaningful. This keeps students curious and helps them to retain what they have learned. It is important that my activities and materials meet every type of learner that I have (visual, auditory and kinesthetic). I give each student a learning styles evaluation to help me create activities for them, as I want to keep their curiosity high while also challenging them. In science, it is important to keep my students curious and challenge them at the same time. To do this, I utilize technology such as computer videos from Discovery Ed and educational games such as KAHOOT, that is not only fun but also allows me to track their progress on subject area standards taught each week. I serve as a STEM Coach at Secret City Academy. This year, I have promoted robotics and engineering at the middle school level, securing a grant from Liedos and the Rotary Club of Oak Ridge to start a FIRST Lego League Robotics program at our school. We believe this is the only FIRST robotics team in an alternative school in the country. We currently have 8 to 10 students participating in the club this year.