Recently, we announced our school-level teachers of the year. The Tennessee Department of Education has encouraged us to recognize 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.

Teachers of the Year are selected competitively through five cycles: school, district, region, grand division, and state. Teachers selected at each cycle receive local recognition and awards underwritten by local sources. State recognition/awards include a banquet honoring the nine regional-level Teachers of the Year.

The regional-level Teachers of the Year are part of the Commissioner’s Teacher Advisory Council. Council members share feedback and advice on issues that impact teachers and help communicate information with teachers in their region. The nine region-level Teachers of the Year serve a one-year term on the council and the three grand division winners serve a two-year term; thus, the council has twelve total members each year.

The Tennessee Teacher of the Year represents Tennessee in the National Teacher of the Year selection process, which is sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Melanie Bloomer Photo

Oak Ridge Schools would now like to congratulate the district-level Teacher of the Year, Melanie Bloomer. Melanie’s biography below is written largely in her own words to provide a window into her authenticity and commitment to our Oak Ridge students.

For the most part, I have considered myself a successful reading teacher. I have purposely made it a practice to identify the lowest-scoring students in the school and identified a measure of growth. Yet, I had spent too many sleepless nights wondering what I could have done differently for the few students I knew needed more than they got from me. What key had I missed? Where had I failed them? I desperately wanted answers, so I agreed to participate in a research project sponsored by the Federal Department of Education in conjunction with The Ohio State University and Georgia State University. The purpose of this project was to compare data between special education students with reading deficits taught using typical district -approved reading programs and those students taught using the Literacy Lessons for the Individual method. Literacy Lessons for the Individual has been a continuation of the Reading Recovery program, specifically designed by Marie Clay, for students served under special education. Thus began the journey that totally changed the way I teach reading.

Time is always a teacher’s worst enemy. Trying to fit individual reading sessions for two students into a schedule that already did not allow for planning or even lunch on most days, forced me to give up on the way I had always taught reading groups. I simply could not make different types of lesson plans for small group reading and my Literacy Lesson students. Therefore, I adapted the Literacy Lessons format to fit my group lessons. I followed the same lesson plan template as well as the same type of strategies and prompts.

Literacy Lessons taught me how to use what the student 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 myself. 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 mediocrity, but always teach and learn for the best. My students deserve nothing less.

As a response to growing behavior concerns at Willow Brook, our school decided to implement a Positive Behavior Intervention Support Program. Because of my background in working with children with behavior issues, I was asked to join the team. I embraced the concept of looking at behavior as a teachable skill instead of always being a punishable offense. Just like reading and math, behavior can be taught. However, behavior can only be taught when you have a relationship with your students. This is where my heart lies: building relationships with the most difficult kids in school. Knowing your students, knowing the circumstances in their lives, what drives them to do what they do, determines the way you react to them.  Although there are numerous behavior supports I use to contribute to the improvement of our school culture, the focus of my heart is restoration.

Many of the children I work with feel hopeless. Their hurt is bigger than their ability to make right decisions. They need support and direction. It is for this reason that I use “family meetings,” as a restorative strategy for students who cannot seem to break the cycle of misbehavior. We gather as a class, sitting in a circle on the floor. We talk frankly about the issue(s) each family member is having. Each student gives encouragement and/or advice about the situation. These meetings are such an integral part of our class that students will initiate the request for a meeting themselves when dealing with a problem. It is a powerful tool for change.

Based on behavior data, three students who have used the family meetings, have not had a write up in over two months. Restoration is the key to relationship and relationship is the key to teaching and learning. I firmly believe that I cannot reach children’s minds if I do not first reach their hearts. This is how I contribute to the positive school climate at Willow Brook, a continuously improving climate.