Teacher Of The Year Application Essays

These educators have spent countless hours encouraging our students to grow and learn and on Sept. 24, one of them will be named Tennessee Teacher of the Year.  Read more about each of the talented regional winners below.

Tonya Hawkins works one on one with students on math problems at Arlington Elementary School

West Tennessee Regional Winners

Tonya Hawkins
Arlington Community Schools

Meet, Tonya Hawkins. Tonya teaches fourth grade math and science at Arlington Elementary in Arlington Community Schools. In her application essay, she describes the important role teachers play for students.

“I believe that being called a teacher is a gift that should be appreciated and valued.  Those we teach should feel empowered by the knowledge they gain and become productive members of society.”

 

Cathy Whitehead
Chester County Schools

Meet, Cathy Whitehead. Cathy teaches third grade at West Chester Elementary in Chester County. Cathy describes one of the strongest forces that determines her students’ success.

“Students’ mindsets determine their achievement.  Once they see that they CAN accomplish goals and learn, their growth can be astounding.  Every student can learn, and every student can grow; the potential is there.  It’s up to us to help them see it.”

 

Pam Copeland
Weakley County Schools

Meet, Pamela Copeland.  Pamela teaches eighth-grade U.S. History at Dresden Middle in Weakley County and describes her goals as a teacher.

“Certainly my job is to teach standards, but my ultimate goal is to instill in my students a sense of pride, ownership, and commitment to the future of their country.”

 

Gay Burger of East Side Elementary School make learning fun and engaging for students

Middle Tennessee Regional Winners

Kyle Prince
Rutherford County Schools

Meet, Kyle Prince. Kyle is a math teacher at Central Magnet School in Rutherford County.  He explains how all of his students can be successful in his class.

“I believe that every one of my students can be successful in math, regardless of their background.  In my classroom, there is no such thing as a ‘math person’ or a ‘non-math person’… everyone has the capability in them.”

 

Regina Peery
Maury County Schools

Meet, Regina Peery. Regina teaches kindergarten at McDowell Elementary in Maury County.  She describes how working together leads to student achievement.

“Building relationships with families, colleagues, and community stakeholders is a key component to helping my students achieve success.  I believe that together we make differences in the lives of students.”

 

Gay Burger
Cannon County Schools

Meet, Gay Burger. Gay teaches middle school language arts and social studies at East Side Elementary in Cannon County.  She explains how making students feel valued is the key to her success.

“All students need adults whose goal is to form caring relationships with them and nurture their growth.  Feeling valued encourages us adults to give our all each day in the classroom.  Therefore, we should strive to make our students feel the same.”

 

Adam Moss of Arnold Memorial Elementary School uses visual tools to help his students learn

East Tennessee Regional Winners

Adam Moss
Cleveland City Schools

Meet, Adam Moss.  Adam teaches math at Arnold Memorial Elementary in Cleveland City Schools.

“We are having an impact on lives that we may never fully realize until years down the road.  It is in our everyday interactions that we develop these young people into future leaders.  Through our love, our care, our hope- every child, every day will succeed.”

 

 

Karen Kelley
Sevier County Schools

Meet, Karen Kelley. Karen teaches social studies and psychology at Pigeon Forge High School in Sevier County.  She explains the importance of educating all students at a level they need.

“Education is a journey, a never-ending journey.  While people may begin their journeys from different starting points, we are all on this journey together.  Regardless of their knowledge base when they enter, [students] can all learn and make gains.”

 

Rebekah Haren
Kingsport City Schools

Meet, Rebekah Haren. Rebekah teaches English and journalism at Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport City Schools.  She describes how she and her students learn and grow together.

“Our students’ willingness and ability to grow and learn directly reflects their teacher’s ability and willingness to grow and learn.  In this technologically-advanced age, we can best teach students not by telling them the “right answers”, but instead giving them the tools and confidence needed to learn independently of us.”

 

By Cynthia McCabe

When people were attacking her and her fellow dedicated public school teachers, Florida fourth-grade teacher Jamee Miller got mad. And then she got to typing.

The result? An essay called “I Am a Teacher” which caught fire in recent weeks on Facebook and blogs as supporters of teachers attacked by budget-slashing lawmakers and critics trying to score political points took it to heart and then took it online. (Full essay text appears at bottom.)

Shawna Christenson, a teacher in West Palm Beach, Fla., wrote on Facebook after posting it to her own profile last week: “Some folks need to be reminded that we do so much more than leave and enter when the bell rings when they think achievement is the only way to measure us.”

Miller, a National Education Association and Florida Education Association member who has been teaching for seven years, wrote the essay a year ago largely for herself and then put it away. But when the controversial Senate Bill 6 was recently careening through the GOP-controlled legislature, she dusted it off and posted it on Facebook. Education experts said SB6, which Gov. Charlie Crist ultimately vetoed last week to support teachers, would have made Florida one of the most teacher-hostile states in the country. Even though it was vetoed, similar anti-teacher efforts are cropping up in other states from like-minded opponents.

“I was just getting so enraged because there was such ignorance from the people attacking teachers,” says Miller. “Especially these misconceptions about what it is we can actually control as educators.”

Her essay, which in recent weeks was referenced on the Florida House floor, reprinted by several Florida newspapers and went viral online, has taken on a life of its own, Miller says. ”What I’m saying isn’t unique. It’s just that the heart of that message resonates with everyone in our world.”

That’s because in the past year they’ve been slammed by a troubling development: political opportunists attacking public education professionals.

“I feel more than ever I have to be on the defensive to prove I’m not a bad teacher,” she says. “It’s really unfortunate. Even five years ago it was assumed a teacher was great until a teacher wasn’t doing their job.”

And when critics broadly paint today’s teachers as ineffective, there’s no better way to show how wrong they are than pointing to Miller’s own resume. She was Seminole County Teacher of the Year in 2008. Each year she spends $1,000 of her own money on classroom supplies and her students. Last year, she and her husband donated $30,000 to create a fellowship at the University of Florida that helps elementary education majors working toward a master’s degree in education technology.

One of the more noxious provisions of SB6 that upset Miller and her colleagues was a mandate that standardized testing be the primary basis for teachers’ employment, certification and salary. In Florida, students are subjected to a high-stakes test called the FCAT. The law would have further reduced children to a test score and ignored that their lives and their achievements are more complex and nuanced than that.

“To have all that I pour into my students every year come down to just one test is so frustrating,” Miller says. “I have zero problems with accountability. But come into my classroom. I’m eager to show you the realities.”

For instance, this past year, Miller’s realities included having a student who missed 30 days of school, a student whose parents were arrested right before the standardized test day, and a third student who vomitted on her test booklet and was unable to retake it.

What teachers who contact her with their heartfelt thanks want to convey is that they’re just as concerned about the state of public education as anyone else.

“We all want education to be fixed, we just want to be in on that problem solving,” Miller says.

Full text of Jamee Miller’s “I Am a Teacher” essay:

I am a teacher in Florida.

I rise before dawn each day and find myself nestled in my classroom hours before the morning commute is in full swing in downtown Orlando. I scour the web along with countless other resources to create meaningful learning experiences for my 24 students each day. I reflect on the successes of lessons taught and re-work ideas until I feel confident that they will meet the needs of my diverse learners. I have finished my third cup of coffee in my classroom before the business world has stirred. My contracted hours begin at 7:30 and end at 3:00. As the sun sets around me and people are beginning to enjoy their dinner, I lock my classroom door, having worked 4 hours unpaid.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I greet the smiling faces of my students and am reminded anew of their challenges, struggles, successes, failures, quirks, and needs. I review their 504s, their IEPs, their PMPs, their histories trying to reach them from every angle possible. They come in hungry—I feed them. They come in angry—I counsel them. They come in defeated—I encourage them. And this is all before the bell rings.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I am told that every student in my realm must score on or above grade level on the FCAT each year. Never mind their learning discrepancies, their unstable home lives, their prior learning experiences. In the spring, they are all assessed with one measure and if they don’t fit, I have failed. Students walk through my doors reading at a second grade level and by year’s end can independently read and comprehend early 4th grade texts, but this is no matter. One of my students has already missed 30 school days this year, but that is overlooked. If they don’t perform well on this ONE test in early March, their learning gains are irrelevant. They didn’t learn enough. They didn’t grow enough. I failed them. In the three months that remain in the school year after this test, I am expected to begin teaching 5th grade curriculum to my 4th grade students so that they are prepared for next year’s test.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I am expected to create a culture of students who will go on to become the leaders of our world. When they exit my classroom, they should be fully equipped to compete academically on a global scale. They must be exposed to different worldviews and diverse perspectives, and yet, most of my students have never left Sanford, Florida. Field trips are now frivolous. I must provide new learning opportunities for them without leaving the four walls of our classroom. So I plan. I generate new ways to expose them to life beyond their neighborhoods through online exploration and digital field trips. I stay up past The Tonight Show to put together a unit that will allow them to experience St. Augustine without getting on a bus. I spend weekends taking pictures and creating a virtual world for them to experience, since the State has determined it is no longer worthwhile for them to explore reality. Yes. My students must be prepared to work within diverse communities, and yet they are not afforded the right to ever experience life beyond their own town.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I accepted a lower salary with the promise of a small increase for every year taught. I watched my friends with less education than me sign on for six figure jobs while I embraced my $28k starting salary. I was assured as I signed my contract that although it was meager to start, my salary would consistently grow each year. That promise has been broken. I’m still working with a meager salary, and the steps that were contracted to me when I accepted a lower salary are now deemed “unnecessary.”

I am a teacher in Florida.

I spent $2500 in my first year alone to outfit an empty room so that it would promote creative thinking and a desire to learn and explore. I now average between $1000-2000 that I pay personally to supplement the learning experiences that take place in my classroom. I print at home on my personal printer and have burned through 12 ink cartridges this school year alone. I purchase the school supplies my students do not have. I buy authentic literature so my students can be exposed to authors and worlds beyond their textbooks. I am required to teach Social Studies and Writing without any curriculum/materials provided, so I purchase them myself. I am required to conduct Science lab without Science materials, so I buy those, too. The budgeting process has determined that copies of classroom materials are too costly, so I resort to paying for my copies at Staples, refusing to compromise my students’ education because high-ranking officials are making inappropriate cuts. It is February, and my entire class is out of glue sticks. Since I have already spent the $74 allotted to me for warehouse supplies, if I don’t buy more, we will not have glue for the remainder of the year. The projects I dream up are limited by the incomprehensible lack of financial support. I am expected to inspire my students to become lifelong learners, and yet we don’t have the resources needed to nurture their natural sense of wonder if I don’t purchase them myself. My meager earning is now pathetic after the expenses that come with teaching effectively.

I am a teacher in Florida.

The government has scolded me for failing to prepare my students to compete in this
technologically driven world. Students in Japan are much more equipped to think progressively with regards to technology. Each day, I turn on the two computers afforded me and pray for a miracle. I apply for grants to gain new access to technology and compete with thousands of other teachers who are hoping for the same opportunity. I battle for the right to use the computer lab and feel fortunate if my students get to see it once a week. Why don’t they know how to use technology? The system’s budget refuses to include adequate technology in classrooms; instead, we are continually told that dry erase boards and overhead projectors are more than enough.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I am expected to differentiate my instruction to meet the needs of my 24 learners. Their IQs span 65 points, and I must account for every shade of gray. I must challenge those above grade level, and I must remediate those below. I am but one person within the classroom, but I must meet the needs of every learner. I generate alternate assessments to accommodate for these differences. My higher math students receive challenge work, and my lower math students receive one-on-one instruction. I create most of these resources myself, after-hours and on weekends. I print these resources so that every child in my room has access to the same knowledge, delivered at their specific level. Yesterday, the school printer that I share with another teacher ran out of ink. Now I must either purchase a new ink cartridge for $120, or I cannot print anything from my computer for the remainder of the year. What choice am I left with?

I am a teacher in Florida.

I went to school at one of the best universities in the country and completed undergraduate and graduate programs in Education. I am a master of my craft. I know what effective teaching entails, and I know how to manage the curriculum and needs of the diverse learners in my full inclusion classroom. I graduated at the top of my class and entered my first year of teaching confident and equipped to teach effectively. Sadly, I am now being micro-managed, with my instruction dictated to me. I am expected to mold “out-of-the-box” thinkers while I am forced to stay within the lines of the instructional plans mandated by policy-makers. I am told what I am to teach and when, regardless of the makeup of my students, by decision-makers far away from my classroom or even my school. The message comes in loud and clear that a group of people in business suits can more effectively determine how to provide exemplary instruction than I can. My expertise is waved away, disregarded, and overlooked. I am treated like a day-laborer, required to follow the steps mapped out for me, rather than blaze a trail that I deem more appropriate and effective for my students—students these decision-makers have never met.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I am overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated by most. I spend my weekends, my vacations, and my summers preparing for school, and I constantly work to improve my teaching to meet the needs of my students. I am being required to do more and more, and I’m being compensated less and less.

I am a teacher in Florida, not for the pay or the hardships, the disregard or the disrespect; I am a teacher in Florida because I am given the chance to change lives for the good, to educate and elevate the minds and hearts of my students, and to show them that success comes in all shapes and sizes, both in the classroom and in the community.

I am a teacher in Florida today, but as I watch many of my incredible, devoted coworkers being forced out of the profession as a matter of survival, I wonder: How long will I be able to remain a teacher in Florida?

Read also An Upset Educator’s Letter to Oprah – ‘Ask Teachers’
and
How Bad Education Policies Demoralize Teachers

Posted in

Educators in Action: State News

POST TAGS:dedicated teachers, Florida, I Am a Teacher, Jamee Cagle Miller, Jamee Miller, layoffs, NCLB/ESEA, reform, respect, Senate Bill 6, student achievement

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