Two teachers were honored by the Board of Education at their June 5 meeting as First Year Teachers of the Year. Richard Conte, a sixth grade teacher at Calera Middle School, and Abigail Brock, a second grade teacher at Forest Oaks Elementary School, were both honored as recipients of the award.
Ricardo Conte, who teaches both Science and Social Studies, was praised by his principal, Brent Tolbert, as being an exceptional first year teacher with a great ability to connect with his students.
“I have never been associated with a first year teacher as good as Mr. C is at making connections with students,” said Tolbert. “Every day, students are excited to see Mr. C and be a part of his classrooms. I have witnessed Mr. C working with some of our more at-risk sixth grade students, and making them feel important. Mr. C brings out the very best in all of his students.”
Tolbert also praised Conte for being willing to volunteer for anything and everything to help kids, including the role as the school’s first soccer team coach. He also helped to form a school spirit squad to build school pride and sportsmanship, and he helped co-produce the school’s first video news broadcast.
Conte said his biggest surprise as a first year teacher was the amount of time and energy he would devote to his students, school and community. Conte said he was a strong-willed student who didn’t enjoy school and spent the majority of his time in and out of trouble.
“After hours of detention and twelve years of slipping through the cracks, I decided to change my attitude during my senior year upon realizing why the education system had not worked for me,” he said. “I wanted a teacher that adapted to my modality. I desired an educator that was genuinely concerned with my personal success. I wanted to be seen as an individual, not a name on a roster. I then enrolled at the University of Montevallo, and decided to become the teacher I never had.”
Conte said he builds connections with his students by genuinely welcoming them to his class each day, using his energy to model that learning can be fun by showing excitement toward the content, and using lots of positive reinforcement. He also welcomes students to critique his teaching strategies.
His advice to first year teachers is to identify, expand, and share their own gifts.
“Do not be timid or afraid,” Conte said. “Let your students see your personality – it will humanize you in their eyes, making it easier for students to connect with you. That connection can be the bond that helps a child discover their own inner gifts.”
Abigail Brock was also praised by her principal, Dr. Resia Brooks, as an outstanding first year teacher. Dr. Brooks described Brock as a focused teacher, who is very deliberate in her work. Dr. Brooks said she has shared Brock’s lesson plan designs and her weekly newsletter with experienced teachers.
“As evidenced in her thoughtful, detailed lesson plans, she puts for a great deal of effort in providing high quality instruction,” Dr. Brooks said. “On a daily basis, she incorporates high level technology into her lessons. She LOVES her students, her SUPERHEROES as she refers to them! She is warm, yet firm; laser focused, yet flexible. She wants what is best for them and she genuinely cares.”
Dr. Brooks said Brock’s most enduring trait is simply her passion for her work and the fact that she recognizes that the work of educators is truly a “calling”.
That “calling” is what Brock said she has realized is the most important thing about teaching.
“A calling is what drives teachers to want to make a lifelong impact on a child,” Brock said. “Our calling motivates us to make learning come alive for each student…This calling may include making the effort to attend student’s softball, baseball, basketball and cheerleading events. It may just mean taking the time to talk about what’s going on at home. It always drives us to improve our teaching, and be willing to go back to the drawing board whenever it’s necessary.”
She said she always tried to make sure that she spoke positive words to her students each day.
“The power of praise transformed my students from second graders to the superheroes and leaders that I expect them to be, ” Brock said. “My students and I are always a work in progress, but no matter what, I want them to be overflowing with praise for them.”