Samantha Adams and Leah Van Deren Named New Teachers of the Year


Samantha Adams Montevallo Elementary

Leah Van Deren College and Career Center

Leah Van Deren
College and Career Center

The Shelby County Board of Education will honor two teachers as New Teachers of the Year at the May 28 Board of Education meeting. Samantha Adams, a kindergarten teacher at Montevallo Elementary School was selected as the elementary level winner. Leah Van Deren, the Culinary Arts teacher at the College and Career Center, won at the secondary level.

Dr. Allison Campbell, principal at Montevallo Elementary, said Ms. Adams consistently exceeded expectations as a first-year kindergarten teacher.

“Since starting her first year, she has continued to impress those around her through her commitment to her students as well as her commitment to growing as a professional,” said Dr. Campbell.

“As a first year teacher, Ms. Adams clearly embodies the motto of Montevallo Elementary: Expect Excellence” Dr. Campbell continued. “She expects this of herself and of her students. She believes, even at this point in her career, that she is the pivotal force that can make an unforgettable impact in the lives of children. Ms. Adams exercises this belief every single day. She is truly a blessing to MES!”

Adams said when she graduated from college last May she felt she was ready for her own classroom, having been prepared well to teach standards, give formative and summative assessments, ask higher order thinking questions, and write an Individualized Education Plans.

“Little did I know, I only thought I knew everything about teaching children,” Adams said. “I was so surprised to find that college can only prepare a teacher so much. “

“College did not teach me how to comfort a child with a tummy ache, how to listen to a child as they tell me heart breaking stories about their home life, or how to have patience with a child as we wait for the special education process to take place so that they could get the services they need to be successful,” she continued. “College did not prepare me for the tug my heart feels when I worry that my students may not have lunch over the weekend. College prepared me so much, but the most valuable way I have learned to teach is by being a teacher. “

Adams said her advice to other first year teachers is to be prepared to be a life-long student because teachers learn something new from their students every single day. She also warned that sometimes a new teacher will feel like they do not know how to handle things beyond the curriculum. On those days, she advises new teachers to just remember to love on their students.

After all, at 180 days of school, we see our students’ forty-nine percent of one year. What will they remember most about their childhood? Will they remember which teacher taught them how to add using manipulatives or will they remember the teacher who cared for them every single day without question? I can honestly say that while I do teach my students so many things, I know that my students will remember me because of how I care for them. No Praxis exam could have ever told me that I was prepared for that.

Russ Cofield, said Van Deren’s Culinary Program is a perfect example of how to train and prepare students for work, postsecondary training, and the experiences of the real world.

“Mrs. Van Deren keeps our students on the cutting edge of the food industry through constant exposure to postsecondary and industry facilities,” said Cofield. “Our students participate in multiple field trip opportunities and learn from team-teaching experiences which bring the food industry into her classroom.”

“She has already done more to impact students than many teachers do in an entire career,” he continued. “She pushes our students to be the best and does it consistently. Mrs. Van Deren is a natural educator with a wealth of diversified experience which she uses to prepare our students for a successful career in the Food Industry.

Van Deren said as a first year teacher with zero teaching experience, she was nervous about how to translate her work knowledge into the classroom and teach students the culinary skills they needed to learn.

“Little did I know that teaching wasn’t the only role I would play as a teacher, it’s not a one-dimensional profession,” she said. “My greatest surprise as a first-year teacher has been the other roles that I play in the lives of the students. On a daily basis, often hourly depending on the day, I am a parent, confidant, referee, comedian, soother, psychologist, cheerleader, coach, disciplinarian, nurse and chef. I share with them in their victories and agonize in their defeats.”

Van Deren said they are not just students, they are family and she proudly plays those roles because she knows that for some of her students, going to school is the best part of their day.

“It is my mission to make their day better in some small way, by putting a smile on their face with a silly joke or sharing a homemade cookie that we made in lab,” she said.

She recalled that one of her students was sent to jail during the first semester of school. A bright student, he had simply made the wrong choices. She visited him in jail on his 18th birthday and they talked about his plans for the future.

“When he was released he came back to school on a better path, started dual enrollment at Jeff State in Culinary Arts and was awarded a full scholarship based on merit for the upcoming fall semester,” she said. “He cried tears of joy, we both did. That was the first time I realized that what I do as a teacher, inside and outside the classroom really does matter and can have a lasting impact on my students, sometimes for the rest of their lives.”

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