The top three Teacher of the Year winners from the elementary, middle and high school grade spans were honored at the Shelby County Schools Teacher of the Year Celebration held December 5 at Oak Mountain High School. The event also honored the Teacher of the Year winners from every school in the district, as well as teachers who recently earned or renewed their National Board certification.
The event was hosted by the Shelby County Schools Education Foundation. Books-A-Million served as a corporate sponsor, honoring all of the school nominees with a gift bag of items as well as a $25 gift certificate. The three overall winners received a $500 gift certificate from Books-A-Million along with a $500 stipend award from the Shelby County Schools Education Foundation.
The overall Teacher of the Year winners were Jenna Campbell from Montevallo Elementary, Vicki Jackson from Oak Mountain Middle, and Dawn Howard from Vincent Middle/High.
Jenna Campbell – Montevallo Elementary
Campbell has been teaching for nine years and currently serves as the Reading Interventionist at Montevallo Elementary. She serves in numerous leadership roles at her school, including the School Leadership Team, Continuous School Improvement Team, and chairperson of the Problem Solving Team. She also serves as a tutor for the Sunshine School at Children’s of Alabama, after being inspired by the legacy left by Montevallo student Ollie Tetloff who lost his batter with cancer in 2014.
“I work with children who are at the hospital for an extended period of time and need help staying on top of their schoolwork,” Campbell said. “Being with the children at the Sunshine School is such a blessing to me. Seeing the children and their parents smile and laugh is a sight I will hide in my heart forever. I leave every session with a heart full of gratitude and reminders of just how lucky I am. I think of Ollie every time I enter the hospital doors and hope he is proud of the work I’m doing in his honor.”
In her nomination essay to the Teacher of the Year Awards Committee, Campbell credited her 11th-grade pre-calculus teacher with influencing her decision to become a teacher.
“Miss Teague is the epitome of a champion for children,” Campbell said. “Although she didn’t know it at the time, Miss Teague was preparing me to be a teacher. She taught me how to persevere and keep going, even when things got hard. She showed me what it looked like to love and value your students and the people in your life.
Campbell said her greatest contributions and achievements can be found in her current and former students, especially those who once were struggling but made significant improvements – such as Tristan, a bubbly second grader who struggled to read.
“We worked tirelessly together that year to improve his reading abilities,” Campbell recalled. “One of the proudest moments of my life was finding out that Tristan had met the end of the year benchmark. We were crying and jumping up and down at his great accomplishment. The smile on his face that day was bigger and brighter than any I’d ever seen before.”
Campbell said she believes the lack of parental involvement in schools is one of the biggest problems facing public schools. Campbell said schools must understand that lack of participation by parents does not necessarily mean they are neglecting their responsibilities, but rather they simply may not have the time, resources, or knowledge to help out.
“After listening to a fellow colleague train on a poverty simulation she went through this summer, my perspective has changed regarding the problems parents face every day,” said she. “Working at a Title I School, many of the stories we heard from the simulation exactly described many families that attend Montevallo Elementary.”
Campbell said implementing student-led conferences has been a wonderful way to open the school doors, make parents feel more welcome, and create opportunities to invite parents to become more involved.
“Students truly shine in these conferences! Most parents leave smiling, crying happy tears, and walking out arm in arm with their child,” she said. “Student-led conferences give children and parents an avenue of communication that may not have been there before. In years past, parents may have dreaded coming for a conference with their child’s teacher. Now that the word is spreading in the community about how amazing student-led conferences are, many more families are working with their children at home, coming to eat lunch, volunteering their time, and becoming involved in the Parent Teacher Organization.”
Campbell said teaching is her passion and that she works hard for each of her students because she believes they are worth her time, energy, love and absolute best. She promises her students that she will give her best every single day if they will also give their best in return.
“We work hard in Room 119, but it isn’t because we have to, it’s because we want to,” Campbell said. “We love to learn, ask questions, talk things through, and on occasion, show off our talents to anyone who will watch and listen!”
“To be an outstanding teacher, I believe in the importance of knowing my students,” Campbell added. “I get to know them, love them, respect them and value them. Once I’ve done that, I know that we can achieve anything together. “
Vicki Jackson – Oak Mountain Middle School
Jackson has been teaching for 11 years and currently teaches 8th-grade pre-algebra and algebra 1 at Oak Mountain Middle School. She serves in many different leadership positions, including the School Leadership Team, Intervention/Advisory Action Team, 7th-grade math team coach, and as the team building coordinator for the 8th-grade White Team. She also serves as a math tutor before and after school and assists with robotics competitions.
Jackson remembers going home to help her mom with some spring cleaning her senior year of college. While home, her mother tossed her a notebook she had used as a journal in elementary school. In her 3rd-grade journal she had written, “I want to be a math teacher when I grow up.”
Jackson said she was surprised because she didn’t remember having any interest in math in elementary school. In fact, she didn’t consider herself a very good math student in elementary or middle school and often hid her subpar grades from her parents. “Little did I know, my purpose was being shaped all along,” she said of the words she had written in her journal years before.
It wasn’t until 9th grade that math concepts finally clicked for her, thanks to the outstanding teaching of Dr. Marion Miles, a retired college math professor who was teaching her algebra 1 class.
“Over time, my hesitation turned into inspiration as Dr. Miles saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. She recognized my weaknesses in math and conducted several intervention sessions with me before school, during lunch, and sometimes after school,” Jackson said. “She held me accountable, made me work, and never let me off the hook! Because of her persistence, math concepts actually began to make sense.”
Jackson said her greatest contributions and accomplishments can be found only in one thing – her passion. She said her passion continues to be her greatest contribution to her students and it is the thing that compels and drives her to also be a continuous learner, to vary instructional strategies, and differentiate lessons to reach every type of learner.
“This passion shapes my beliefs that any student growth should be recognized and celebrated – whether it is academic, social, or extracurricular,” Jackson said. “I remember how defeated I felt as a child, but I also remember how amazing I felt when I realized that I had the ability to overcome something that had paralyzed me for years.”
“How could I decide to earn a bachelor’s as well as a master’s degree in a subject that I avoided for years?” Jackson asked. “The answer is found in the love, mentorship, and guidance from a great teacher. I sincerely desire for my students to be impacted in this manner from me. I am now confident in my purpose and am intentional about sharing my passion with my students.”
Jackson said closing the achievement gap for high-risk students, particularly minority students, is an issue that is close to her heart. As an African-American educator, she is naturally drawn to the topic because of the underrepresentation of disadvantaged students in advanced classes and the overrepresentation of these students in special education and intervention services nationwide.
“Although I have always been concerned with student achievement among high-risk learners, it was not until I began working on earning my National Board Certification that this became a significant focus of mine,” Jackson said. “Through this process, I have been forced to examine and analyze data as it relates to student growth or lack thereof. I have found that studies overwhelmingly show that language barriers, cultural differences, low socioeconomic status, and even poor nutrition negatively impact student advancement.”
Jackson said access to affordable pre-school education and smaller class sizes for teachers to meet the needs of individual students are needed in order to close the achievement gap for minority students. She also believes students benefit from having diverse teaching staffs and that school districts must recruit and train teachers who are reflective of their population. Jackson said another way to close the achievement gap is by providing strong teacher instruction, as an accomplished teacher plays a significant part in student progress.
“I am so proud to be a teacher,” Jackson said. “The rewards of this life are numerous. I am rewarded when I see an ‘aha’ moment on a student’s face after struggling with a specific concept. I am rewarded when I see my students become more self-motivated, not only concerned about a grade, but gaining a deeper level of understanding. I celebrate with my students when they have growth at any level; they are all victories. My ultimate gratification is seeing students attain their goals and knowing I had a role to play in their success.”
Dawn Howard – Vincent High School
Howard has been teaching for 19 years, 15 of which have been spent at her alma mater Vincent High School. She teaches 10th and 11th-grade Advanced Placement (AP) US History, AP Psychology, 12th-grade AP Government/Economics, and 12th-grade Teacher Education and Training.
Howard serves in numerous capacities of leadership at her school, including the Continuous School Improvement Leadership Team, Social Studies Department Chair, Student Government Association (SGA) sponsor, First Priority sponsor, and Give Me Five Community Service coordinator. She also serves as a mentor teacher for fellow teachers and to students interested in pursuing a teaching career.
Howard said she can remember wanting to become a teacher from a very young age. As she grew older, she knew that teaching was her calling.
“I love history and all the social sciences and I wanted to share that love with others,” she said. “I truly see teaching as a mission field and part of my ministry. I work hard to establish relationships with my students and show them I’m concerned about their well-being, as much as I am about their academic knowledge. I know this is a success because I still maintain relationships with many of my former students.”
“I have always wanted to do something with my life that was extraordinary and I cannot think of a more noble and extraordinary profession than teaching,” Howard continued. “I have a part in helping students become adults and productive members of society. Most importantly, I have a part in helping them become future mothers and fathers.”
Howard said her greatest accomplishments in education do not come from the plaques or accolades she receives, but from the letters, cards, and messages she receives from students she has helped to achieve their goals.
“When I see students eager to take an Advanced Placement course and do well on their exam, it is an accomplishment,” she said. “When I see students become leaders, it is an accomplishment. When I see graduates become professionals, it is an accomplishment. When I see graduates become teachers, it is a reward.”
Howard said there are many things that are major issues in public education, but the one she feels most passionate about is student-centered learning, which focuses on the student and creates an environment where the student assumes ownership for his or her learning.
“There has been a shift in education caused by the re-evaluation of student performance on standardized testing and psychological impacts in education,” Howard said. “The focus in our school the last two years is having the students take ownership of their learning through learning targets written on a student’s level using ‘I can’, ‘so that’, ‘I know I’ll have it when’ statements. We also implement student- led conferences, which gives students ownership of their learning and requires them to maintain a portfolio and discuss with adults how they are doing in school and their grades.”
One of the many courses Howard teaches is a course for students interested in pursuing a career in the teaching profession. She believes creating a college-and-career-type of setting in high school is very beneficial in helping students choose career paths and helps them to see the importance and value of their education.
“I teach a course called the Teacher Education and Training Program at Vincent. The class is designed to provide students with a college-like setting as well as a career environment to help them realize their dream of becoming a teacher,” Howard explained. “The lesson plans, activities, problem-solving, job shadowing, hands-on assessments, and more have been truly beneficial for the students in my class. They are so excited about the class and are engaged in their learning. Their assignments are completed on time and are authentic, their teaching lessons and job shadowing has been enlightening and they truly see the reward.”
Howard said her philosophy of education is that students, not subjects, are the focus. Her philosophy is centered on caring, encouragement, and empowerment. The students she teaches come from various backgrounds, living and financial situations, and each has their own personality and agenda for their education.
“I want the students to know that I care and that I believe they can learn. Once the students are empowered to learn, we can actually begin the learning process,” Howard said. “You have to show students that you care about them first and then their education. There is power in positive thinking and I frequently try to remind my students that they are important and have meaning in this life. I also try to empower my students to make good decisions and think about their actions and plan ahead for their futures.”
Howard said her constant goal in developing all of her lesson plans is remembering that her students learn differently so it is important for her curriculum to incorporate elements that appeal to all of them, whether it is lecture, visual aids, hands-on projects, class discussions, debates or teacher/student interaction.
“I believe that education must become real to the students in order for them to embrace it,” she said. “In my history classroom, students are given opportunities, assignments, and projects that ask them to make real-world comparisons and think about major changes over time. We have taken virtual field trips via distance learning, traveled to historic sites, hosted re-enactments, had visiting guest speakers, taken part in Readers Theater, researched and created projects, and examined primary resources and documents to help students gain a truer understanding of the past.”
Additional School Winners:
Elementary: Calera Elementary – Shawn Nash; Calera Intermediate – Cindy Carlisle; Chelsea Park Elementary – Jessica Adams; Elvin Hill Elementary – Leah Klimchak; Forest Oaks Elementary – Kathleen Boehme; Helena Elementary – Amanda Gibbs; Helena Intermediate – Christy Cordrey; Inverness Elementary – Cathy Hart; Linda Nolen Learning Center – Noelle Koval-Lewis; Mt Laurel Elementary – Stephanie Austin Tucker; Oak Mountain Elementary – Nina Butler; Oak Mountain Intermediate – Amy Dela Torre; Shelby Elementary – Christina Shaler; Vincent Elementary – Deana Floyd Anderson; and Wilsonville Elementary – Brooke Brock
Middle: Calera Middle – Melanie Thomas; Chelsea Middle – Ashley Evans; Columbiana Middle – Krista Smith; Helena Middle – Anna Miller; and Montevallo Middle – Christopher Horton
High: Calera High – Douglas Forsythe; Chelsea High – Ashley Stuckey; Helena High – Melinda Adams; Montevallo High – Jessica Gothard; New Direction – Michelle Bullock; Oak Mountain High – John Croom; Shelby County College and Career Center – Gary Griffith; and Shelby County High – Marisol Lilly
National Board Certified Teachers:
Renae Speaks – Helena Intermediate; Anne Betbeze – Calera Intermediate; Sheikla Blount – Columbiana Middle; Janet Butterfield – Oak Mountain Elementary; Christine Sexton – Forest Oaks Elementary; Kristi Turner – Oak Mountain Middle; Myra Watson – Oak Mountain Intermediate; and Jennifer Cooper – Montevallo Elementary.