Shelby County’s top teachers across the district were recently honored at the annual Teachers of the Year event, held December 3 at Oak Mountain High School. The event was hosted by the Shelby County Schools Education Foundation.
The top three Teacher of the Year winners from the elementary, middle, and high school grade spans were honored, along with the winners from every school in the district. The overall Teacher of the Year winners were Vickey Glover Bailey from Chelsea Park Elementary, Charlsie Wigley from Chelsea Middle, and Amanda Bittinger from Oak Mountain High School.
Vickey Glover Bailey – Elementary Teacher of the Year
Bailey has been teaching for 40 years, 26 of which have been with the Shelby County School District. She has spent the past 13 years at Chelsea Elementary and Chelsea Park Elementary where she currently is the Gifted Resource teacher. She serves in numerous leadership roles, including the STEM Committee, Gifted Education Product Development Leadership Team, Alabama Association of Gifted Children Gifted Awareness Month, and as the Shelby County Schools Elementary Literary Magazine Coordinator. She also teaches robotics after-school at Chelsea Park.
“I have always enjoyed working with children of all ages. No matter which age group, from kindergarten to high school, the students were placed first,” Bailey wrote in her nomination essay to the Teacher of the Year committee. “I consider this as one of my chief accomplishments. Focusing on their many, varied, and unusual needs and encouraging the student to never give up on their dreams is my contribution to the future. Even after teaching 40 years, I have specific stories of the overlooked, underachieving, and unnoticeable students. These stories all relate to students realizing their potential and gifts.”
Bailey said as the eldest child in a large family, she was always labeled as “the teacher.” She learned at an early age that motivation, engagement, and children feeling successful are key components to excellent teaching. Much like her class mascot – a frog – is impacted by its environment, Bailey said a student’s environment impacts them also.
“My contribution is ensuring students have the most beneficial learning environment possible,” she said. “This is accomplished by offering them praise, encouragement, and a positive, personal word. This simple act each day has transformed school and learning itself for so many of my past students.”
Bailey said one of the most rewarding things about having a long teaching career is seeing former students now enrolling their own students in school and realizing the difference she made in their lives.
“Teaching fills my entire life with purpose and love that continues to multiply over time,” she said.
Preparing students while they are children to be responsible, productive, caring and engaged citizens one day is a timeless goal of education. Teaching students the hard skills learned through academic subjects such as reading and math, along with soft skills that help them develop socially, are both important and inter-connected, Bailey said.
“I would say soft skills in early childhood hold the utmost importance because they frequently are the foundation for developing hard skills,” she said. “If a student can’t get along well with his or her classmates or teacher, their literacy and math skills are likely to be impaired.
Charlsie Wigley – Middle School Teacher of the Year
She serves in many leadership roles, including as the CSI School Culture Representative, School Coordinator for LEAD (advisory), Library Committee, sponsor for the 7th and 8th grade Junior United Nations of Alabama (JUNA) Team, and the sponsor for CHMS Cares, a student-led kindness club.
Wigley says she didn’t always want to become a teacher but believes now that it is what she was meant to do and finds fulfillment in teaching her students.
“I have learned quite a bit about teaching, preparation, and the many paths that life’s journey can lead you down. What I believe I have learned the most is the little quirks about my students that make them who they are and will make them great leaders in the community in a few short years,” Wigley said. “I believe my greatest contribution to education is my students. It is my great privilege in this life to impart some bit of knowledge to them.”
Wigley sponsors a student lead kindness group, CHMS Cares, that provides counseling and community service opportunities to her students. At her student’s suggestion, they were able to raise $1500 for Jinks Middle School, a school in Panama City, FL which was damaged by Hurricane Michael.
“When schools give students the opportunity to not only thrive under their services but grow as individuals of character who own their decisions and learning, I believe the school is at its very best,” she says.
Wigley said she was influenced mainly by her two grandmothers to get her start into teaching. One was a history and psychology instructor for more than 25 years, and the other was a substitute teacher and a Sunday School leader.
“My grandmothers’ experience is impressive in their own merits, but I simply know my Martha Faith and Mimi as readers. I practically grew up in the biography isle of the children’s section at the Oxford Public Library,” Wigley says. “I am fortunate to have a family that told me my voice mattered through every step of my education, and let me write sorted pages in the animated book of life. The brightest pages are those containing the powerful voices of my students. I carry them in my heart daily, and I feel hope for the world as a result.”
Wigley identifies that education doesn’t happen in the cinder blocks of the school, it’s the journey of learning.
“At the bottom of every email I send, I am one of those teachers who has a quote attached below my signature. My emails contain John Dewey’s infamous words: ‘Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.’ This short quote encapsulates my general philosophy regarding education,” Wigley writes. “It is my belief that it is a schools responsibility to harness such individual inquiry daily to support our young learners in making meaning in their own lives.”
Wigley places much value in her students’ self-worth and letting them feel individually valued in her classroom. She wants her students to become the best version of themselves once they leave her class.
“I recognize students who own their voice and work and understand exactly where they are at/where they want to go are students who will grow into adults who hold themselves accountable and are willing to take chances no matter what challenges await them,” she says. “I enjoy discussing my students’ successes with them, but I do not shy away from being honest with my students in terms of what they specifically need to work on. With these goal setting conferences, I have been able to help students understand their value and specifically what they need to do going forward in their process of learning.”
Amanda Bittinger – High School Teacher of the Year
Bittinger serves in numerous capacities of leadership at her school, including Advanced Mathematics Team Coach, Mentor Program Coordinator, Member of the School Improvement Team, Precalculus and Calculus Learning Team Lead Teacher, and Mu Alpha Theta Sponsor.
Bittinger says she owes her drive to become a teacher and her love of mathematics to her high school mathematics teacher, Mr. Ned Lowery.
“I was told in third grade that I would never be good at math, and I took this to heart and was a self-fulfilling prophecy; until Mr. Lowery saved me,” Bittinger says. “He wasn’t even my math teacher, but he saw me struggling one day in the library with my homework, and he came over and helped. I had never had a teacher who cared as much about me or what I was learning, and his behavior made an impact on me. I was lucky enough to have him as my math teacher my junior and senior year.”
“I was given the confidence and skills in high school that was necessary to compete with people from much better backgrounds in college. I not only owe my teaching ability and passion for mathematics to him, but I also owe the life that I lead to Ned Lowery,” Bittinger says.
Bittinger said Mr. Lowery’s mentorship is something she implements in her classroom. She cares not only about the subject matter but about her students well being also.
“I have never had a beginning and end to the school day without students in my room who need extra help in mathematics or other subject matters. My door is also open for a counseling session if needed,” Bittinger says. “I know that they cannot develop as mathematicians if they are worried about life in general. Many of the students need someone to tell them that they believe in them and that they are important. When students understand that you truly care about them as a person, they will go above and beyond what you ask of them in the classroom.”
Bittinger identifies that one of the significant issues in public education is obtaining and retaining quality educators and inequity in education for students in poor rural and urban schools.
“Every year I see many very good, dedicated teachers leave the teaching profession after only a few years. I believe that effective mentoring is the most successful strategy for improving both new teachers’ skills and the likelihood they will stay in the profession,” Bittinger noted. “With the mentoring program, the goal is to help these teachers see the rewards in our profession, help them, and our students have a positive experience, and to keep them from seeking out other professions because of lack of support.”
Bittinger wants her students to feel safe, comfortable and valued when they enter her classroom. Her classroom is a safe space where everyone’s opinions are appreciated.
“I believe that all students should be treated with care, patience, and respect. At the beginning of my year, I make a point to know my students’ names and something unique about them by the second day of class,” she says. “Students understand that they are not failures if the first way they attempt the problem does not work because we support each other in my class. They learn that the important lesson is that you have enough confidence in yourself not to give up and try again.”
Bittinger stresses that she feels blessed by her outstanding students and she finds endless joy in seeing them succeed. Her goal in life is that after her students leave her class, that they will look at her as someone who has made them value hard work and as someone who truly cared about them.
“My goal in life is to make my students’ lives better like Mr. Lowery did for me,” Bittinger says. “ I want to fill their minds with the knowledge of mathematics, with the love for learning, with the confidence to succeed in every aspect of their lives, with the determination to never give up on their dreams, with the importance of respect for those around them, and with the understanding of the importance of showing kindness and sincerity toward everyone they meet. They count.”
Additional School Winners:
Elementary: Calera Elementary – Nesha Davis, Calera Intermediate – Kailey Jones; Elvin Hill Elementary – Misty Howard; Forest Oaks Elementary – Wendy K. Cespedes; Helena Elementary – LaShaun Williams Brown; Helena Intermediate – Reese Portword; Inverness Elementary – Pamela Taylor; Linda Nolen Learning Center – Abbeba Makunda Brooks-Tait; Montevallo Elementary – Kendra Janyce Robbins; Mt Laurel Elementary – Heather Butler; Oak Mountain Elementary – Sara Elise Askew; Oak Mountain Intermediate – Shannon Vaughn; Shelby Elementary – Angela Harrison Binkerd; Vincent Elementary – Katherine B. Gentry; and Wilsonville Elementary – Carlie Newman
Middle: Calera Middle – Kerry Jeffries; Columbiana Middle – Mimi E. Glisson; Helena Middle – Niurca Lockhart; Montevallo Middle – Virginia Thomas; Oak Mountain Middle – Stacie Gilmore; Vincent Middle – Jo Leigh Harlow
High: Calera High – Kaylie Wray Mitchell, Chelsea High – Monica Gongora Gordon; Helena High – Spring McKinney; Montevallo High – Beth House; New Direction – William J. Sherrill; Shelby County Career Technical Educational Center – Rex Horton; and Shelby County High – Michael J. Kantaris;l Vincent High – Ryan Halla