Sara Patrick, a third-grade math and science teacher from Calera Elementary School, was recently honored by the Shelby County Board of Education and the Shelby County Schools Education Foundation as the 2020 Elementary School Teacher of the Year.
Patrick has been teaching for six years, the past four of which have been at Calera Intermediate School. In addition to her teaching duties, she also works in the After School Care Program at CaIS. Last school year, Patrick helped plan the Family Fun Night and the CaIS pageant. She is currently participating in a cohort at the University of Montevallo pursuing her National Board Certification.
Patrick said that she believes the lessons that define her as a teacher are the “every day” lessons students experience in her classroom. Patrick said she doesn’t do anything extraordinary in her daily teaching routine, she simply tries to engage them with math and encourage them to discuss mathematical thinking with peers.
Patrick said students engage themselves in her class due to the strong classroom community they build.
“I believe this increases student engagement because my students know I care deeply about them, their success, and the success of their peers.”
Patrick said one way she builds classroom community during daily lessons is through number talks – exercises in mental problem solving – which gives students the opportunity to take chances, engage in meaningful math discussions, and learn from each other.
“This daily routine is when students get comfortable making mistakes in front of each other,” Patrick said. “We use the mantra, ‘Mistakes are how we learn.’ By mid-year, I find that my students no longer fear math, but look forward to investigating the possibilities each problem provides.”
Patrick, who describes herself as a true lover of math, said her love of the content drives instruction.
“I believe my students feed off of this energy,” she said. “This is apparent in my lessons through student participation. We sing, dance, do cheers, and callouts. We ‘kaboom’ when our ‘minds are blown by a math connection. We desperately hold our answers in our brains so all our classmates have think-time, bursting with excitement when it’s time to shout out our solution!”
“I want my students to know that even when math is confusing, frustrating, or overwhelming, it can be exciting!” Patrick said. “This enthusiasm spurs my students to focus in class, persevere through difficult problems, and encourage each other to grow every day.”
This summer, Patrick served on a math curriculum team with four other third-grade teachers from across the district and a math coach. Together, this team contributed to the pacing, lesson plans, assessments, and additional resources that the district’s Math Instruction Department provided to third-grade math teachers across the district.
“We did our very best to provide supplemental resources for each lesson that would be useful to all teachers—from first-year math teachers to veterans,” Patrick said.
“Having support from the district through provided lesson plans and resources has improved culture across our school by decreasing stress,” Patrick added.” Instead of every single teacher having to recreate the wheel each week, we all have shared resources available. This helps to improve all of our teaching practice because we are able to learn and grow from each other.”
Patrick said she views the breakdown of family-school relationships as being a major issue facing public education today. She starts the year with positive communication with each family, asking parents to write a letter to her about their child.
“I learn so much about the kids through these letters!” Patrick said. “They also help me establish a trusting relationship with parents before the chaos of the school year starts.
Patrick said when communicating with parents, she aims to always point out something positive about the child before discussing anything negative or constructive.
“I also do my best to be completely honest with parents about their child’s academic progress. I always try to stress to parents that we are on the same team,” she said. “We are all working together to help the child, and sometimes that means we need to problem-solve about academic, behavioral, or social issues. I have found that sugar-coating these difficulties often leads parents to hold misconceptions about their child’s needs. Being honest with parents goes a long way when it comes to getting children the support they need.”
School Teacher of the Year Winners – Elementary Level
Calera Elementary – Kristi Brooks
Chelsea Park Elementary – Jennifer Martinez
Elvin Hill Elementary – Shanna Petty
Forest Oaks Elementary – Mari Newton
Helena Elementary – Meghan Handley
Helena Intermediate – Kaitlin McGuirk
Inverness Elementary – Mauri Crisler
Linda Nolen Learning Center – Staci Egan
Montevallo Elementary – Kamie Jones
Mt Laurel Elementary – Heather Braswell
Oak Mountain Elementary – Melanie Fitzmorris
Oak Mountain Intermediate – Kimberly Ethridge
Shelby Elementary – Kaleigh Lamar
Vincent Elementary – Ginger Forsythe
Wilsonville Elementary – Tiffany Collins