Elizabeth Howard, an eighth-grade math teacher from Chelsea Middle School, was honored on December 2 by the Shelby County Board of Education and the Shelby County Schools Education Foundation as the 2021 Middle School Teacher of the Year.
Howard has been teaching for 16 years, including the past six years at Chelsea Middle. Howard, who earned National Board Certification in 2020, serves on the school’s Leadership Team and Continuous School Improvement Team. She also served as a mentor and Shelby County Tech Spark for 2021 eMERGE Technology Cohort and as a participant in the Teacher Excellence and Accountability for Math and Science program and the National Board Academy in 2021. She also serves as the Math 8 Accelerated Math Team coach and as the PowerSchool trainer for her school during the recent migration to the new student management system.
“My teaching philosophy hinges on Growth Mindset, the concept that ALL students can become smarter if they are willing to try, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes,” Howard said.
“My role is to expose all students to quality assignments that will challenge them to grow from whatever level of understanding they find themselves to be at currently,” Howard added. “I meet them where they are mathematically and grow them from there. I am their coach, and it is my job to assess their needs and push them to exceed their own expectations “
In 2018, Howard helped lead the school’s leadership team in developing a program called SWARM, an acronym for Strive for excellence, Work hard, Attitude is everything, Respect self, and school and My choices matter. After teaching lessons on these characteristics, both students and teachers were asked to nominate students who stood out as leaders in a positive way and exhibited these qualities. The students were then treated to a SWARM luncheon off campus that was funded by local businesses. A motivational speaker donated his time to come to speak to the students on the top employment skills desired by the largest employers in the Birmingham area such as strong work ethic, initiative, integrity, flexibility, initiative, and self-confidence.
Howard also received a grant in 2019 to purchase 60 copies of the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens” to give to students for the next SWARM luncheon in 2020, which sadly did not happen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Howard hopes to be able to host another SWARM luncheon in the spring of 2022.
The pandemic impacted Howard’s classroom on many different levels and challenged her to find new ways to teach and engage students. The biggest impact was felt after the death of her colleague and friend, Julie Yeager.
“When my coworker became ill last year, I had to make adjustments to how I presented lessons so that my teaching could be shared across the hall. Screencastify allowed me to record my lessons at night to be posted to her classes the next day so her students could continue moving forward with their learning,” Howard said. “I would visit them each period to answer questions and offer assistance. Sadly, their teacher and my friend did not return to us so additional adjustments were made and more supports added. Desiring to honor her memory and be the best that I could be for her students is what inspired me to keep going and strive for excellence.”