Jeff Norris, a sixth-grade math teacher from Oak Mountain Middle School, has been named one of the 16 finalists for Alabama Teacher of the Year.
The Alabama State Department of Education announced the 16 finalists on April 5. According to the ASLDE press release, “16 outstanding educators who personify excellence have been selected as finalists for Alabama Teacher of the Year. Each excels in the classroom and inspires students through innovative instructional techniques. The finalists emerged from a highly professional group of more than 150 top educators who submitted applications for this state honor.”
Norris was one of three teachers honored in December as overall “Teachers of the Year” for the Shelby County School District. While he was named Shelby County’s Middle School Teacher of the Year, he competed in the Elementary Teacher of the Year category for the state award due to his certification being in elementary education K-6. There are two finalists from each of the eight state school board districts. Norris was selected as one of two finalists from District III. Kevin Pughsley, a former Shelby County teacher who now teaches at Berry Middle School in Hoover is the other District III finalist.
Norris said when he thinks about individuals who have influenced him throughout his life, he automatically recalls many of his favorite teachers.
“I experienced first-hand the impact of quality educators who cared about their students and wanted to leave a lasting impression,” Norris said. “I do not take my position lightly, because I know I have this same ability.”
As a teacher, Norris plans lessons that keep student engagement at the forefront and will admittedly go to extreme lengths to “hook” his students. He has recently attended professional development, completed research, and implemented the concept of classroom transformations – a physical transformation of the classroom environment to set the tone for learning that immediately grabs students’ interest while providing a theme that ties standards to activities.
Norris described dressing up as the video game character Mario and transforming his classroom into the Super Mario video game during a series of lessons entitled “Level Up” from a previous year teaching Advanced ELA. This year, his math students have completed a “Fraction Things” unit where the classroom transformation was based on the popular television show, Stranger Things. Students practiced math problems in the “Upside Down” world underneath their tables while also incorporating two other well-known locations on the show – the ice cream shop, Scoops Ahoy, and the Byer’s brother’s fort, Castle Byers.
Students have also enjoyed waffles and learning how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide decimals in the “Decimal Dinner” and learning long division during the “Touchdown Division” unit which included a ten-foot goal post constructed by a parent. Most recently, Norris’ class joined the entire sixth grade to participate in a “Sixth Grade Rocks” Day” where the math teachers helped students practice Mullet Ratios complete with finding the best “business in the front to party in the back” ratio.
In addition to classroom transformations, Norris has also become a fan and self-proclaimed “missionary” of the “Build Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics” book by Peter Liljedahl. In the book, Lijedhal outlines and advocates for fourteen practices to instill a culture of thinking in classrooms.
“My classroom and school are my mission field, and I use every opportunity available to have a positive impact on my students’ lives,” Norris said. “I hope the passion and enthusiasm I have for teaching are contagious.”
“Todd Whitaker says, ‘The best thing about being a teacher is that it matters. The hardest thing about being a teacher is that it matters every day.’ Each day is unique and may bring challenges, but it also brings an opportunity for growth, learning, and perseverance. I am proud and honored to represent Oak Mountain Middle School, Shelby County Schools, and teachers around District 3 who love what they do, the students they teach, and who inspire greatness each day,” Norris said.