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I zealously communicate the message "My teacher likes me and believes in me . . ."
This article is taken from Ms. Byrd's application
P H I L O S O P H Y   O F    T E A C H I N G
Each fall I spend immense energy creating a sense of emotional safety, excitement for learning, and a sense of pride in our classroom. As I recognize each student's talents and strengths, I zealously communicate the message, "My teacher likes me and believes in me." Our Number 1 Rule is "No Put Downs."  My own childhood experience taught me that children rarely take academic risks if they fear ridicule. I simply do not abide criticism, sneers, or bragging. In an emotionally safe learning environment students are more likely to ask questions, contribute their insights, and take ownership of their learning. When the stage is set for cooperation and mutual respect, it allows our classroom to be enthusiastic, fun, and challenging - yet structured.

To be perfectly honest, I struggle with one of the "best practices" I am required to follow. I intellectually understand the importance of a child's prior academic record and the value of input from previous teachers. However, I personally love to give every child a clean slate, and to objectively assess each child without preconceived labels, whether positive or negative. I have discovered that a "bad" child often responds to being treated like a responsible leader, and a gifted child may not be equipped to write a coherent paragraph. Each child is required to frequently set personal academic, organizational, or behavioral goals based on continual observations and assessments. As the goals change, each child is aware of their strengths, weaknesses, and areas of need. That's what we are all about. It thrills me to hear them ask one another, "What is your personal goal?" as they proceed to assist each other with facts, fluency, spelling, writing, editing, organizing a desk, or completing an agenda without a directive from me. It takes a few months to foster these scenarios. You won't find time allotted for these goals in a typical curriculum guide, but the time spent reaps benefits later. By providing choices, opportunities for service, and specific academic feedback, I attempt to foster ownership, creativity, school pride, and citizenship. The children, themselves, are really the best teachers in the room, and I refuse to do for them what they can learn to do for themselves.

Each child starts at his or her own place of maturity, motivation, and self-control. Mistakes are great learning opportunities and we strive for improvement rather than instant perfection. Again, I simply must take the time to explain, train, model, facilitate, practice, demonstrate, and repeat desirable skills and behaviors. It seems unrealistic to expect all children to grasp everything the first time and never forget. Each child maintains a portfolio that includes assessment results, journal entries, written goals, memories, photos, and work samples. They can eloquently interpret the results of assessments such as Benchmarks, CBM graphs, fluency probes, unit tests, projects, and daily work. We work together as a team to ensure that everyone learns.

However, none of this is authentic unless I practice what I teach. One of my personal goals is to remain un-jaded, humble, self-reflective, open to change, and to be a continual learner. I promised myself years ago that I would quit teaching if I became a negative, stagnant, inflexible, uncooperative, or bitter educator. Should the day come that families are non-requesting my classroom, I will seek another calling. It's not about my rights or tenure. I have a moral obligation to serve the students, parents, school, and community. In reality I often spend more quality time with children than their own parents may, and every moment counts. God has blessed me with an innate gift and I view this profession as one of the greatest privileges in the world.


Each nominee is asked to write a personal biography as part of the application

P E R S O N A L    B I O G R A P H Y

It all starts at home, and my story is no different. I have amazing parents who rose above incredible odds to be the first in their lineage to achieve college degrees. My dad was a seventh grade dropout who later earned his PhD in Education. My attainment of a college degree was never an optional goal. However, I had one huge problem. In my fifth grade math class it was revealed to me that I was stupid. Looking back, it really wasn't a big deal - just fractions. All I needed was a little extra help. One missing link in my early school career caused the domino effect of failure. I became famous among the cousins as the first to make an "F" and was labeled "bad at math." It's still embarrassing. I could read and write like a whiz kid, but not one teacher seemed to notice my struggles. It is difficult to choose a college major while trying to avoid all math classes. It just wasn't fair, so I took revenge and got even. I became the teacher I never had. If my poor parents could pull up their bootstraps as rural sharecroppers, then I could, too!

While conquering my academic insecurities, I earned a secondary teaching degree with certification in seven areas of business education, and then earned my elementary education certificate. My first teaching position was in Athens, Tennessee. I worked such long hours that my daughters kept a toothbrush and pillow in my classroom. At North City School I was privileged to teach second, fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. As an adult I finally met some of those great teachers I'd once needed as  child, and they patiently guided me as I learned to effectively help my students academically, socially, and emotionally. I volunteered to change grades with the desire to learn the scope of the curriculum across grade levels. This allowed me to remediate or enrich according to my students' needs and broadened my exposure to the state curriculum.

When a job transfer took my family to Montgomery, Alabama, I applied to teach basic math classes at Lee High School. The faculty later confessed they didn't think this soft-spoken, mild-mannered preacher's daughter would survive two weeks in an inner city school. It was a culture shock, but I truly enjoyed the challenge to be resourceful since I had no classroom or textbooks, and wasn't allowed to work at school later than 3:30 due to crime. My students were angry, frustrated, burdened, and scared. The school handed me one copy of the exit exam these students had previously failed and wished me luck. To them, this whole scenario looked hopeless. As I assessed the students, it came as a little surprise to me that their "missing link" had occurred in fourth and fifth grades. I used every real life simulation imaginable to re-teach foundational math skills without insulting their pride. Our self-invented curriculum included the economics of baby diapers, gas prices, pawnshops, housing, food, and survival. With one semester to help these classes master math skills ranging from fourth grade to Algebra I, sleep did not come easily. It was a shining moment when 73% of these students passed the exit exam for graduation. They just needed a little extra help. I could relate!

Finally, my husband's doctoral studies brought us back to Tennessee and for the last ten years I have proudly taught in Knox County. Fourth and fifth grades seem to be my best fit. It is easy to document many contributions toward school leadership, teacher training, professional development, curriculum development, differentiated learning, and community involvement. However, I just prefer to ask myself every day, "Are you still the teacher you never had? Are you still focused on children?" Then I lie down at night and create lesson plans in my sleep, just like the many other good teachers I am privileged to know.



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