Teachers Lead and Learn in Weakley County

Teachers Lead and Learn in Weakley County
Posted on 07/30/2019
Weakley County Schools logo in colorThe Weakley County School board chose to lift up the phrase “Lighting the way to a brighter future” on administrative letterhead and promotional materials. Teachers make the words reality in the classrooms.

Studies show Weakley County traditionally ranks among the top systems in West Tennessee. Betsi Foster, who reports such matters in her role as director of federal programs, recently noted in a workshop to incoming teachers several academic highlights including that in comparison to other county districts in West Tennessee, over the last few years Weakley has ranked in the top ten in the following areas:
• 3rd-5th grade math
• 3rd- 5th grade English Language Arts (ELA)
• High school ELA
• High school U.S. history

Foster also pointed out that in the state, Weakley ranked in the top 10% on ACT scores at 21.3. ACT tests readiness for college and is often used by institutions for scholarship eligibility.

To ensure that teachers have the tools needed to achieve the results and continued growth of students, the county has initiated programs such as Read to Be Ready for grades Pre-K through 3rd, reading and math interventions, ACT Prep, college readiness, and a mentor program for teachers.

As part of the two-day orientation for new hires, incoming teachers were introduced to their mentors, other teachers in their schools who would be available to answer questions and guide them in daily interactions.

Tips from Teachers
As preparations for the new school year began, teachers who were acknowledged last year by their peers as being among the best at their school and on the district level were asked to offer a few words of advice for incoming faculty.
Johnna Taylor
Johnna Taylor, who is about to begin her 26th year, has called a few different classrooms home at Greenfield School. She’s into her third year in first grade but her room is lined with resources from the more than two decades of awakening pre-K, kindergarteners, and first graders to the joys of learning. She believes in the power of a greeting at the door each day, structuring the day so that students are successful, and remaining consistent, especially with rules and procedures.

“Consistency is key,” she pointed out. “Students need a safe, predictable environment to thrive.”

When asked to reflect on what she would have told herself when she began her career, Taylor said, “I would tell myself that the most important thing to remember no matter what grade you are teaching is to make meaningful connections with each student. Students will move mountains for you if you do!”

Samantha Vaughn was the Martin Middle School Teacher of the 2018-2019 school year. She teaches math for 6th and 7th grades and in her tip to new teachers touches on the value of mentors, planning, and motivation.

“Find a colleague within your school that is supportive and willing to help you navigate through the first year in your new role. Don't be afraid to ask him or her questions,” she advises. “Put aside a set amount of time after school and/or on the weekends to plan and grade papers. Prioritize and get as much completed as you can,” she said.

Martin Primary’s Tiffany Frazier was recognized by both the school and the district and agrees that asking for help is critical.

“There will never be a situation that is too silly or unimportant enough to not ask. Veteran teachers are here to help, and we want you to be successful,” she encouraged.

Stanton Watson who was at Dresden High last year and this year is Assistant Professor of Educational Studies at the University of Tennessee at Martin, was also recognized on both the building and district level.
Dr. Watson turns to the relationships new teachers will be forming.

“My best piece of advice for teachers just starting out in their careers is to always be yourself. Don’t try to be somebody you aren’t if it is not your teaching style or personality,” he said. “The best way to establish a positive relationship with your students and your colleagues is be up front and real with everybody from day one. If your students feel that they know you and that you are comfortable in your learning environment, then they will open up and be comfortable as well.”

Tiffany Frazier, kindergarten, Martin Primary
Frazier echoes other teachers regarding putting students first even when time is being stretched between numerous responsibilities or facing the daily chaos. She suggests making lists to keep up with important activities at the beginning of the day and referencing the list on breaks.
Borrowing ideas from those with experience is another way to tap into veterans, she says. And adds that, in time, new teachers will be bringing their own new, fun ideas to the school. To that end, she’s a big proponent of sharing and even self-promotion.

“Celebrate your accomplishments! Do not be afraid to boast about the awesome things you are doing in your classroom,” she noted.

Finally, Frazier underscores a frequent focus of many experienced teachers, “Most importantly, remember your why. Why did you choose this profession? It wasn’t for the money. It wasn’t for the fame. It was to make a difference in the lives of the children. Be proud of the work you do! You are a difference maker and a huge asset to our community.”

Vaughn agrees and offers additional motivation. “Be the kind of teacher you needed when you were a child,” she concluded.