AIN’T NO HALF STEPPIN’

7

I don’t think I’ll find many people who will argue with me when I say it has been an exhausting year. It seems like one fight after another has cropped up. In light of such turmoil, it’s easy to become disenchanted and lose sight of all the good that happens daily in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Whenever I need inspiration, and a palate cleanser, I turn to the people who make the magic happen every day, the teachers and students in the classrooms. Over the year, I’ve been extremely blessed by their willingness to share with me their passion and intellect.

Thomas Wolfe in his classic novel Look Homeward Angel wrote the words, “Out of death, life, out of the coarse rank earth, a flower.” I’d like to share some flowers with you that I’ve collected from educators across the district. These are their words, unfiltered, undirected, and without agenda. In the words of the rapper Common, “Every day woman and men become legends.”

  • Most often, it is simple acts of kindness that make a difference in the life of a student. It is taking advantage of opportunities for developing relationships and lasting impressions. This was the response when asked of a student, What teacher has been kind to you this year and why? Ms. Cindy Montgomery was named. Throughout this year, not only did she teach academic lessons at MLK; but most importantly, she offered simple acts of kindness to her students. “She challenged us to think civility, to disagree without disagreeing, the importance of teamwork, made class fun, shared life stories, and even gave us treats.” She has encouraged students to accept and love themselves.She explains to the students, acceptance and love of yourself is the only way you can love others and except the love of others. Our children face a world very different from the previous generations. These lessons of kindness are required to make our schools, our communities, and our world a better place for all.

  • I have had the honor of working with Amy Jerome since 2006. She is one of the most dedicated, open-minded and encouraging teachers that I have ever worked with. She works tirelessly to plan engaging and rigorous lessons for her students. This year, Amy was awarded with the Blue Ribbon Teacher Award, which is a well-deserved honor for her. Eakin has been lucky to have her. Next year, Mrs. Jerome will leave Eakin to embark on a new challenge—she will be the School Librarian at another MNPS school. She loves kids and loves books! So teaching kids to love books is going to be a perfect place for her. From Amy, I learned many things- most importantly I learned to (try) not to sweat the small stuff and to do the best you can with what you have. Her unbelievably optimistic spirit will be missed dearly here at Eakin. I look forward to watching what she does in her new position, because I know she is going to blow them away.

  • Ms. Monica Townsend is one of Cumberland ES’s hidden treasures. As a family involvenent specialist, I do not get to interact with the teachers as often as I would like to, however I do have the opportunity to observe them in action from time to time. A few years ago while at Cumberland I was working with a young man whose mother had contacted me regarding some behavior issues he was having. This student happened to be in another teacher’s class. The mother wanted the student moved to another teacher and Ms Townsend immediately came to mind. Ms. Townsend exhibits a magical type of Love for all student that is unmatched.  She was able to work with the new student in her class, where I witnessed the student’s behavior change instantly as a result of Ms. Townsend’s unwavering Love. Unfortunately, we will be losing her to retirement next year. I am so happy for her but want her to know that she will be truly missed.

  • For most of us, the weekend goes too fast.  But for a young student in one of our schools, the two day weekend was longer than the five day school week.  The weekend hours become endless when hunger replaces  play on Saturday.  Loneliness is endless for those 48 hours,  when no one has time to talk, read, play, or prepare meals.  Noises during the night continue to interrupt sleep.  When Monday morning finally comes, the child is anxious to go to school because a very special teacher is waiting to greet this hungry lonely student with, “There you are!  I really missed you over the weekend and I’m so happy to see you!”   A smile, a hug, and food waiting in the classroom…” I love you, teacher.”   Many of our MNPS teachers become the significant persons in a child’s life – the adult who understands and is willing to meet physical needs while creating the conditions for a student to focus on learning.  It happens in our schools across the district – that unassuming teacher who becomes the great equalizer and nurtures our children. 

  • Tara Colwart is a 7th grade science teacher at Croft Middle Design Center. For many years, she has played an integral role in leading the science program to receive numerous accolades for its superior teacher instruction and student performance. Mrs. Colwart’s instructional record of excellence speaks for itself when examining performance and growth data for her students. As evidenced each year as well as in the 2016/17 TNReady data for science, the achievement and growth scores for Mrs. Colwart’s students far exceeded the district and the state. She has proven to be versatile in the fact that no matter the challenges, she and her students experience success. This is due to her high commitment to her craft as well as her high expectations of students.  In addition, Mrs. Colwart is a true team player and is well versed in the practice of collaborative planning with fellow educators. She is always willing to mentor and advise more novice teachers as well. Mrs. Colwart is also highly committed to the school community of Croft and establishes genuine relationships with her students throughout the middle school years and beyond. Plain and simple, she is one of the best in the business.

  • Gower has the pleasure of having many outstanding educators working and collaborating in our building. However, I would like to take today to spot let just one of those educators today. Ms. Kristen Pientowski is one of our hardworking 2nd-grade teachers at Gower. This school year she had the mission and responsibility of learning how to teach while collaborating with many adults in her classroom due to the needs of some of her students. Daily almost all day there were at least three paraprofessional and two exceptional educators pushing into her room to help support students that needed that support for inclusionary practices. Despite some of the challenges and challenging days to remain calm through what seemed overwhelming at times, she carried on with a smile. She arrived each morning ready, willing and with a drive to try a new strategy, a new approach, or just staying committed and sticking to plan created in hopes of success. The success of seeing all her students grow, thrive and feel welcome in her class and at Gower.

  • Felix (Kalima) Kapesa arrived from the Congo in 2014 speaking Swahili and a few words of English. The summer of 2017, Felix interned at NES through the Escalera Program. His time at NES sparked an interest in the field of electricity and he began going to school online at night to attain his electrician’s license. A school partnership with Hiller put Felix in contact with the company where he was offered an apprenticeship. Felix will begin working with Hiller this summer and is on track to complete his Journeyman Electrician training.

  • Peter (Sayedsoheil) Ghiyasianioliya arrived at Overton High School last year after not being allowed to attend school for 5 years due to religious persecution. Peter works hard to earn good grades and has caught up on many years of lost schooling. He has progressed quickly through his EL classes and has even enrolled in some advanced courses. He gives back to his school by staying after every day to manage the afterschool tutoring program and has started a recycling program.

  • At JT Moore Middle School, 7th grade teacher Anna Bernstein and librarian Sarah Dark led the development of the school’s highly successful “Read Moore” initiative this year.  Because of their work and the work of the incredible faculty and staff, JT Moore Middle’s MAP Reading growth scores have been at the top or near the top for each MAP testing session this year.  In addition, with the support of the JT Moore PTO, these two teacher-leaders led this initiative that provided all students in the school a copy of the book Ghost to read in April following spring break.  Furthermore, advisory and classroom lessons were developed by Ms. Bernstein and Mrs. Dark to be used in all grade levels to support learning extensions from this novel.  Their incredible work has transformed how we develop literacy in our school.

  • While it would be easy to single out many teachers for their incredible work this year, something incredibly special happened among a group of teachers. The teachers and students at Oliver Middle School experienced heartbreak this school year when a beloved student passed away unexpectedly. The death of a student is devastating and something no parent or teacher should ever have to experience. Yet in this dark time, the staff at OMS shined a light into the world. Teachers and staff, both past and present, spent evenings and long nights at the hospital as they consoled the family and prayed with them. On the day of the funeral, teachers were there loving on the family because of how much they loved their daughter and how much they loved that family. Shortly after, the staff at Oliver Middle School raised almost $3000 for the family to help them cover expenses. These teachers had no training in grief counseling. No college degree taught them how to handle these situations. Rather, it was genuine love for their student and genuine love for her family that led them to show love in amazing ways. Sometimes we see our teachers as only teachers. But if you talk to students and parents, they’ll let you know that anyone who walks down the hallways of the schools becomes a part of their family.

  • I really think Amy Jamison and Jane Fetters are the reason all 4 of our academies got accreditation. They are both old school teachers who have been teaching for over 30 years. They are called the old lady gang because they kick butt in the academy stuff. They have been the leads since day one and know what they are talking about. They are always helping young teachers and always want the best for AHS. Jamison is retiring this year and Fetters next year. The kids love them and they are really the heart and soul of AHS. I have learned so much from them over the years and through every principal we have stood strong together. I’m not an English teacher and I don’t write like you, but I know that they are what keeps the academies together through all of this.

  • Mrs. Saunders one of our wonderful EL teachers works so hard to insure all of her students are learning and growing. She goes above and beyond to make Learning come to life and to make connections to the real world. She also volunteers to help with STEM Club. She has built many relationships with families from our school and helps them outside of school.

  • Second year teacher Ellen Montgomery is a freshman Spanish teacher who has developed, championed, and shouldered the restorative justice and CORE programs at HHS. Only two years into teaching she is beloved by all the students and faculty and parents alike. She has enthusiastically supported and enabled student voice and action without doing the hard work for them. I haven’t seen other models of restorative justice around the district, but I was immensely proud of the ownership the students took in the process at HHS, and I directly attribute that to Ms. Montgomery’s invisible guiding hand.

  • Missy Humphrey is a jack-of all-trades and master-of-every-damn one. She is the IB coordinator, IB and gen ed. math teacher, golf, basketball, and girls’ track coach and Academy Lead, and AP/IB testing coordinator. She literally does the jobs of three positions and is only compensated for one. But you will never hear her complain. She does it for the love of the kids she teaches. She makes several roads trips a year to see her former players in NCAA games. Incredibly intelligent and generous to a fault, she is not only the heart of the IB Academy at Hillsboro, but maybe the heart of the high school itself.

  • It is hard to pick one good story about a teacher from this school year. Every day our faculty at Hillwood does remarkable things with our students but it comes from wanting to do the best for them not to receive huzzahs (although getting a huzzah once in a while would not be bad). I know we have teachers who will provide meals for classes prior to big exams, they will stay after for extra help, and they will help with decorating for activities. None of this comes from a place of selfishness but just wanting to do what is best for our students and make their high school experience fun.

  • Pamala Goodenough (yes, that is her real name) came to Tusculum after the devastating loss of Karen Holloway to cancer. She stepped in with grace and respect of an already growing music program. Since her arrival, students have been introduced to new instruments which they play regularly, have learned songs written by Tusculum teachers, and have grown as future musicians and well rounded students. This year Mrs. Goodenough applied for a grant that partners TPAC with schools and Disney Musicals. Tusculum was chosen as one of five schools in the district to participate. To say the production was a success would be an understatement. Her support for students who would not have access to high quality music instruction is second to none. Tusculum is blessed to call her ours!

  • Most teachers would agree that being a teacher is a rewarding career, but there are times when it can be extremely stressful and challenging. Mrs. J had accepted a new position that would present some uncontrollable variables and with even the greatest of preparation there would be unique challenges. She had been told during her interview for this new position, her present theory of teaching reading may be challenged. An interview question was posed on that very topic, how would she feel if that were to happen to her present theory? She replied somewhat puzzled- “not sure, I only know one way to teach reading, so I feel I am a blank slate and willing and excited to learn new things. I don’t know what I don’t know till I learn it.” With the support of the professional development and colleagues she was assured that the power and success of this new theory would override old theory and she would gain new knowledge in how to teach a reader. One interviewer stated this new learning will forever change your teaching. These comments were both puzzling and exhilarating to her. At first, at the culmination of each training period, she was riddled with inner thoughts; I thought I knew how to teach reading. This is not the way I learned to teach reading. Was I doing this wrong- all these years? But it was true, practice informs theory and theory informs practice. Students that had spent months at low level benchmarks or not even registering on the reading continuum began improving. Not only improving but accelerating. It was almost magical. The data revealed that students were moving a reading level each week. Wow! New questions surfaced with each new lesson encounter. She practically ran to class each week to get those answers from her colleagues and leaders. Questions that she knew would be a critical element in designing instruction to shift her students’ learning the very next day. She also knew her own thinking and learning was shifting right before her eyes. Meaning doesn’t arrive because we have highlighted text or used sticky notes or answered questions on a comprehension worksheet, or even isolated the use of spelling and vowel rules. Meaning from text arrives because students are purposefully engaged in thinking and monitoring while reading. Mrs. J. shared that during her undergraduate coursework especially in the area of teaching reading, she gave very little thought and learned very little information on ways children were learning. The expectation was that each teacher will follow a basal located in her school. But now through her new teaching and practice, she learned and observed first hand that our focus on how and why should be based on each little child in front of us. Yes, it was also true, her teaching life was changed forever!

That’s just a small sampling of what goes on in our schools every day, all through the year, and we are so much better because of it. I’m sure every one of you can tell similar stories from your own school. Everyday the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., are brought to life:

“Not everybody can be famous. But everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato or Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”

There will be no poll questions this week because I want nothing to distract from the incredible work that goes on daily in our district. They’ll be back next week.

I got no raises. I got no cupcakes. But I got mad love and much appreciation and hopefully someday I’ll bring cupcakes and raises. Until then, let me lead a chorus of heartfelt appreciation and say, “We see you.”

This clip of the wonderful kids at Dan Mills ES offers the perfect punctuation mark. Have a great weekend!

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7 comments on “AIN’T NO HALF STEPPIN’

  1. NashTeach says:

    Thank you for highlighting so many great teachers!

    It was Tom Wolfe of The Electric Acid Kool Aid Test, The Right Stuff, and Bonfire of the Vanities who just died. The author of Look Homeward Angel, Thomas Wolfe, died in 1938.

  2. wasitquality says:

    Thank you for acknowledging the hard work of teachers and the life changing experiences that they give and receive. Many times those on the outside have to be the hands, eyes, and voice for the teachers. Great post !

  3. Avi Poster says:

    Enjoyed all the stories … but watching and listening to the Dan Mills students sing is fuel for the soul. Thanks for sharing. … Avi

  4. worker bee says:

    It seems strange to me that these are better than the ones that often come in the ICYMI emails from the comms dept.

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