Celebrating the Teacher Academy
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By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
JUNE 8, 2018 – This school year, the 38 Teacher Leaders participating in the Teacher Academy have been working with other teachers throughout the school system.
For some, that makes the teachers they are working with “mentees.”
Iris Mudd prefers another word – “collaborator.”
Mudd, who teaches science at Meadowlark Middle, has found that, while another teacher may be learning from her, she is definitely learning from the other teacher as well.
So, along the way, she began referring to the teachers she was working with as collaborating teachers.
“I like to say that because they would share with me, too,” she said. “It wasn’t a one-way street. They left with goals for the future. I liked their ideas, too.”
It was a valuable process that continued even when she wasn’t working directly with another teacher. She found herself routinely thinking about her own teaching.
“This made me reflect back on the strategies I use,” Mudd said. “It made me think about why I do what I do.”
Being a Teacher Leader has been a rewarding experience for her.
“What makes it work is a positive attitude by everybody involved,” she said.
On Thursday evening, Mudd joined other Teacher Leaders on the fifth floor of McCreary Tower at Wake Forest’s BB&T Field to celebrate the completion of the academy’s first year. They had been invited to bring a “plus one.” Many were there with a spouse, and some of them are also teachers.
By no means was Mudd the only Teacher Leader who found the Teacher Academy experience to be enriching in many ways.
“I have learned a lot in reflecting on my own teaching,” said Brittany Protokowicz, a second-grade teacher at Moore Elementary.
“I think I take more time to listen and think about what I am going to say,” she said.
She was there with her husband, Joe Protokowicz, who teaches kindergarten at Caleb’s Creek Elementary.
His wife is a great teacher and a great mother, he said. “She is so good with the kids at home, and she is all about teaching.”
Both joked about being a bit dusty because it had been Field Day at both schools, and they hadn’t had the opportunity to go home before the celebration to shower and change.
Marshall Marvelli, who teaches at Paisley IB Magnet School, said that he learned a lot in the process of talking to other teachers about teaching.
“You have to think about what you are doing as a teacher,” he said.
In addition to Marvelli having had a good experience working with the teachers, the Teacher Academy is providing a fringe benefit for the school. One teacher he worked with will be teaching at Paisley next year.
Wendy Cheek, who is an English/language arts teacher at Clemmons Middle, said that, for days when another teacher was coming in to observe, she worked hard beforehand to make sure that the class was a strong one.
Doing that, she found herself taking the same approach to every day.
“I tried to make sure every day was a model,” Cheek said.
In her husband Robbie Cheek’s experience, she always works hard to do her best.
“I think she is very thorough in everything she does,” he said. “She doesn’t like to leave anything not completed to the best of her ability.”
It was a big year for Cheek. She was also Teacher of the Year at Clemmons Middle and one of eight semifinalists for Teacher of the Year for the district.
One thing that Demetria Gaines, who teaches third grade at North Hills Elementary, liked was getting to know people at other schools.
“I liked meeting other teachers,” she said.
Gaines, who has taught for five years, worked with one teacher with more than 20 years of experience. At first, that was a little unsettling.
“It was very odd at first,” she said.
But it turned out well. The teacher was looking to learn more about classroom management and that is something Gaines feels confident about. Her approach with students is to set up rules and procedures to be consistent about following them.
“I have a procedure for everything,” she said.
That includes sharpening pencils.
Although the school year is coming to a close, Gaines will, by no means, be taking the summer off. She is participating in an executive leadership program through Gardner-Webb University and will be working hard at that.
Lauren Parmley, who is also a Teacher Leader at North Hills, was there as well. Parmley and Gaines have been friends ever since they were both students at Winston-Salem State University.
“We both teach third grade so we are always planning and collaborating,” Parmley said.
She, too, is going to have busy summer. She wants to become a Literacy Coach or Instructional Facilitator one day, so she is taking a program through Appalachian State University that will give her the necessary credentials.
As part of that, she will tutor students at an Appalachian State summer program at Middle Fork Elementary, which is becoming a Literacy Lab School in 2018-19.
Susan Buchanan, who teaches science at Reagan High, said that she has enjoyed having other teachers come into her classroom this year.
“I have really enjoyed getting to know teachers from other schools,” she said.
Some of their questions helped make her more self-aware.
“They would ask things that I didn’t realize that I was doing,” Buchanan said.
Her husband, Todd Buchanan, teaches science at Meadowlark Middle, so many of his students become her students.
Julie Riggins, who teaches math at East Forsyth High, came to the celebration with her husband, Marshall Riggins. Asked what strengths his wife brings to her job as a teacher, he said, “She is very considerate – very dedicated. Tireless. That would be the other thing I would say about her.”
Those attending the celebration also included:
School board members Dana Caudill Jones, Lori Goins Clark and David Singletary
Superintendent Beverly Emory
Deputy Superintendent Kenneth Simington
Several people had been invited to speak. They were:
Teacher Leaders Cheryl Corts, a kindergarten teacher at Meadowlark Elementary who was a finalist for the district’s Teacher of the Year, and Mike McDowell, who teaches math and science to sixth-graders at Jefferson Middle
Principals Debbie McIntyre of Jefferson Elementary and Reggie Hunt of Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy
Marcel Davis, a second-grade teacher at Griffith Elementary who has been working with a Teacher Leader this year.
McIntyre said that she thinks the Teacher Academy program will help keep people in the profession and that the benefits go far beyond the teachers directly involved in the program because she knows that teachers go back and share what they have learned with other teachers at their school.
One of the points that McDowell made is that, while some teachers would be reluctant to admit that being praised matters to them, a fringe benefit of being a Teacher Leader is feeling appreciated as a teacher.
“We have been told how valuable we are,” he said.
When Corts spoke, she said that she had invited her daughter, Bethany Corts, to join her at the celebration because she wanted her to have the opportunity to speak to Emory and others. A graduate of West Forsyth High, Bethany Corts is a senior at Liberty University majoring in Communications, Social Media and Marketing.
After the speakers were done, Cheryl and Bethany Corts were able spend time with Emory. Topics included the growing importance of social media in business and in education, with Emory encouraging Bethany Corts to continue her pursuits as something vital for success in today’s world.
“She was very affirming,” Bethany Corts said later. “I was able to see her heart for younger people and her deep understanding of the role of social media in today’s world. I was so glad for the chance to meet her!”
Davis also spoke with Emory at the celebration.
“I was overjoyed to have met Dr. Emory, as most times you only hear of our top supervisors and never meet them,” Davis said. “The reception after sharing my reflection was awesome. As a result, I now feel like I am ready to deliver great speeches yet to come.”
“I am grateful to my principal, Mrs. Alesia Hilton, at Griffith Elementary for nominating be to take part in Teacher Academy.”
Davis is from Jamaica and taught there for 17 years before coming here to teach. She was already familiar with North Carolina by having earned her master’s degree at Western Carolina University.
When Emory spoke to the group, she talked about how much she appreciated what the Teacher Leaders have done for the school system this year.
“I am so proud of what you have accomplished this school year,” Emory said.
At the celebration, people had a lot of good things to say about Beth Ausley, who came back from retirement to serve as the coordinator for the academy. Ausley was a teacher for 30 years – 28 of those in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools – and was the district’s 2000-2001 Teacher of the Year.
Instructional Superintendents Amy Nail and Donna Cannon are Co-Directors of the Teacher Academy. Both consider the academy to be a success.
Participating has enabled Teacher Leaders to build relationships among themselves and with other teachers throughout the system while developing skills as leaders, Cannon said.
“Research tells us that the best way to learn is to teach others,” Nail said. “This becomes a win/win for all the students in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.”
Thanks to a grant from The Winston-Salem Foundation, Teacher Leaders were compensated for the work they did this year. At the celebration, Cannon and Nail announced that, thanks to the Winston-Salem Foundation, another 25 teachers will be added to the academy in the coming year, and that, thanks to the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education, 10 more will be added to that total.
This year, Nail said, they discovered that elementary schools in particular would benefit from more support from the Teacher Academy, and many of the new Teacher Leaders will focus on elementary schools.