Teachers light up young minds

Published 12:31 am Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Morgantown 6th grade math teacher Shanetra Jones demonstrates with yarn how the side of a prism are parallel and do not intersect.

NATCHEZ — Most everyone has a favorite teacher who, in a year’s time, sealed a memory of his or herself in a child’s mind.

These favorite teachers are often the best ones, and former students’ memories of those teachers’ warmth, wisdom or humor is often joined with pride for remembering decades later the lessons they taught.

Eight members of that special breed of humans — teachers — were recently elected by their schools as teacher of the year in the Natchez-Adams School District.

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Each is different, but almost all described their love for the students and for those “light bulb” moments in their students’ eyes when the job they do is validated more than any paycheck or certificate of appreciation.

Eric J. Shelton | The Natchez Democrat — District teacher of the year Ginger Cowart helps JaRicky Collins with his class work Friday afternoon at the Natchez Adams Career and Tech center in Natchez.

Ginger Cowart

A panel of community members and

school district representatives elected Ginger Cowart, who teaches business and computer technology courses at the Fallin Career and Technology Center, the district’s overall teacher of the year, Superintendent Anthony Morris said.

Cowart goes beyond the scope of her job description to make herself and her classroom available to students before and after the bell rings.

“They use the classroom to prepare for other classes,” she said.

Whether its math help a student needs or a place to print out and organize a report, Cowart is there for her students.

“Even when I know they’re having a hard time in (another subject) I want to get in there and help,” Cowart said.

Cowart said she loves the subject she teaches at Fallin because she is instilling skills students will be able to apply to the real world.

She teaches about inner workings of computers, how to conduct job searches, filling out applications, interviews, balancing checkbooks and more.

Cowart said she did not attend college until age 25, and by then she had a job at a hospital and a bank under her belt.

“It’s really rewarding know students are learning skills they can use,” she said.

Cowart said when she teaches, she wants to prepare students for the future. And the future of her students is as important as the future of her children.

“I try to teach students like I want my children taught,” she said.

And like mothers with their children, Cowart is invested in her students’ performance.

“I hold my students accountable,” she said.

Teaching on an individual basis helps ensure all students get as much out of the class as they can, Cowart said.

The pay off comes when students finally master a project, even if it takes a third attempt to format a brochure correctly, she said.

Reward can also come years later.

“There’s nothing better than coming into a store and hearing my name from a student I had 11 years ago,” Cowart said.

Cowart’s effectiveness is apparent is that she cares for her students, and she also enjoys being around them.

“I like the atmosphere of learning, students the themselves; they’re just fun to be around.”

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Natchez High School history teacher Ambreya Noble discusses the amendments to the constitution to her class.

Ambreya Noble — Natchez High School

Natchez High’s teacher of the year Ambreya Noble, said the key to being an effective teacher has more to do with love for her students than textbooks and technology.

“You have got to have love for them and they have to know it,” Noble said.

Noble said it makes her day when she sees one student suddenly grasp a concept with which they have been struggling.

“A student recently told me, ‘Ms. Noble I see the glow in your eye (when we learn), and it makes my day,’” Noble said.

Discipline can be a challenge, but Noble said she has learned that when a student is angry about an issue that might not have anything to do with U.S. Colonialism, she knows not to buck back.

Instead she uses a scripture to guide her.

“A soft answer turns away wrath,” Noble recalled.

Noble said before test scores returned, and the fact that her class had a 96-percent passing rate became known, not many on campus knew who she was.

“I work diligently behind the scenes,” Noble said.

“I have to be whatever (students) need for the day.”

Eric J. Shelton | The Natchez Democrat — Robert Lewis Middle School’s Linda Sherbia, top right, explains a math equation to Mary Moore Friday afternoon during her math class.

Linda Sherbia — Robert Lewis Middle School

Linda Sherbia’s passion for math helps even the biggest math-phobic student apply what they learn to solve problems.

Sherbia, an eighth-grade algebra and pre-algebra teacher, said making sure students absorb a lesson is one of the keys to being an effective teacher.

“I don’t like to leave a lesson until all (of the students) get it,” Sherbia said.

Sherbia cares deeply about what she teaches, so she makes her students care, too.

“I love math. But a lot of people have a phobia of math,” Sherbia said.

Because students today are more active learners, Sherbia said she teaches in a way that they can be engaged.

“I design lessons to capture their attention,” Sherbia said.

Sherbia said when she notices students self-esteem improve from the begging of the year to the end, that is one of her biggest rewards.

Shanetra Jones — Morgantown Elementary

Sixth-grade math teacher Shanetra Jones said her hands-on approach caters to all types of learners.

“I utilize different strategies, I have a passion for (teaching), and I’m very enthusiastic about it,” Jones said.

Jones, one of the younger teachers who in her second year of teaching, said Promethean boards help lessons take on more life.

She said she will do anything from turning around to demonstrate rotation or scooting across the floor in order to help students learn.

“I love teaching because of my students. Just to see that look in their eye and sound of the voice, ‘I get it,’ and to know that they will eventually be successful (adults),” Jones said.

Eric J. Shelton | The Natchez Democrat — McLaurin Elementary teacher Katie Wesley teaches her class.

Katie Wesley — McLaurin Elementary

Katie Wesley earned a star teacher rating for teaching third-grade math and science with a hands on approach.

Wesley said in her class her students “use what they got,” in order to demonstrate actively whatever they are learning.

She said motivating students and keeping a positive attitude also makes her an effective teacher.

“I am a motivator,” Wesley said.

Wesley said her students love her and know she cares for and loves them, so when she tells them they can be whatever they want, they believe it.

Eric J. Shelton | The Natchez Democrat — Frazier Primary School’s Jennifer Haile works with Mercedes McCranie, left, and Kyla Baskin at one of the learning centers inside of her classroom at Frazier Primary.

Jennifer Haile — Frazier Primary School

First-grade teacher Jennifer Haile has been teaching for three years, but she is already a trendsetter among teachers.

Last summer, Haile registered for a website geared toward public school teachers, DonorsChoose.org, in order to apply to receive extra educational materials for her classroom.

Donors around the world viewed Haile’s application and project proposal and chose her Frazier classroom to receive equipment.

She received headphones for a listening center and two sets of math games. And since then six other teachers have registered and received materials.

“(Teaching is not a job to me, its what I love doing,” Haile said. “I wake up thrilled to go to work.”

Eric J. Shelton | The Natchez Democrat — West Primary’s Annie Barnes, top left, prepares to read a book to Jada Duck, from left, Christina Godbald and Brandon Thomas Friday afternoon at West Primary in Natchez.

Annie Barnes  — West Primary School

Annie Barnes has been an educator for 32 years, and she currently works as in staff development and as a reading coach at West Primary.

Barnes said she loves educating primary school students because of their capacity to learn at an early age.

“They’re like little sponges,” Barnes said.

She spends much of her time researching emerging studies of early childhood education and helping teachers apply what she learns.

“I can see effect of staff development, “ Barnes said.

“I feel like I am helping the teachers and they are helping the children.”