Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson surprised three of the best classroom teachers in Hamilton County on Tuesday as he announced their selection as a Teacher of the Year for the school system. The Teachers of the Year for 2018 are: Samantha Eaton, a kindergarten teacher at Red Bank Elementary, for elementary grades through fourth-grade; Jeanne Manley, exceptional education teacher at Nolan Elementary, for middle grades (fifth-grade through eighth); and Nader Mohyuddin, math teacher at Chattanooga High Center for Creative Arts at the high school level. These three exceptional teachers will now advance to the state level in the Teacher of the Year recognition for Tennessee.
Ms. Eaton has taught at Red Bank Elementary for the past five years, and she has nine years of teaching experience. She considers herself a researcher and loves to search for answers to help her students learn. Six years ago, she asked her school leader the question that started a new adventure for Red Bank and her kindergarten children. She asked, “Have you ever heard of STEAM?” That simple question was a launching point for innovative learning.
“Leaders from across the nation have visited our little school to see the amazing things happening here because of the adventure into learning that began that day,” Ms. Eaton said. She is now leading forest kindergarten using science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) concepts to teach her young learners.
Reading performance has been a consistent high point for student progress in her classroom. At the beginning of the year, 14 of her students were reading below grade level, four were reading on grade level and one was above grade level. December benchmarks showed those numbers completely flipped. Now, only two students are below grade level, six are reading on grade level and 12 are reading above grade level.
“As I developed my forest kindergarten model, I found significant research on the impact that it would have on my students socially, emotionally and academically, but I never thought I would see the impact so quickly,” Ms. Eaton said.
Ms. Manley has taught at Nolan Elementary for the past seven years as an exceptional education teacher, and she has been a teacher in the classroom for 14 years. Ms. Manley’s deep belief that every child can learn is what drives her each day in the classroom. “I first learn about my student in meetings when they are not present by building a relationship with parents and service providers who can provide me with keys to building blocks of success for each child,” Ms. Manley said. “I listen to each parent’s hopes and dreams for their child and recognize my role in striving for that potential.”
Ms. Manley goes to great lengths to motivate her students to engage in learning. “I am not afraid of looking silly,” she said. “Requiring a student to be their best, finding what motivates each to learn, building their trust in me to lead them, and celebrating successes are all important steps in our journey together.”
An example of Ms. Manley’s understanding of her student’s motivation came when the Special Olympics in which her students had trained to participate was canceled due to rain. Ms. Manley sprang into action to hold a Nolan Olympics to let her students showcase their hard work preparing to compete. “I was not surprised when the entire school came together to celebrate the accomplishments of my students," she said.
Mr. Mohyuddin has taught honors geometry, honors applied math and AP calculus for the last four years at Chattanooga High Center for Creative Arts. He has been teaching in the classroom for five years. Mr. Mohyuddin puts the growth mindset front and center in his classroom where he fosters collaboration, allows students to make mistakes, and builds a strong sense of community among his students.
“I remind students that a test is simply a measure of what they were able to show on a particular day and not a definitive judgment on their knowledge or skill,” Mr. Mohyuddin said. “On course evaluations, my students express strong agreement with the idea that their enthusiasm about math has increased as a result of our time together.”
They also scored extremely well on standardized tests. In 2015-16, 58.8 percent of his students were on track for the geometry end of course test, nearly triple the district rate. In 2016-17, 52 percent scored on track while 20.4 percent scored at the mastered level.
Mr. Mohyuddin helped Chattanooga High Center for Creative Arts develop their application that led the school to be one of eight awarded Volkswagen eLabs recently. His concept of what math students in his class could do studying the Tesseract (or hypercube) intrigued the selection committee. “The Tesseract is a 4-dimensional polytope unable to exist in our realm but can nevertheless be projected into it akin to how a 3-D object can cast a flat shadow,” he said. “Designing and building a projection of a Tesseract in the VW eLab would help bridge traditional geometry to higher level modes of synthesis and engineering design for my students.”
The Hamilton County Board of Education will honor the three winners at the February public meeting on Thursday, Feb. 15, and there will also be a special luncheon for the teachers in March to celebrate their accomplishment with family and friends.