Friday, February 13, 2009

Teacher of the Year Finalists Named

From 29 contenders to three finalists, the journey to find Fayette’s 2009 Teacher of the Year has begun.

Three unsuspecting teachers were surprised on February 6 as the Teacher of the Year prize patrol made its way around the county announcing this year’s finalists: Pamela Kinzly, Whitewater High; Dr. Carol Taylor, Rising Starr Middle and Dr. Lisa Gonzalez, Robert J. Burch Elementary.

A panel of independent judges, including last year’s winner, Kim Fisher from J.C. Booth Middle, chose the three finalists based on applications they submitted after being nominated Teacher of the Year at their respective schools.

The next step in the process involves a classroom observation and one-on-one interview with the judges. The judges independently score each finalist and then their scores are added together to determine the winner. The 2008 Teacher of the Year will be announced on April 23 at a ceremony at New Hope Baptist Church, North Campus. Here is a brief overview of the finalists.

Although she says she made the decision to become a teacher while a college sophomore, Pamela Kinzly says she spent her days as a young child teaching a classroom full of imaginary students as she completed her homework assignments.

Kinzly, a math teacher, says she doesn’t teach math because she has an extreme love for the subject, but because she has an extreme love for people. By teaching math, she says she is also teaching important problem solving skills that students can use in real life.

“While we are solving quadratic equations the underlying life skill is problem solving: the ability to set up a problem, weigh options, choose a solution and use resources to find the answer,” she says. “Not every student that I teach will go into a profession that requires calculus but every student will need problem solving skills.”

One way Kinzly teaches these life skills is through an activity she calls group grades. Students work in groups to help each other master a particular topic. She encourages students to use their resources instead of simply asking for the answer.

“Students have admitted that, at first, this process is frustrating because they do not get a quick answer, but I have heard numerous times that they are later grateful for these activities when test day comes and they feel confident to complete the questions,” she says.

Kinzly has been a teacher for six years and has taught in Fayette for five.

Dr. Carol Taylor, also a math teacher, says it was a high school English teacher who influenced her decision to become an educator. She says her teacher had a passion for learning, expected and received a high level of commitment from her students and enjoyed a great rapport with them.

“I have worked hard to model her level of exemplary teaching and learning to affect my students the way she affected my life. She instilled my own passion for learning and that passion is reflected in my teaching,” she says.

Like fellow math teacher Kinzly, Taylor likes group work because of the higher-level thinking that occurs as students collaborate and communicate with each other. The groups also help her understand the knowledge of students as she listens to their discussions and watches their actions.

“My classroom abounds with noise from student inquiry, argument, agreement, clarification, challenge, explanation and collaborative checking which all contributes to students’ understanding of mathematical concepts,” she says.

For Taylor, teaching encompasses more than the one year she has with her students. She says teaching for her means building relationships and affecting students’ lives for a lifetime by caring, encouraging and supporting them in all aspects of their lives.

Taylor has been an educator for 19 years, all with the Fayette County School System.
Unlike her fellow finalists, Dr. Lisa Gonzalez, ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) teacher, always said she would never be a teacher. Many members of her family were educators, so she wanted to be different. However, education found her when, as a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, she decided to pursue a major in Spanish through a new Bilingual Bicultural Education program.

“It appears that teaching was in my blood. My first entrance into a classroom convinced me of that,” she says. “I love to see my perfect students, my wonderful students, my hardworking students progress socially and academically.”

Gonzalez says she believes in giving students the tools they need to find what they want to know, combining as many skills as possible into each activity, and getting students to take ownership of their learning. All of the techniques and activities she uses in the classroom are geared toward building students’ confidence.

“We [teachers] have the ability to make or break a child’s spirit. We have the ability to instill a love of learning or a disdain for any thing academic. It is our responsibility to make sure our actions encourage students to want to do their best,” she says.

Students know if they are learning and if a teacher is being effective. That’s why Gonzalez feels it is important for teachers to get feedback from their students about how they are doing. Using a report card format, she has asked past classes to rate her performance as a teacher.

“The results were always very interesting because I was able to see how I had impacted each child. Students know if a teacher likes them and wants the best for them. We, as educators, should not fear feedback from the ones we affect the most,” she says.

Gonzalez has been an educator for over 30 years. She has taught in Fayette for 13 years.
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