Melissa Collins, Ph.D., a second grade teacher at John P. Freeman Optional School, was recently named 2014 West Tennessee Teacher of the Year by the Tennessee Department of Education.
The state's Teacher of the Year Awards honor teachers for their commitment to students and classroom gains in achievement.
Collins was among the nine finalists recognized by the Tennessee Department of Education during a banquet held earlier this month in Nashville.
A nationally board certified teacher, Collins has served as an educator for 12 years. She has received numerous honors, including the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, National Science Teaching Association Sylvia Shugrue Award and, most recently, the 2013 Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence.
"Words cannot express how I feel to be recognized as West Tennessee Teacher of the Year," Collins said. "I have been recognized on so many levels. However, it feels great to be recognized by your own state.
For me, there's no place like home ... it gives me great pleasure to represent the highly effective teachers we have in the Shelby County School System. I'm only one of many effective educators we have in our district."
Collins said her personal teaching style centers on the belief that every student is unique, and teachers should plan their lessons to accommodate all learning levels.
She's an advocate for integrating technology into daily lesson plans and curriculum as a great way to accommodate different learning levels and styles, as well as to prepare students to compete in today's workforce.
She also believes educators should raise the bar high for all students in order to help close the achievement gap.
"When you expect more, students really do achieve more," said Collins, who also puts a premium on bringing real-world experiences to the classroom.
"For instance, I went to Brazil and I brought back musical instruments to show my students," she said. "During a physical science lesson, I will locate Brazil on the map, permit them to listen to Brazilian music, show pictures, and tell them how the instruments were constructed. As a culminating activity about sound, they will create their own personal instruments."
An advocate of inquiry-based learning, Collins said teachers should create "learning labs" for students that allow them to collaborate in groups – posing questions, formulating hypotheses, recording, reporting and presenting to their peers. She said the learning style is particularly useful for teaching science.
As for teaching at John. P. Freeman Optional School, Collins finds her work environment tremendously fulfilling.
"Each and every day, I find it rewarding to enter my building," she said. "Teachers are busy working with students to boost student achievement. We work collaboratively to ensure that our students are proficient and advanced. The parents collaborate with the teachers to make sure students are successful.
"And my principal, Monica Smith, provides me with the appropriate feedback to ensure that I continue to grow and develop as a teacher."