by Bernadette Shinault-Davis
Special to The New Tri-State Defender
"I teach. I am leading the change," is one of the many slogans for the Memphis City School's initiative to recognize and celebrate educators who are making a difference in the Memphis City School system. Teachers nominate and vote for their colleagues based on the quality of their day-to-day contributions to teaching, learning and student achievement.
"One of the things the campaign strives to do is to bring back the prestige to the teaching profession," said Dr. Sherrish Holloman, MCS's teacher support coordinator.
The "I teach. I am" campaign can be seen throughout Memphis on buses, bus shelters, transits, billboards, websites and schools. The 2012 Prestige Award ceremony held Tuesday (Sept. 11) at Memphis Botanic Garden is part of the campaign. The umbrella for it all is the Teacher Effectiveness Initiative – a district-wide commitment to dramatically improve student growth and achievement by ensuring that a well-prepared, highly effective professional instructor is in every classroom.
"We cannot afford to lose any of our effective teachers while we are on the path of growing our other teachers, said Tequilla Banks, TEI executive director.
Nominees for the "I teach. I am" Prestige Awards range from first-year teachers to veteran educators with 30 plus years of service with MCS.
"We are absolutely committed to recognizing our top performers so that we can retain them in our district," said Banks.
Rosemary Winters, a 2011 and 2012 awards recipient and a teacher at Ford Road Elementary, said no teaching honor she ever has received compares to the Prestige Awards "because my peers selected me to represent them. And no one knows better than teachers the challenges we face in our classrooms, the district and the community."
Erica Bryant, a Westside Middle School winner, said she was new to the school and "had no idea the work I was doing impacted other teachers." She credits the "I teach. I am" campaign for positively affecting the climate among teachers and students at her school. "The environment has changed around the school, teachers are doing more," said Bryant.
The honorees – 130-plus – earlier received photo shoots as part of the prize packages. The images are featured in the public service ads visible throughout the city.
Keith Williams, Memphis Education Association president, reminded honorees that they were the heart and soul of teaching.
"It is extremely heartfelt for us to recognize some of the most effective teachers in the district and in the classrooms in this school system, you are indeed the leaders of the pack," said Williams.
A special tribute was given to Kellee Davis, a former Hawkins Mill Elementary School teacher and 2012 honoree, who taught until May 2012 when Osteosarcoma (bone cancer) took her life. Melanie Nelson, Hawkins Mill's principal, said Davis really cared for her students and their wellbeing.
Superintendent Kriner Cash wrapped up the 2012 Prestige Awards ceremony. He told the honorees that they were part of one of the best professions and to be encouraged about the work they do.
"I teach. I am" inspires me every day, you inspire me," said Cash, who also encouraged teachers to stay in the MCS school system. "You are irreplaceable."
Cash said the campaign to encourage outstanding teachers would be ongoing and also includes efforts to make sure they have the tools needed to continue to be effective for students.
Everybody is talking about Memphis and the work teachers are doing for the students in the Memphis City School System, he said.
Their own words
"I think the campaign is a good way for the community to see that we have really good teachers and recognize their hard work."
– Vicki Houlihan, Avon Lenox Special Education Schools
"It pushes you to continue to want to do things to better yourself and your students."
– Theodore Williams, Kirby Middle School
"There is no greater honor than from the people you work with everyday.... "These are the people that work hands on with you every day and see the work you do. These are the people that have faith in you."
– Shawn Hayes, Fairley Elementary Scho\ol