December 2015 Winner - Teresa Davis:(West Lauderdale Elementary School)


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Meridian Star Article

By Bill Graham

When Teresa Davis graduated from college more than 25 years ago, she planned on working as a graphic designer, but she couldn't find steady employment.

So she started teaching kindergarten.

Davis had no idea the job would take her into many different classrooms during a long career as an educator. Her journey was highlighted when the West Lauderdale Elementary School teacher was named December's Golden Apple Teacher at a surprise ceremony earlier this month.

"Oh my gosh, I wore my sweatshirt today of all days," Davis said with a laugh after the announcement. "But I was very humbled. I work with a great group of ladies, and I feel like there were so many more people that were deserving."

"She's phenomenal," said Rosemary Harris, the school's principal. "And soft-spoken, very caring and compassionate. She expects the absolute best out of children. And she pushes to get it. She's loving and caring but she's firm; she's the kind of teacher you want on your staff."

In her 24 years in education, Davis has taught kindergarten, second grade, third grade, and fourth grade, as well as eighth grade art and high school English. For the past two years, she's been an inclusion teacher at West Lauderdale Elementary, where she helps students with special needs succeed in the regular classroom.

A class in graduate school at MSU-Meridian piqued her interest in special education.

"I went back to school and had a really interesting class about inclusion in the classroom," she recalled. "So I decided I would take that exam and see if I could pass that and possibly add that to my certification. And a position happened to come open. So I'm very happy there; this is my second year to work with inclusion students and I'm really enjoying it. I like working with the children and seeing that light come on when they actually get something. Maybe they have struggled with something and finally, the "a- ha" moment — 'I got it now' — that's very exciting and rewarding for me as a teacher."

Her favorite part of the job is teaching language arts and reading. "To just turn a student on to love reading and feel confident in reading — that is the bridge to everything else that they learn," she said.

One approach she uses is integrating the curriculum into various activities.

"Basically, it starts with what it is you're actually trying to get the student to learn, and letting them show you how they have learned in a different way," she said. "With my art background, I like to have the paint and the arts and crafts available for students. They really seem to thrive when they are able to be up, moving around, and having hands-on assignments. They seem to remember more about what they have learned when they do that."

"I want the students to enjoy being at school," she emphasized. "I want them to have a positive experience every day. I would like for them to take something home that they feel good about themselves each and every day."

Her advice for new teachers: focus on the basics.

"I always tell teachers the bottom line is, students need to know how to read, how to express themselves in writing and they need to be able to do basic math facts," she said. "Beyond that, everything else is gravy. Our objectives and our benchmarks change from year to year, but those basic things always stay the same."

Lauderdale County Schools Superintendent Randy Hodges said Davis has earned the respect of the community, her students, fellow teachers and administrators.

"That all adds up to one outstanding person," he said. ""I've said before that there's no greater gift you can give a child than an outstanding classroom teacher. That's as good as it gets – and she's one of the best."

The Meridian Star is the December Presenting Partner. The Golden Apple Award is open to any educator, grades kindergarten through 12th grade who works in the following: Lauderdale, Neshoba, Kemper, Clarke, and Newton counties in Mississippi, or Choctaw and Sumter counties in Alabama.

As a Golden Apple winner, Davis received a $300 cash prize, a Golden Apple Trophy, a $150 donation to an "Adopt a Classroom' account and a large school supply donation for her classroom.

The monthly winners will be invited to the Golden Apple Teacher of the Year banquet and that winner will receive $2,500 cash to be used at their discretion and a $2,500 scholarship to be awarded to a deserving student in the teacher's name.