Bixby District Teacher of the Year Named
By EMILY RAMSEY
TOP TEACHERS: Bixby Public Schools’ District Teacher of the Year is Tamara Crull, left. Bixby’s additional school site Teachers of the Year are, from left, Cathy Peters, Central Elementary; Jessica Jernegan, North Intermediate; Bryan Andrew, Northeast Elementary and Intermediate; Mary Mathes, Central Intermediate; Missy Kannady, North Elementary; Sierra Thompson, 9th Grade Center; and Dee Harris, High School.
Courtesy Bixby Public Schools
Every year, Bixby Public Schools recognizes eight teachers within its district, one from each school site, later naming its District Teacher of the Year, with that teacher going on to compete against other Oklahoma teachers for the title of Oklahoma Teacher of the Year. Although, the job of singling out such a small number of teachers can prove challenging, says Rowland Vernon, director of secondary curriculum. “We’re very lucky to have such a wonderful group of teachers.”
In January, Bixby Public Schools named its District Teacher of the Year: Tamara Crull, who teaches seventh grade English at Bixby Middle School:
Crull chose to enter the education field after realizing her passion for impacting the education of not only her two sons but all students.
She earned her bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma State University in psychology and her master’s from the University of Oklahoma in organizational development. Before her career change, she had worked as the director of human resources for a local company.
She, later, returned to school for certifications in math and English and is currently in her fourth year of teaching, all of those years spent with Bixby schools, the same district that her sons attend.
This year, her oldest son is a student in her seventh grade English class at Bixby Middle School.
“Seventh grade was the hardest year for me growing up,” remembers Crull. For that reason, she wanted to teach that age group, “to help introduce them to the middle school experience and be there for them.”
Crull also enjoys seeing the growth that students experience during the middle school years, and she realizes the tremendous opportunity that presents for molding thoughts. She develops her class curriculum and group discussions in an effort to cause students to leave her class with not just book knowledge but life lessons.
“We don’t do worksheets. My class is interactive,” she says. “I want students to learn to think on their own, learn how their actions affect others, let their minds develop and cause them to question.”
After spending 25 years in the journalism field, working as a writer, graphic designer and photographer, Dee Harris finally felt like she was ready to enter the classroom, she says. “Teaching had always been in back of my mind since college, but I didn’t feel like I had enough to offer.”
Harris came to Bixby High School in 2010 and began teaching English and yearbook but soon morphed into the creator of the school’s journalism program. “I’ve learned more in the last four years than I have in the past 20,” says the Oklahoma City native.
Harris currently teaches journalism, broadcasting and newspaper production courses.
“I love the ability to get kids excited about what I’m passionate about, which is storytelling whether that’s through photos or video or the written word,” says Harris.
However, she’s quick to point out that her courses are broader than an individual may originally think. “I teach students to look critically and analyze information,” she says.
And she is grateful to Bixby schools for allowing her the opportunity.
“I can’t say that I would have gone into teaching if I hadn’t been able to work at Bixby schools, with the progressive way that they’re approaching teaching and their support of my vision, which is to teach 21st-century learning skills,” says Harris.
9th Grade Center:
A mission trip to China changed Sierra Thompson’s future plans from working in physical therapy to teaching.
“I found that I had a passion working with teenagers,” she says.
After returning from China, she changed her major at Northeastern State University to English Education. The first job she found was teaching ninth graders at Union Public Schools, which turned out to be the right age group for her.
“Freshmen are at that age where they are growing and maturing through the year,” she says. “They’re experiencing the new concept of high school, learning new study skills.”
She came to Bixby schools four years ago to teach pre-AP English at the Ninth Grade Center.
Thompson also has a passion for English: “the creativity, the analysis, reading something to understand the intentions of the author. It’s fun to teach those things.”
When her students leave her for 10th grade, she hopes that she has prepared them for their future years through improved study and writing skills.
Regarding her enjoyment of her job, Thompson gives a long list of things she’s grateful for: “I work for a spectacular school district and the best administrators, my colleagues challenge me, I love the kids, the content I teach, and the challenge of teaching over 100 kids and meeting all of their needs and learning styles. I want to make sure they’re successful and are getting a good education.”
Sixth grade science teacher Mary Mathes was often told that she would be a good teacher, but her dyslexia kept her from attending college after high school. She held various jobs through the years, as she and her family moved around the country due to her husband’s job.
It took the events of Sept. 11, 2001, for her to reconsider her priorities. While she and her husband had been living out of state for years and had always talked about moving back to Oklahoma, it had yet to occur. “I was pregnant with our third child at that point,” says Mathes. “I went to my husband that day and said, ‘We need to think about moving back home.’”
Mathes also began reconsidering her employment future: “9/11 also helped me to change my attitude to ‘I can do it.’”
She and her family returned to Oklahoma, settling in Tulsa in February 2003; Mathes started attending college in August. She earned her elementary education degree from Northeastern State University with certifications in math and science, graduating “with honors with a 3.97 ,” she says proudly.
Mathes began teaching at Bixby schools in 2007.
Her struggles with a learning disability help her in the classroom in a number of ways, she says.
She is able to pass on the study skills that have helped her to deal with dyslexia to both her students who suffer with learning disabilities and those who don’t. In addition, Mathes’ story shows students that they can succeed no matter what they struggle with. “They see that I did it, so they can too. It gives them hope and tells them not to let it define them.”
Twenty-seven-year teacher Cathy Peters grew up planning to become a teacher. She also knew early on that she would teach special education.
It takes a level of patience and understanding that not all people have, she says, as well as a lot of nurturing and encouragement that is needed in education in general but especially in special education.
Of her 27 teaching years, 24 of them Peters has spent with Bixby schools, where she has worked with students of varying ranges in age and challenge. She currently works with first- through third-grade students. She oversees the school’s resource lab, where students receive specialized, one-on-one attention.
“It’s so gratifying to see students progress and how they grow and become socially adept and learn how to use their communication skills: talking and interacting with their peers and adults, gaining self-confidence, becoming more well-rounded: I get great joy from that,” she says.
Peters also enjoys the many relationships she has formed through the years, including many parents she has known for almost 20 years ago whom she still hears from and receives updates on her former students.
Her strong involvement with the Special Olympics allows her further opportunities to build and maintain relationships with students and parents. She oversees the program’s activities involving Bixby students and teachers and has seen the program’s student involvement continue to grow each year. This year, she expects student participation to increase to 65, up from 49 last year.
Fifth grade reading teacher Jessica Jernegan has two teachers that she credits with putting her onto the road of teaching. Her first grade teacher made the initial impact. “I remember being nervous going to school for a full day. But she put students at ease,” says Jernegan. “That showed me the importance for teachers to go beyond teaching; she cared about us socially.”
Similarly, Jernegan makes efforts to visit her students at their extracurricular activities. Jernegan references one past student whom she watched play baseball. “To see him outside of class allowed me to get to know a different side of him.”
She also credits her Spanish teacher, who Jernegan remembers was working toward earning her board certification. “That showed me that she wanted to keep advancing and to not be complacent but keep learning.” She was also one of Jernegan’s only teachers that asked for student feedback, a practice that Jernegan now uses with her students.
Jernegan is in her sixth year of teaching, all of those years spent with Bixby Public Schools. Her first four years, however, she spent as a fourth grade teacher before moving to fifth grade reading two years ago.
“I always planned to teach upper elementary because the age group is so excited, and you can joke with them but they’re still sweet,” she laughs. And she enjoys encouraging reading within her students. “I want my students to take away from my class a love of reading and learn to consider the bigger questions or life lessons in a book,” she says.
Music teacher Missy Kannady always had an affinity and talent for music. Growing up, she was a singer with dreams of performing. However, her love of music combined with her love of teaching helped her realize where she really needed to be: the classroom.
“I always played school when I was a little girl,” she says. “And I had good music teachers who encouraged me to pursue music.”
Kannady now teaches at Bixby schools with two of those teachers: Rosalyn Dittman and Anna Coffman. When Kannady’s music students leave her after third grade, Coffman is the teacher they see next in fourth grade at North Intermediate. “I tell them that I had Ms. Coffman, and they think that’s neat,” she says.
Kannady attended Oklahoma City University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in music education. She attended the school at the same time as Kristin Chenoweth and even sat next to her in choir class: “We all knew she (Chenoweth) would make it big,” Kannady says.
Kannady is in her fourth year at Bixby schools. She previously taught in Norman, Okla., and at Union Public Schools before taking time off to have her two children. “I knew that when I started having kids I wanted to be in Bixby,” she says. And when she returned to work, Bixby schools was her first choice.
Northeast Elementary and Intermediate:
Fifth year physical education teacher Bryan Andrew also began teaching later in his career. He spent 25 years working in the grocery industry and 20 years as a little league softball coach.
As he grew tired of the long hours in his field, his years working with kids as a coach caused him to start thinking about teaching. “I can relate to kids,” he says. “Not everyone is meant to be a teacher but I feel like I am.”
So he earned his physical education degree from Northeastern State University. However, while “I’ve always been athletic,” he says, “only about 25 percent of my students might be athletes.”
With that knowledge, Andrew is focused on making exercise and health accessible to all of his students.
Instead of asking students to engage in the typical p.e. activities, like basketball and dodgeball, Andrew endeavors to engage his students in new and not-so-common p.e. activities, such as relaxation exercises.
“I want to reach the kids who are not athletic and teach them what it means to be healthy and how to get that way.”