In decades to come, second-graders at Oak Gove Elementary School will recall the positive influence of one such instructor. She is Bridgett Burris, a likable schoolteacher whose professional ethics and incredible spirit of caring have earned her the prestigious Lillie F. Fitzgerald Excellence in Teaching Award.
The presentation came at an appropriate time and in a heartwarming setting — last week’s teacher in-service training for the Bradley County Schools system.
The annual award is made possible by Dr. Rodney and Margo Fitzgerald in memory of Rodney’s mother who taught English and speech at Bradley Central High School for 37 years. The award is given through the Bradley Cleveland Public Education Foundation. Its recipient each year is a teacher employed within either the Cleveland City or Bradley County school systems.
This year’s winner, who not only receives the impressive recognition but also a $3,000 check, is the epitome of what quality teaching is all about.
In the youthful, award-winning instructor’s own paraphrased words upon accepting the honor, she has taken life’s lessons and deployed them into her classroom. She is to be commended for taking such a down-home and relevant approach in reaching out to these youngsters whose futures hinge on their role models in life.
In a public classroom, the finest role models are the teachers who borrow from their own pasts and mold their lessons in life into a teaching aid far more informational than any stand-alone textbook.
One of the criteria used in determining a winner of the Excellence in Teaching Award is identifying an instructor who “... communicates effectively across all racial, cultural and economic backgrounds.”
Bridgett Burris fits this call as well as any, and in the young instructor’s own words, “My profession single-handedly saved me from a vicious cycle of poverty, drugs and self-destruction.”
She added, “My journey as a teacher has not always been joyous or easy, but I consider it a sweet privilege that I would not trade for any corporate position at a famous firm.”
Her humility is her foundation.
Her uncanny ability to learn from her own experiences is one to be admired not only by her fellow teachers in our Cleveland and Bradley County hometown, but statewide and throughout the teaching profession of our proud nation.
Her keen sense of camaraderie with her students, strengthened even more through her own memories of childhood and family challenge, is a rare and precious gift that will go far in her development as not only a caring teacher but an innovative teacher who is making a difference.
She was nominated by one who is quick to recognize the natural talent, the dedication and the overall presence of those who are destined to become quality teachers. He is Ted Bryson, newly retired principal at Oak Grove Elementary School who gave 30 years of his life to public education, to thousands of students during his long tenure and to a legion of teachers who looked to his leadership and personal model in defining their own career goals.
We will have more to say about the Lillie F. Fitzgerald Excellence in Teaching Award. But for now, let us offer our congratulations to a young woman who delivers an unparalleled work ethic and an endearing personal passion, each day that she arrives to work and every minute she spends shaping the lives and minds of our impressionable children.
Thank you Bridgett Burris, not just for your work but for your willingness to teach the lessons to others that life has taught to you.