Christy Duncan, an English as a second language teacher at Mayfield Elementary School, was named the recipient of the Lillie F. Fitzgerald Excellence in Teaching Award at an in-service meeting for Cleveland City school teachers Tuesday.
The award is given each year by the Bradley Cleveland Public Education Foundation to “recognize and encourage teaching excellence in the classroom.” Its namesake was a local teacher for 37 years and earned a place in Tennessee Teachers’ Hall of Fame. Parents, students and peers nominate teachers for the award. The award winner receives a check for $3,000 which can be used for anything the teacher desires.
Dr. Rodney Fitzgerald, the son of the late Lillie F. Fitzgerald, told school staff members assembled for the meeting about how Duncan had made an impact on the lives of her students and their families.
Among other accomplishments he mentioned, Fitzgerald told stories of how she had helped establish better communication with students’ parents by adding events like an ESL Family Night and had begun to incorporate classroom activities that would allow her students to have fun while they learned.
He said this was no small feat as she was the only ESL teacher of 73 students who spoke 10 different languages last year. While working to keep them engaged in their work, Duncan taught students how to speak, read and write English more proficiently.
“This teacher realizes that her students have many gaps in their educational backgrounds,” Fitzgerald said. “They have not grown up reading books at bedtime, visiting museums or taking family trips during the summer, so she tries to create a classroom rich in literature and experiences they might not normally have.”
Fitzgerald made the presentation during tthe in-service meeting held at North Cleveland Church of God.
“This is definitely overwhelming and unexpected,” Duncan said. “Some of you have even been my former teachers.”
She thanked everyone in attendance for their support of her — especially those who had impacted the lives of her and her family members.
Duncan’s family was also in attendance, including her mother who was also a teacher.
“My mother was a former student of Mrs. Fitzgerald, so I know this is special to her as well,” she said.
Also at the meeting, City Schools superintendent Dr. Martin Ringstaff thanked teachers for their work during the previous year and gave them his list of things he felt needed to happen this coming year.
First, they were told to realize that all children in their classrooms can and want to learn new things.
Second, they were told they need to share their goals for the year and listen to what students have to say about those personal goals.
Third, teachers were told they should make sure students know how they fit in their vision for the year. That was said to help students learn to take personal ownership of their own learning experiences.
“We as the adults in this school system need to make sure that happens,” Ringstaff said.
A variety of other people spoke at the meeting as well, including students from the Boys & Girls Clubs and representatives of organizations that invited teachers to either donate to them or apply for classroom grants.
In-service continues at each city school for the remainder of the week.