January 29, 2018
The 2018 new year is off to a great start, with 15 TFA teachers named 'Teacher of The Year' and 'Rookie Teacher of the Year' at their schools. Read about the incredible impact they've had on their communities and how their students are impacting them as well!
‘Rookie Teacher of the Year’ is an award given each year to one new first through fifth year teacher at each Miami-Dade County Public School (MDCPS) who demonstrates extraordinary teaching ability. It is awarded alongside the prestigious ‘Teacher of the Year’ award. Both awards are selected by a faculty voting committee at the school, and ultimately, two finalists are selected by the overall district in late January. Earning the distinguished title of Rookie Teacher of the Year at your school is a competitive two round process, which includes submitting an application and presenting student artifacts to support each teacher’s nomination.
We are proud to announce that fourteen Teach For America Miami-Dade teachers have received Rookie Teacher of the Year and one has received the Teacher of the Year award! We had many additional TFA Miami-Dade teachers also nominated for the award. This award is a true testament to our leaders going beyond traditional expectations to advance the academic and personal growth of their students and help to strengthen their schools.
What makes this already meaningful award even more special are connections a few of these teachers share with their schools and the MDCPS community. Check out the spotlights below to learn more about a few of our phenomenal teachers who are also Miami natives and the profound impact they are having in classrooms across Miami!
A few TFA teachers who received the Rookie Teacher of the Year Award this year are teaching in the same schools they went to growing up! Over 70% of TFA Miami-Dade teachers share the background of their students, paving the way for profound impact with students and families across M-DCPS. We are lucky to have many corps members who also call Miami-Dade their hometown, including Rookie Teachers of the Year Kala Jones, Paul Dalberry, and Karen Fernandez.
Kala Jones (Miami-Dade '15) is in her third year teaching English at her alma mater, Miami Northwestern Senior High. Ms. Jones explains how incredible her experience teaching has been since returning to her roots:
“I never joined TFA for the possible accolades or acknowledgement; I just knew that I wanted to teach in my hometown. So, to be considered the "teacher of the year", after three years, is truly a honor that I will cherish for many years to come. I believe that even if only one scholar gets something out of a class conversation, lecture or project, then I have done my job, but this honor lets me know that I am exceeding my goal, and I couldn't be more proud. This honor is that much sweeter, because I was awarded it at the very same school I attended, in the community I was raised in and by teachers who taught me. I couldn't have picked a better situation!”
“A scholar recently told me that the class he took with me in his freshman year set the pace for his personal standards for his work. He went into detail in explaining that I gave so much work and held them to such a high standard that even after he switched schools his sophomore year, he couldn't bring himself to do any less.”
Teaching isn’t just a one-way street. Ms. Jones says she learns a lot from her students who inspire her daily with their perseverance.
“All of my scholars inspire me in one way or another, but already this year, I have had quite a few students lose parents, experience homelessness, battle with depression, suffer miscarriages and so much more, yet they still persevere. They smile through it all, get back up and continue their journey to academic freedom. Some of their circumstances are enough to put even the strongest adult down for a while, but they are at school everyday, managing multiple AP classes and choosing to look for and live in the silver lining of it all. I often tell them that I only wish I had their strength at their young age and I know many adults who would agree. My scholars are some of the most resilient individuals I know, and I am so proud to be their teacher.”
Across town, Paul Dalberry (Miami-Dade '16) is in his second year teaching Language Arts at his old school, Cutler Bay Middle. He describes the affirmation of winning Rookie Teacher of the Year in the same community in which he grew up by saying,
“I am lucky enough to be teaching at the middle school I attended a little over a decade ago, teaching in the very classroom that fueled my now completed degree in Public Relations. Being as fortunate as I am, I take every opportunity to be the best teacher that I can be. While teaching language arts is a very important part of my duty, it is not the part that I take the most pride in. Being an ally and advocate for my students is by far the most rewarding part of my job here at CBMS. To be be voted ‘Rookie Teacher of the Year’ reaffirms my belief that I am doing the right thing for my students. It shows me that although some people may not understand why I ‘go hard’ for my students, there are a good amount of people who do understand. It feels nothing short of amazing to be voted RTOTY, but it feels even better to have my students come to me and let me know that they agree with the vote and say they knew I'd win the award.”
Karen Fernandez (Miami-Dade '17) is in her first year teaching 3rd grade Reading and the Rookie Teacher of her school, Melrose Elementary. Ironically, her former teacher, Molly Winters Diallo, received the MDCPS Teacher of the Year Award this year as well. A former teacher and her student, sharing the achievement of being inspiring educators is an incredible pattern we hope will continue as our leaders work towards educational equity!
Fernandez’s former teacher explains the feeling of seeing a former student follow in her footsteps, “This is coming full circle, and it’s a beautiful thing.”
Like 77% of TFA Miami-Dade teachers, Ms. Fernandez shares the background of her students in addition to being a Miami native. Like her TFA peers, Jones and Dalberry, she attributes her teaching success to her ability to learn and grow from her students.
“I see a lot of myself in my students and we can relate on many levels; there are some parts of their lives that I will never be able to fully comprehend. So, they inspire me everyday with their grit and eagerness to learn despite everything else they might be facing in their personal lives. Overall, I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of their journey and to continue learning from them and alongside them."
We are lucky to support have these awesome corps members who work every day to be great teachers to ensure students can realize their full potential.
Teaching is a profound act of leadership in the long fight for educational equity and excellence. Stay tuned to learn more about how our leaders are impacting educational equity inside and outside of the classroom. Follow @TFAMiamiDade’s social media to hear the voices of more outstanding Teachers of the Year!