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TEACHER OF THE YEAR FINALIST PROFILE: John P. Thomas Teacher Refines Her Skills As She Helps Pre-K Students Learn and Grow

Terrissa Staley It would appear that Terrissa Staley’s story would be another of the all too familiar ones of knowing at an early age that she would become a teacher, but Staley wasn’t quite sure, even if others seemed to think so.

“Throughout school, my teachers would always say that I would become a teacher because I was assertive (and) I loved to help others,” said Staley. “My peers often claimed that I had a gift for simplifying complex skills and knowing numerous strategies for difficult concepts.”

Staley, a pre-kindergarten teacher at John P. Thomas Elementary School, is one of five school-level Teachers of the Year who are in the running for the district-level distinction. The teacher chosen as the 2022-2023 Richland One Teacher of the Year will qualify for consideration for the state title.

“She (Staley) has consistently exhibited the knowledge, skills and abilities required to maximize learning for both students and adults,” said John P. Thomas Principal Selina Latimore. “As a teacher (and) as a learner, she fully understands that unless she is constantly learning and improving her skills and abilities, she cannot effectively impart (what is) necessary for her to be an effective teacher and instructional leader.”

Staley’s teaching mentor, Ayeshah Major, said she is certain Staley is motivated by a genuine desire to be a well-trained educator.

“I have witnessed her consistently seek ways to refine her skills through professional development, trainings and book studies,” said Major.

Whatever she learns, Staley’s colleagues said she shares with them. Staley was asked to create on-demand classroom instructional lessons for students to be used by other teachers throughout the district during the pandemic.

“The videos showcased how to use manipulatives with students in learning vital developmental content in literacy and numeracy,” said John P. Thomas reading coach Clauddie Henryhand-King. “Pre-K teachers use the videos to assist in their delivery of instructional content during virtual learning, which may have been a struggle for them individually.”

Staley’s methods are aligned with one of the tenets of her teaching philosophy – students learn more effectively when they are actively engaged – which requires teachers to be creative and flexible in their approaches. Her active learning strategies include hands-on activities, use of manipulatives, exploration, partner turn-and-talk and experiential learning.

Latimore said Staley understands that telling is not enough. Students must be shown and be given opportunities to try until success is achieved.

“Her methods for imparting knowledge and creating application are inventive and creative,” said Latimore.

Educators are in an optimal position to address what Staley believes is a major education issue – the remission of social-emotional learning (SEL).

“Social-emotional learning is an integral part of education and human development,” said Staley. “When carried out systematically and comprehensively, SEL programming in schools supports caring classroom environments and provide students with varied skills that positively affect academics.”

Staley may have an opportunity for research of the topic while earning her doctorate or National Board certification, which are the next items on her list of things to do.

The new Richland One Teacher of the Year will be announced May 27 during the district’s Celebration 2022 employee recognition event.