One of the highlights of every school year is the selection of the Alabama Teacher of the Year.  The winner spends a large part of the next school year as a spokesperson for education, plus is called upon to make numerous presentations around the state.  They are also the state representative for National Teacher of the Year.

The final four for 2016-17 are: Dawn Davis of Montana Street Academic Magnet School in the Dothan City system; Sandy Deades Ritchey of Crestline Elementary in the Mountain Brook City system; Vinny Chiaramonte of Bumpus Middle School in the Hoover City system and Dana Jacobson of Clay-Chalkville high school in the Jefferson County system.

The title of Teacher of the Year is not one bestowed lightly.  Teachers are first selected by their peers at their own school and then fill out paperwork for the state application process.  The state is divided into eight districts and one elementary and one secondary teacher are chosen for each district.  A selection committee picks the final four after much discussion and study, including videos of the candidates in action.  These four are interviewed by the committee before the final selection.

Dawn Davis has more than 20 years in the Dothan system and says he realized she wanted to teach when she was in the first grade.  She believes that while she can not change the circumstances her students come from, she can change where they are going in life.  “I am not interested in perfecting students, but I am greatly determined to perfect my abilities to encourage goal-based mindsets, so that all children can realize their worth and potential,” she says.

Sandy Deades Ritchey is a literacy coach and works hard to offer unconditional support to her school family, recognizing that each student and teacher has a special gift and serves a purpose in this world.  “A student-centered approach to teaching includes making learning relevant, providing inquiry-based learning, enhancing curriculum with the use of technology, giving student time to reflect, and, most importantly, ensuring success.” she explains.

One thing is certain, you don’t find many high school dropouts being considered for Teacher of the Year.  But that’s the case with Vinny Chiaramonte.  In 1996 Chiaramonte was repeating the 9th grade when he decided to leave school.  But because of the influence of others, he later earned his GED, took the SAT and went to college.  Along the way he decided he could have the most impact working in middle school.  He works hard to instill in his students the confidence he lacked at their age  “Yes, we have content to cover, and, yes, there are standards and benchmarks that must be met.  But a teacher has to be more than about data sets and standards,” he explains.

Dana Jacobson has taught at Clay-Chalkville since 1999.  She believes in uncovering each student’s story because this is key to building rapport and meaningful learning.  Her aim as a teacher is to create an interest in learning and people; a validation of others, not just tolerance; a desire to solve problems and a strong work ethic. He says, Teachers are the visionaries who see that light at the end of the tunnel and find way to help students get to that light.”

We should all take pride in the professionalism each of these people bring to their schools each day.  A professionalism that is sorely lacking in some places in Alabama these days.

This year’s winner will be announced at a ceremony in Montgomery on May 11.