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Additional reporting by Larry Chambers, staff.
INDEPENDENCE — Amanda Brewer didn’t always know she wanted to be a teacher.
For years, she wanted to be an architect.
But after discovering her passion for learning and teaching others, Brewer turned from shaping buildings to providing students a solid foundation of knowledge on which to build their futures.
The math teacher at Grayson County High School has been selected the Teacher of the Year for 2010-11.
Steve Cornett, director of instruction and assessment, made the announcement during a reception last May 11 at the GNB Conference Center.
Brewer has taught algebra, geometry and advanced mathematics at Grayson County High School since August 2004.
During her junior and senior years of high school, Brewer realized how much she enjoyed the challenge of academics, she wrote in a portfolio submitted as part of the teacher of the year nomination process.
“I developed a deep respect for my teachers, because their efforts in advancing my understanding helped to magnify my love of learning, continually driving me to grow as a student.”
She found herself helping classmates in high school with their work and explaining concepts, and she realized she had a skill for teaching.
“Helping others succeed in their learning gave me a greater sense of self-confidence and purpose,” she wrote.
Math was her favorite subject, so she decided to focus on that in preparing for her teaching career.
Brewer holds a bachelor of science degree in math, secondary education, from Appalachian State University and a pending master’s degree in the same subject area from the university. She also has a pending National Board Certification for Teachers, to be approved in November.
Brewer says she continues to learn and improve her skills. “When I felt I had grown stagnant in my methods, I decided to pursue a master’s degree… Lacking confidence in my abilities to use technology, I sought additional training.”
Brewer chose teaching grades 8 to 12 because she felt she could make more of a difference in students’ lives.
“Students in high school are at such a critical stage in their lives,” she wrote. “They are trying to figure out who they want to be and what goals they have for their lives.”
Brewer tells the story of a student that was struggling in her geometry class.
She asked guidance counselors and former teachers about his performance in other classes and talked to his parents about making the child a subject of study.
“His parents spoke at the child study meeting about the how the young man struggled for years to succeed in the classroom,” Brewer recalled. “They were grateful that someone had noticed and taken action to give the boy the help he needed.”
The parents decided to have the student tested for special education services and he was accepted into the program. He is now receiving the assistance he needs.
“As a teacher, I have an obligation to keep the students’ best interest in mind,” Brewer wrote. “I make daily decisions on how best to serve the students. I had a positive, noticeable impact in the education of this student, and I consider this to be my greatest contribution in education.”
Brewer says her philosophy of teaching is that each student is an individual with a unique set of characteristics, prior knowledge and needs. Effective teaching requires treating the student “as a person rather than as an object to be filled with facts.”
She believes the classroom environment “should promote respect, trust, positive interaction, fairness and encouragement. It should be a place where students feel comfortable with making mistakes, voicing their concerns and learning from their peers…
“I also believe that effective teaching is enforced when students are given an active role in their learning by having a voice in the content and instructional methods.”
An effective classroom is both flexible and structured, allowing the teacher to adapt, she wrote. “When I realize that a student is having difficulty with a concept, I will try an alternate approach to instruction and slow the pace of instruction to accommodate the student’s needs.”
Brewer said she tries to be a role model for her students, and expect the same things of herself that she expects of them.
“During my first year of teaching, I apologized to the class for raising my voice,” she wrote. “A student said, ‘Ms. Brewer, you are the teacher; you don’t need to apologize.’
“This misconception never left me. I encourage the students to be comfortable with making mistakes, calling attention to my own mistakes...”
Brewer also wrote of her opinions about educational issues, like testing.
While she understands the goal of assessing students’ progress, “I do not believe that a multiple choice test alone reflects a student’s understanding of a subject or that a standardized test can determine a student’s potential to learn.
“As the emphasis on test results continues to grow, teachers must often teach to the test, focusing only on the core concepts and test-taking skills rather than on topics of interest to the students and problem-solving skills...
“Educational leaders and policy makers neglect to communicate effectively with teachers in deciding what policies best suit the needs of students. Teachers are given limited voice in what they believe students should learn or in how the field of education is run. Teachers are unable to claim a sense of ownership in their own field of expertise.”
Brewer also wrote about the lack of funding for public education, preventing schools from having needed resources and forcing them to eliminate positions.
“Despite efforts of teachers and personnel to absorb any negative effects, student learning is adversely impacted. Quality education is imperative for equipping the future generations to be strong and effective citizens and leaders.
“Funding for education is an investment in the future of nation because it ensures the best education of the future leaders. Until policy makers realize this, I fear for the future of education and the future of the country.”
Dr. Elizabeth Thomas, school superintendent, said teacher of the year was a good way to recognize the high quality teachers in Grayson County.
“One of the most important things for our students is to receive a high-quality education and our teachers work hard to provide that education,” Thomas said.
Cornett added, “we have the best kids and the best teacher of anywhere in Virginia in Grayson County.”
Teachers of the year were selected for each of the county’s eight schools. They included: Julie Jones, Baywood Elementary; Melissa Jones, Fairview Elementary; Megan Boyer, Fries School; Jason Spurlin, Grayson County CATE Center; Jerry Young, Grayson Highlands; Angela Douglas, Independence Elementary; Mary Mawyer, Independence Middle; and Brewer.
Each teacher prepared a portfolio which was reviewed and graded by a selection committee, which included Mike Phipps, former assistant superintendent; Judy Greear, director of personnel and operations; Susie Funk, elementary education supervisor; and Cornett.
Each one of the teachers selected for the honor received a $25 Walmart gift card.
Brewer will receive gifts from several area businesses totaling about $1,500.
Donations included: Ace Computers — computer cleanup; Aunt Bea’s Restaurant — $10 gift certificate; Blue Spruce Cleaners — $20 cleaning; Carter Bank & Trust — $25 passbook savings account; CATE Cosmetology — pedicure-manicure; Ciro’s Restaurant — $80 gift certificate; D.W. Wright Insurance — $25 cash prize; Dollywood — two free admission tickets; E&R Oil — $15 gas card; Food City — $50 gift certificate; The Gazette — 6-month subscription; Grandmama’s — $5 meal.
Also, Grayson-Carroll-Wythe Insurance — $25 cash prize; Grayson Express — $15 gift card; Grayson Florist — corsage and teacher bouquet; Grayson National Bank — gift bag; 58 Grocery — $10 gas card; Guynn Furniture — $50 gift certificate; Independence Oil — $50 cash prize; Jesse’s Barber Shop — shampoo/conditioner; Kathy Mendes — piece of art; Lightning Lube — free oil change; Main Street Auto — free oil change and lube; Mundy Insurance — $25 cash prize; New River Realty — $25 cash prize; Ogle’s Restaurant — two dinners.
Also, Pair of Jacks — shampoo/conditioner; Paul’s Restaurant — $20 gift certificate; Pizza Plus — $10 meal certificate; Quick Chek — $25 gas card; Ripley’s Aquarium — four admission tickets; State Farm Insurance — $50 Visa card; Subway — $10 gift certificate; The Declaration — one-year subscription; The Paper Clip — desk chair/office supplies; Walmart — $25 gift card; Walters Drug — $50 gift certificate; Woody’s Pharmacy — $20 gift certificate; and Cassell Realty — $25 cash prize.