Mobile County Public Schools surprised three teachers in their classrooms Thursday by letting them know that had been named the countywide Teachers of the Year.
They are: Crystal Galloway of Mary B. Austin, the Elementary Teacher of the Year; Tiara Cooper of Phillips Preparatory, the Middle School Teacher of the Year; and Jessica Agnew of Baker, the High School Teacher of the Year.
These teachers were selected by a committee from 89 educators who were named the Teachers of the Year at their respective schools. They will be nominated for Alabama Teacher of the Year, and they will be recognized at an awards ceremony in May.
Here is some information about all three of these top educators.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHER OF THE YEAR: Crystal Galloway, PACE teacher (gifted education) at Mary B. Austin Elementary
Crystal Galloway has a master’s degree in education (specializing in Special Education: Gifted and Talented) from the University of South Alabama and a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Mobile. She started her career as a third-grade teacher at E.R. Dickson Elementary in 2004, switching to gifted education there in 2010 and moving to Mary B. Austin in 2016.
Galloway is known for her innovative lessons that challenge gifted students to think above and beyond the curriculum. One project she leads in the Genius Hour, where she spends one hour a week working with groups on fifth-graders on individual areas of interest. Students pick their own topic, research it and present on it. Topics have ranged from: What are the algorithms to a Rubik’s Cube? How can understanding the effects of endorphins on a person’s mood positively affect the behavior of kids? And how can I encourage people who are physically ill with kind deeds?
“I want my students to see the interconnectedness of the world around them through the lessons that I teach and the tasks that I ask them to complete,” she wrote in her application. “Yes, my class is engaging and we learn a wealth of cool stuff in cool ways, but at the end of the day, my job is about adding to the story of each student and empowering them to shine.”
She also sponsors the Student Council and the Young Entrepreneur Club and is the editor of the school yearbook. She is the school’s lead teacher on the Talents Unlimited model, a program she has presented on at district and international conferences.
MIDDLE SCHOOL TEACHER OF THE YEAR: Tiara Cooper, English teacher at Phillips Preparatory School
Tiara Cooper has a master’s degree in English Language Arts from the University of West Alabama, a master’s degree in science in Graduate Studies from the University of West Alabama, and a bachelor’s degree in English Language Arts from the University of West Alabama. She began her teaching career as an intervention specialist in 2010 at Washington County High School, taught English at Belsaw-Mt. Vernon School for four years and came to Phillips Preparatory in 2015.
Her leadership roles at the school include being the head basketball coach and the former head volleyball coach and athletic director, the Middle School Teacher Team Leader, the ELA Department Chair, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes sponsor and a member of the International Baccalaureate Implementation Team.
Cooper exposes her students to different styles and genres of literature and uses creative ways of studying the texts, from converting Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream into modern vernacular to discussing Rosa Parks: My Story as part of an “Approach to Injustice” lesson.
“It is not uncommon for my students to hear me say, ‘Think beyond the moment and beyond the walls of the classroom. How is this relevant to our daily lives?’” Cooper wrote in her application. “I intentionally implement lessons that connect my students to the world.”
Cooper also began a project at Phillips called “Mail for Maddox,” in which her students create cards, letters and booklets for a terminally ill 14-year-old in Pennsylvania, sending them on holidays. “I just believe that if we continue to provide an expectancy for Maddox that he can and will continue to outlive his death notice,” she wrote. “I believe that Maddox has inspired my students and my colleagues to care for someone outside of self, especially in what seems to be a selfish society. Maddox reminds us to be grateful for life, not take it for granted, and to appreciate each day and the simple things that it brings.”
HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER OF THE YEAR: Jessica Agnew, Math teacher at Baker High School
Jessica Agnew teaches Advanced Placement Calculus and Honors Pre-Calculus to sophomores, juniors and seniors. She has a bachelor’s of science degree in mathematics and secondary education from Spring Hill College and is currently pursuing a master’s of education in school counseling from the University of West Alabama.
A 2006 graduate of Baker, she has taught at the school since 2010. In 2018 she helped create Baker’s ACT preparation curriculum, as well as serving as an athletic academic advisor at the school. She has been a part of Baker’s mentor teacher program since 2015, and has served as a cheerleading coach and assistant cross country and track coach during her time at the school.
In her time as an AP Calculus teacher, Agnew’s students have enjoyed great success on the AP Calculus exam, scoring a qualifying score of 3 or higher on 86 percent of exams taken.
She believes developing student interest and making learning relevant are two of the most important factors of engaging high school students. One way she addresses this by starting each semester with what she calls a “Door Activity.” She takes the students to the front of the school and they collect — and later graph — data as a group, such as how long it takes the door to open and close as a student enters. They then develop a function to discuss such things as domain, average rates of change and instantaneous rates of change.
“All of these concepts will permeate the calculus curriculum throughout the duration of the course,” she wrote in her application. “It allows us to review many prerequisite skills in a more engaging and innovative way. As we progress through the curriculum, we frequently reference the door activity in an effort to draw on prior knowledge and continue to connect abstract concepts to real-world situations.”
Agnew incorporates a variety of resources into her lessons, such as online assignments through the University of Texas, and a class website that gives students access to PowerPoints, examples, tutorial videos and homework solutions.
And thanks in part to her work to help create Baker’s ACT preparation curriculum, Baker saw an increase in the number of students at or above benchmark on the ACT from 2017 to 2018.