Six JMU students were recognized at the 2013 Teachers of Promise (TOP) Institute on March 22 and 23 in Richmond: Stephanie Cheatham, a graduate student in Elementary Education; Ethan Craft, a graduate student in Middle Education; Caitlin Rotchford, a graduate student in Secondary Education; Sarah Sams, a graduate student in Inclusive Early Childhood Education; Morgan Wells, a graduating senior in Art Education; and Vivian Yun, a graduate student in Secondary Education.
The institute, which was founded in 2002 by members of the Virginia Milken Educator Network, recognized prospective teachers from 21 Virginia schools of education. JMU students were selected and nominated by faculty in their respective departments based on their achievements and teaching potential. One of the primary objectives of the institute is to help future teachers build the foundations for their first classrooms.
The weekend was filled with events for TOP attendees. The institute kicked off with registration at the Science Museum of Virginia. The prospective teachers mixed and mingled with one another and then met with mentor groups. Former Teachers of Promise and Milken Educator Award winners served as mentors, with six to eight prospective teachers per mentor group. Students met with their mentor groups for discussion and reflection throughout the weekend. “I really enjoyed meeting other teachers from other universities and colleges in Virginia and being able to connect and network with others who share the passion of teaching,” said Vivian Yun.
Friday night ended with a gala celebration and pinning ceremony, presided over by Wade Whitehead, the President and Chair of TOP and the Milken Education Network. The prospective teachers were pinned and given cards from students that not only congratulated them on their TOP recognition, but also offered them wise and sometimes comical teaching advice. Sarah Sam’s card read, “Thank you for choosing to be a teacher. I hope you have a fun adventure. Tips- have a colorful room, be funny, be nice, sing songs and wear cute outfits!” Morgan Wells especially enjoyed receiving a card, “My favorite moment was getting that card from the student because that’s when it hit me how much of an impact one person can have on another. I was touched by the student and appreciated her thoughtful reflections on the interactions she appreciates from her teachers.”
Saturday’s events included workshop sessions held at Virginia Commonwealth University. Teachers and administrators led the workshops, where they shared their teaching insights and strategies. The TOP students each chose two workshops to attend from a long list of offerings, although many wished they could attend more.
There were enthralling speakers throughout the weekend. Peter Reynolds, a children’s author, spoke about the importance of creativity. Alex Carter, a superintendent in Colorado and JMU graduate (’94), spoke about exhibiting qualities of an excellent teacher every single day. As Vivian Yun explained, “I really was touched and blown away by Alex Carter’s message. Dr. Carter made it clear to me once again, how it’s all about building relationships with our students!”
Overall, the institute was a way to honor top teacher candidates while also offering them education and support for their future classrooms. Sarah Sams shared her take-away, “This weekend really instilled how important our role is as an educator and how valued we can be in the life of children. After this weekend I feel 110% positive that I am right where I should be.” Ethan Craft explained, “My biggest take away was just being in the presence of great award winning teachers. I was not only able to learn from their various perspectives, but I was also able to realize that these great teachers had the same worries that I currently have entering my first year of teaching. They were able to overcome their worries and the struggles that come with the first year of teaching to become great, award-winning teachers. This certainly served as a refresher for me and gave me more confidence in my own abilities as a teacher.”
It is difficult to summarize all that JMU students gained from their TOP attendance, but Stephanie Cheatham said it best, “The weekend’s events were motivational, well organized, encouraging and overall truly magnificent.”
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