Tech’s education alumni earn top honors and embrace change

COOKEVILLE – College of Education alumni at Tennessee Tech University are earning top honors in school districts across the state. Key factors to that success are their ability to embrace change, and the preparation and foundation they received at Tech according to alumni.

“I have had the privilege to be teaching for 19 years so I have seen several changes happen. One of the biggest changes is the use of more technology in the classrooms by the students and the teachers on a daily basis,” Jennifer Peek, Putnam County School System’s Elementary School Teacher of the Year, said.

In the PCSS all three 2022 Teachers of the Year are Tech alumni. Peek was joined by Charity Bowie, the middle school winner, and Taylor Key was named at the high school level.

Peek, who is a special education Pre-K teacher Sycamore Elementary School, credits Tech for preparing her for her education and said the practicums really put into place everything that she was learning in the college classroom.

“I had several wonderful professors during my experience at TTU that had worked with children with special needs before and really understood how to work with the children and reach them no matter the disability,” Peek said. “The professors made sure to place us in a variety of classrooms so we could see how to work with all ages of students and different types of disabilities.”

Peek said another change is the expectations of the students in lower grades. When she started teaching, students in kindergarten were just being taught their letters and sounds.

“Now we teach that in Pre-K and students are reading more fluently in kindergarten,” Peek said. 

Bowie, who is a sixth grade English language arts teacher at Upperman Middle School, said that teaching is a profession that requires a lot of intuition and in-the-moment decisions and credits Tech for preparing her for that. She said the best way is to watch others teach, to teach yourself, and to experience the daily challenges for yourself.

“Dr. Julie Baker did a phenomenal job of teaching strategies to use in the classroom, and she modeled those strategies with prospective teachers,” Bowie said. “No one can teach you how to think on your feet, you just have to watch it done by someone who knows more than you and then practice it yourself. Student teaching is a start for this.”

Bowie said that a key to being a happy teacher is to embrace change. She said it’s necessary to keep trying until you find the best for the students, which is why the adoption of several different curriculums takes place over the years.

“I think rolling with the changes and staying focused on the students, not the curriculum, is a crucial part of the job,” Bowie said.

Key, who is a family and consumer science teacher at Upperman High School, said the faculty and staff at Tech were supportive and eager to help. She credits Melinda Swafford, her advisor, with helping her write unit plans, lesson plans, and strong objectives, as well as preparing high quality activities.

“I learned that technology is ever changing, and you must keep up with it to be successful in the classroom,” Key said.

Key said that the use of technology has been a change in education. While she had used technology in the past, that use increased dramatically during the pandemic. She, like teachers across the nation, had to learn how to teach her students remotely using video and different software programs. She also had to become more familiar with online learning platforms.

Tech alumnus Rick Duffer was recently selected as the new director of schools in Macon County. In Cumberland County, alumnus William Stepp was recently selected as the new director of schools.

Tech’s College of Education offers nationally accredited and recognized degrees, creating professionals who are leaders in education, administration, research, psychology, and allied health services. Their alumni can be found in school districts throughout Tennessee and across the United States.

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