After being named the top elementary teacher in East Tennessee by the Tennessee Department of Education, Woodland Elementary second-grade teacher Nancy Miles is ready to represent the area as she moves closer to claiming the prestigious title of Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year.
“It’s exciting right now because I feel like this is an opportunity for me to be the face of the Johnson City system and for people in Nashville to really look at what is so good in this district,” she said.
The recognition means a lot for Miles, who has taught at Woodland Elementary for eight years. But it’s a recognition that Miles said any teacher at Woodland could’ve received.
“It’s very humbling, because I really feel like I don’t do anything different in this classroom that (second-grade teacher) Mary Archer doesn’t do across the hall, that Robin Adams doesn’t do in kindergarten, that Kathy Calhoun doesn’t do in fifth grade, so to be honored by your peers was truly an honor,” she said.
The nine finalists announced last week are the top elementary, middle and high school teachers from West, Middle and East Tennessee. Grand Division winners and Teacher of the Year will be chosen from that group this fall.
Miles’ Teacher of the Year journey began in December when she was chosen by her peers at the building level at Woodland. Since then, she’s written a total of eight essays as she’s moved up from the district level to the regional level.
“I don’t feel like there’s anything special that I do, but I feel very fortunate and privileged to represent the hard-working teachers that we have at not only this school but across the district,” she said.
Miles worked in marketing for about 15 years before she joined the ranks of the Johnson City school system in fall 2003.
“I was ready to do something more than just be at home all the time. I really just started volunteering at their (her children’s) school, and one of their teachers asked me if I had ever thought about going into teaching,” she said.
That question sparked something in Miles, and soon thereafter she was enrolled at East Tennessee State University, where she received her master’s degree.
“It was perfect for me, because it was a two year program. It was great to be able to go back and get that master’s and start teaching at a master’s pay,” she said.
From the beginning of her teaching career, Miles knew all she wanted to teach was early elementary school, mainly for the emphasis that’s put on reading and language in kindergarten and first and second grades.
“I just thought I really love elementary, because I like seeing them figure out what that letter says, what happens when you put words together and form a sentence; then they look up at you and you can tell that they just read that — that’s exciting,” she said.
After her class found out she was in the running for Teacher of the Year, they, of course, wanted to know if they could have a party to celebrate.
And there will likely be another party once Miles returns from the awards banquet in the fall.
But parties and awards don’t mean nearly as much to Miles as the joy she gets from watching her kids grow to love learning.
“Truly, what I want them to feel and to be when they leave my room is that they absolutely love school, because if you’ve got them loving school, they’ll want to learn,” she said.
The Teacher of the Year program is sponsored in partnership with the Niswonger Foundation, which provides a monetary award to encourage professional development, graduate study, higher student outcomes and mentoring.
The final winner will represent Tennessee in the National Teacher of the Year competition and is an ambassador for education throughout the year.