Although their personalities and teaching styles differ, Tammy Norman and Melissa Ward have a united passion to give their best each day to motivate and inspire students.
Thanks to their joint commitment to students, Rogers Middle School’s Norman and Dawson High School’s Ward claimed the Pearland Independent School District 2015 Elementary and Secondary Teacher of the Year Award.
Elementary Winner: Tammy Norman
Growing up in a difficult environment, Norman found her haven in school — the place where she felt confident, encouraged and able to be herself.
Thanks to teachers who challenged and inspired her throughout her school years, she has taken on the same role today in her sixth-grade advanced science classroom at Rogers.
“What I lived through as a kid helps me understand the need to create a bright spot in my students’ day. I want to provide a safe, positive, fun learning environment. Embracing all children despite their history and encouraging them to be better than they were the day before is my ultimate goal,” she said.
Norman not only holds her students to high expectations but also gives them the tools and support to meet those expectations. Part of that involves creating an authentic learning environment where students discover knowledge rather than having it fed to them.
Norman’s classroom overflows with laughter, creativity and energy. Designing interactive lessons with fun titles like “Big Ol’ Pot o’ Heat” (thermal energy) and “It’s a Hard Rock Life” (the rock cycle), she presents science concepts in new, engaging, memorable ways.
“What is essential to perfecting my craft of teaching? It’s things like humor, variety in lessons and an environment where everyone can make and learn from mistakes. One student has even said I could make the history of yarn seem worth reading and learning about!” she said.
In addition, Norman constantly looks for ways to use iPads and other technology to engage students and encourages her colleagues to stretch outside their comfort zone.
Inspired by her own teachers, Norman became the first person in her immediate family to earn a college degree, so she knows the power one teacher can have on a student.
“A teacher’s choice to go above and beyond comes from within. They have a heart for kids and know the impact they have on students is everlasting, so they must make it count,” she said.
Norman holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from Stephen F. Austin State University.
Secondary Winner: Melissa Ward
Ward traveled a long road before reaching the DHS English classroom.
Although she grew up playing teacher with her own imaginary classroom, she eventually earned a degree in sociology and psychology — feeling a call to help people with special needs — and landed in an organization serving disabled individuals.
But when people kept commenting on her teaching skills as a new employee orientation trainer, she began to re-evaluate her career path.
Several years later, Ward finally pursued alternative certification and became a teacher.
“For the first time, I had a job I loved coming to every morning — and I’m not a morning person! My non-teaching experiences contributed to the true appreciation and passion I now have for teaching,” she said.
Since coming to DHS in 2008, Ward has not only taught English but also coached girls’ cross country, track and field and basketball. As the head girls’ cross country coach, she has led the team to three district championships and celebrated a state qualifier for the past three seasons.
While Ward is big on creating structure and challenge in the classroom, she is equally committed to building a relationship with her students.
“Because of my coaching title, I obviously have an interest in sports, but my students are often surprised when I talk to them about band, cheer or theater and impressed when I attend a play, concert, tennis match or swim meet. I support all campus organizations because I want my students to remember that I cared,” she said.
Because of her passion for mentoring other teachers, Ward has initiated two campus-wide programs at DHS to encourage quality teaching.
The Student Training in Teacher Leadership Program allows students considering the education profession to be mentored by a DHS teacher, then switch places with him or her for a day.
The second program, which will kick off this fall, will allow DHS teachers to observe other campus teachers’ lessons inside and outside their field for inspiration.
Ward is currently pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership and principal preparation from Stephen F. Austin State University.
About the Teacher of the Year Award
Each year, Pearland ISD schools select a nominee for the district award. A panel of judges then selects an elementary and secondary winner to advance in the Texas Teacher of the Year competition.
Norman and Ward were announced as the district winners during the annual service awards celebration in May.