When meeting J.B. Martin Middle School teacher Stacy Neighbors itís easy to see why in addition to being recognized as "teacher of the year" at the Louisiana Middle School Associationís Annual Conference in Baton Rouge last month, Neighbors is a past winner of the state "teacher of the year" award.
Neighbors is a nine-year veteran of St. Charles Parish Schools. Although she has now stepped into more of a teacher support and professional development role with the school she still is able to teach writing to two periods of middle school students each day.
Neighbors recently held a publishing open house to present the writing work of her students. In the hallway outside of the classroom Neighbors met parents and other visitors.
"Definitely feel free to start with your child if you want, but you can filter around the whole room. They should all be prepared," Neighbors said. "And when you leave, if you just wouldnít mind leaving us a comment on how we can improve for next year."
Stepping into Neighborsí classroom is like stepping into a laboratory for language. Decorations line the walls espousing positive messages on discipline, goal-oriented learning and the potential of using language well. Also, included in the mix are a number of volumes of great books and a book shelf in the back of the room with enough dictionaries for the entire class.
Students, some dressed in costumes, presented writing including fictional pieces, creative non-fiction, poetry and informative, expository and persuasive writing that touched on topics such as sports, illnesses, commercial products, political issues and historical events.
"They are required to produce three pieces per quarter," said Neighbors. "These have been rewritten at least three times."
Parents wandered from one student to anotherís writing project asking questions provided by Neighbors such as "Why did you choose this topic? What literary devices or techniques did you incorporate to make this piece effective?"
Students, some shy at first, engaged with their questioners and responded with well though out answers on why they chose their topic, explained the importance of their pieces and even read a passage upon prompting.
By allowing her students to develop a relationship with their work that is open to inquiry and response Neighbors is clearly aiming to build not only an ability for public speaking, but also increase her studentsí analytical skills.
The costumes ran the gamut from a student dressed as the mascot of the Atlanta Falcons to one posing as a German doctor who experimented on Holocaust victims.
A student dressed in a dirt bike racing uniform recited a portion of his profile essay on a Motocross star.
"He is an aggressive racer because is such a daredevil with stunts," the student said while talking about an accident involving one of his favorite riders.
Deputy Sheriff and District 7 Constable Gary Cazenave, and wife Joyce, visited the class to see their granddaughterís display titled "Little Miss Not So Perfect", which was a persuasive piece presenting her stance against the exploitation of the image of young children in reality television shows such as Todlers and Tiaras.
"She did this all on her own," said Cazenave.
The stated purpose of the Louisiana Middle School Associationís award is to provide general improvement of the education of middle school students aged 10 to 15 years old. The association focuses on curriculum development, professional development, school improvement and assists in safety and socialization. In addition, the association seeks to act as a clearinghouse for the exchange of ideas, materials and personnel needed for middle school development.
"It is truly an honor to be chosen as the 2012 Louisiana Middle School Associationís Outstanding Teacher of the Year," said Neighbors. "I wake up every day thankful for what I do. The ability to impact students is rewarding, yet my students have taught me so much as well. We, teachers, never know how long our influence lasts."