CYBERSPACE, 2006 (D.O.T.) - What does it take to be named the top teacher in America? Qualities like dedication, experience, love of teaching, communication skills as well as innovative educational ideas are a good start. And Kimberly Oliver has them all, and a lot more.
Her childhood admiration of a daycare teacher and her college summers spent working at a kids' day camp inspired her to become an educator. And now, just a few years into her professional career, Kimberly Oliver has been recognized for her breakthrough classroom achievements and named 'Teacher of the Year' in a ceremony at the White House.
"I realized that I adore working with children," Miss Oliver said. "This experience helped to shape many of my beliefs about what children can do if someone believes in them. I knew then that I wanted to motivate and inspire the neediest students whom many have written off just because of the circumstances they were born into."
She may have just 15 students in her Maryland kindergarten class, but the students Miss Oliver teaches represent nearly every continent on the globe. She has Vietnamese, Latino, African, African-American and Haitian students. All but one speaks another language. Their school is largely low-income, with 90 percent of students receiving free or reduced meals, and it was at risk of state takeover when Miss Oliver arrived six years ago.
Yet despite the apparent barriers, Kimberly Oliver has helped boost her students' scores, involved their parents in their education and gotten youngsters engaged in their school.
"My students are full of energy and they are excited about learning and coming to school,'' she said. "They really have great potential."
Miss Oliver credits her interest in teaching to a daycare teacher in her hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, who knew how to make a young child feel important, special, individual. It was an ability she wanted to emulate when she chose to become a kindergarten teacher.
Oliver, a kindergarten teacher at Broad Acres Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland, is the 56th national teacher of the year and the first to represent Maryland. She now begins a year as a full-time national and international spokesperson for education.
When Kimberly Oliver came to Broad Acres Elementary School in 2000, the school was in danger of being restructured by the state because of declining academic performance.
By building a professional learning community and emphasizing collaboration, Kimberly Oliver impacted the learning of more than 500 students. Through collaborating with others, she helped turn around an under-performing school despite the obstacles of poverty, race, language, and mobility.
In her six years at Broad Acres, she helped create and implement several programs to ensure consistency in curriculum, instruction and assessment throughout the school. As a result, her school made improvements on local, state, and national tests, and in 2001 was the number one school in her school system for percentage increases in test scores. In 2003, 2004, and 2005 the school met or exceeded all requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
To promote literacy throughout her community, Miss Oliver helps sponsor "Books and Supper Night," an event held four times a year that allows families to visit the school and check out books from the library. They read together, receive free books to continue family reading time at home, and enjoy a communal dinner where they interact with and get to know their neighbors.
This is just one of the ways she works to supply families with learning materials in their homes. Working with colleagues, Oliver has written and received grants to purchase electronic learning systems, tape players, and books in English and Spanish to send home with students, taking the burden off of parents who struggle with language barriers or illiteracy.
Oliver's excellent teaching skills do not only benefit her students and colleagues. Parents benefit, too. With her help, Emie Cadet became much more than just another parent for who English is barely a second language; she has gained fluency and confidence in herself and her children's ability to succeed and now volunteers to help other French-and Creole-speaking children and parents.
"I saw for myself how much the students learned from Miss Oliver, but I learned very much from her also," Cadet said. "I learned how I could help my own children at home; I learned that every parent, regardless of where they come from, what language they speak, or how much education they have themselves, can help their child and their school. It takes a very special kind of teacher to draw that out of parents -- a teacher like Miss Oliver."
With a focus on parental involvement and a love of reading, along with tailoring lessons and projects to the needs of her individual students, Kimberly Oliver has made a profound impact on students, parents and teachers - and now has the opportunity to help improve the entire public education system of the United States and the free world.
The National Teacher of the Year Program brings public attention on teaching excellence. It is the oldest and most prestigious awards program for teachers.
The other 2006 national teacher of the year finalists are Samuel R. Bennett, a fifth-grade teacher at Garner Elementary School in Winter Haven, Florida; Ronald W. Poplau, a community service teacher at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School in Shawnee, Kansas; and Susan Barnard, a language arts teacher at CHOICE Alternative High School in Shelton, Washington.
State teachers of the year are selected on the basis of nominations by students, teachers, principals, and school district administrators throughout the states. Applications are then submitted to CCSSO, where the national selection committee reviews the data on each state candidate and selects the four finalists. The selection committee then personally interviews each finalist before naming the national teacher of the year. Additional information on the National Teacher of the Year Program can be accessed at www.ccsso.org/ntoy.
CyberSpacers salutes 'Teacher of the Year' Kimberly Oliver!
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