Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


May 1, 2014

TEACHER OF THE YEAR: Mentor ‘sparked’ Pharris’ love of teaching language arts

CROSSVILLE — Sarah Pharris, the Cumberland County Teacher of the Year for grades 5-8, had focused her education on teaching young elementary students until fate took her to Burks Middle School to complete her student teaching for a sixth-grade class studying language arts.

"My mentor teacher sparked that interest in me," Pharris said.

She had long known she wanted to be a teacher. Even as a child, she played school and had a goal of becoming a teaching and helping kids to reach their goals.

Her first job interview after completing her teaching degree was at North Cumberland Elementary teaching sixth-grade language arts, and she came to love the subject.

"There's that 'aha!' moment where the kids get it and they learn to write more fluently and strengthen the skills they need as they go on to high school," Pharris said.

Pharris says she doesn't believe that her teaching ability or love of teaching is unique.

"I do not believe in any form that I am outstanding," she wrote in her philosophy of teaching statement. "I have to say that the outstanding teachers are the ones that taught me; as well as, the colleagues that I work with. They are the ones that have inspired, shaped, and molded me into what I am today."

Her colleagues and administrators, as well as her students, feel differently.

Martin Principal Sharon Daniels wrote, "I honestly believe when given a challenge, she sees it as an opportunity to excel. She has a sincere enthusiasm, love and passion for teaching."

She is in her seventh year of teaching and in her third year teaching seventh-grade language arts at Martin Elementary School.

She is a professional learning community facilitator and volunteers on the team that manages the school-wide positive behavior support team, which helps to promote a positive school environment.

Pharris has been working to help implement Common Core State Standards in her school, taking additional training to prepare to implement the standards in her classroom.

"It is challenging," she said of the new standards and increased attention on student achievement data. "The kids are feeling the stress. But, I want our students to be ready and these changes will help our kids be more prepared."

Among the tools in her teaching toolkit is the Renaissance Learning, Inc., Accelerated Reading program. She has been a model classroom teacher and master classroom teacher since 2009.

Accelerated Reading helps building reading comprehension skills with goals set for each student based on their ability. As a master class, Pharris ensures students have a minimum of 25 minutes of engaged activity each day, and students must achieve goals on quizzes and independent reading.

"I truly believe that acknowledging, modeling, and encouraging students are the best strategies a teacher can have," Pharris wrote. "I frequently ask questions, give assistance, provide information and give as many details as possible to help a student achieve to their highest abilities."

And while she believes it is important that she set high standards for students to reach towards, she knows she cannot do it alone. That's why she works hard to include parents in the learning process.

"If you don't work with the parents, then you don't have the kids," Pharris said. "It takes everything full circle, and talking with parents about how their child is doing."

She has helped organize activities that encourage parents to be involved at the school and in their child's education, including two family reading nights.

With summer right around the corner, the Art Circle Public Library is working with the school to help parents and kids learn about summer reading programs so that learning can continue after the end of the school year.

To continue to foster a love of reading and learning, Pharris sponsors the book club for fifth-grade students. She is also the school-wide spelling bee sponsor, student council sponsor and Beta Club sponsor for seventh and eighth grade.

At the end of the day, it takes flexibility and working with each student.

"It's all about the kids and how I can help them," she said.

She is already seeing how her class can impact students, with her first set of students preparing for graduation this year.

"I'm proud they've accomplished so much," she said of students who had stopped her in the community to share their college plans, or to ask that she be a reference for them as they enter the workplace.

"That is such a privilege," she said.

Pharris is married to Samuel Pharris, and the couple have one son, Carson Pharris.

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