Since being named as finalists for National Teacher of the Year in January, elementary teacher Ann Marie Corgill and her fellow candidates have been caught in a whirlwind of publicity.
Last week, that brought them to Washington, where they had time for a press conference and an interview or two at the headquarters of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which runs the NTOY program, before heading back to the airport.
“It’s been something I’ve never really experienced in my 20 years,” Corgill said of her year so far. She was being a little modest—Corgill has been a force of nature this year. In 2014, in addition to her selection as Alabama’s Teacher of the Year, Corgill did the following:
- Presented as the featured or keynote speaker a half-dozen events;
- Served on the elementary steering committee for the National Council of Teachers of English;
- Founded and facilitated a program in her school called EdCamp Kids;
- Served as a TEDx Education Fellow; and
- Published numerous blog posts and articles.
And, of course, she still teaches 4th grade at Cherokee Bend Elementary, in Mountain Brook, Ala. She’s been teaching since 1994.
“I take it one day at a time,” Corgill said. “From the very first day of my career, I’ve tried to make the most of every opportunity that came my way. I went into teaching because I care about children, and if there’s any way that I can get their voices out into the world, I take that opportunity.”
Corgill speaks with tact and writes with candor. On her application, she called out standardized testing as a threat to learning:
Our nation's educational system faces such issues as teacher retention, political agendas that trump educator expertise, school closings, inequitable funding, and lack of resources that widen the opportunity and achievement gap chasms. While these far-reaching issues plague our nation's schools, we continue to place sole reliance on high-stakes standardized testing to deem schools, teachers, and children either successes or failures. I believe this is the most serious issue we face because high-stakes testing directly contributes and is very well the cause of the above educational issues we're struggling with as a nation.
Among other improvements, Corgill wants to see multifaceted teacher-evaluation systems that include feedback from administrators, parents, students, and colleagues. “That’s our community, that’s our ecosystem, those are the people who we’re working with and for, and when that’s left out of the equation, I don’t feel like I’m truly evaluated in a way that shows who I am as a professional.”
“My hope is that our politicians and people who make the decisions know that it’s bigger than just that one day and that one score.”
Corgill’s instructional style centers on giving students long blocks of time with each subject, rather than making chopped-up rotations. She includes space for social-emotional learning, too, noting that teaching should be geared toward “the head and the heart.”
“I think because we have so much academic work—I’ve heard this from other teachers, that they don’t have time for the social-emotional work, they don’t have time to teach children how to collaborate or talk to one another or have conversation,” she said. “But if we don’t make time for that then none of the other work is going to be as powerful. So that’s something that’s a non-negotiable in the day. If someone said ‘what would you never take out?,’ it would be that time to intentionally teach those skills.”
Corgill also trumpets the power of self-reflection, for which “nobody ever has enough time.”
“I’d love to be able to have time to write more and really reflect more, but I have to make time because I expect my students to do that; they have to know that I’m reflecting and thinking back. They have to see me do the things I expect of them.”
Corgill plans to return to the classroom after her year as State Teacher of the Year is up. (Or years, if she becomes National Teacher of the Year; that announcement comes in April.) She has reservations about the level of multi-tasking involved in her current life. “Do one thing and do it really well,” she said.
Until then, she hopes to “spread more joy” to those in a profession that feel constant discouragement.
“We can’t give trust and empowerment to our students until we truly feel it ourselves,” she said.
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.