Teachers of the Year: TROY alumni claim top awards at Alabama Stars in Education ceremony
For a pair of Alabama’s top educators, the road to success in the classroom began at Troy University.
TROY alumnus Phil Rodney Wilson (2001) was recently named 2010-2011 Alabama Teacher of the Year during the annual Alabama Stars in Education Awards ceremony in Montgomery, while Cathy Coleman Bennett (1981, 1995) was named Alternate State Teacher of the Year.
“This is a tremendous point of pride for Troy University and our College of Education but I am not surprised,” said Dr. Lance Tatum, dean of TROY’s College of Education. “Our music programs, both instrumental and choral, and our math education program have a long and distinguished history of training excellent teachers. The faculty members in these two programs are outstanding and I am pleased that their efforts have been recognized in this way.”
Wilson, who teaches music at Ogletree Elementary School in Auburn, automatically becomes Alabama’s nominee for National Teacher of the Year.
“There is a saying that goes, ‘Everything I learned about life, I learned in kindergarten,’” Wilson said. “I like to amend that saying to say, ‘Everything I learned about teaching, I learned from TROY.’ No matter what educational situation I find myself in, I can remember a lesson being taught about it at TROY.”
Wilson said while all of the music professors at Troy University made a positive impact on his life, he reserved special praise for Dr. Diane Orlofsky, professor in the John M. Long School of Music.
“She introduced me to the world of elementary music where I have been most successful,” Wilson said. “Dr. O. taught me that elementary-aged students are little people and that their lessons have to be specialized for them. Her approach to teaching is both practical and research based.
“Really, all of the music professors in the music department made an impact on my life,” Wilson said. “I always enjoy coming back to concerts and other music-related events to talk with them.”
Likewise, Bennett said the foundation she received at TROY as an undergraduate and graduate student was crucial to her professional success.
“While pursuing my bachelor’s degree, Troy University gave me the fundamental background for preparing my students for the 21st century,” Bennett said. “During my master’s program at Troy University, I received a technology grant which enabled me to take three technology courses geared toward new and innovative strategies for the classroom. This has helped me in teaching the diverse learners as well as given me the ability to use different teaching styles in my classroom.”
Wilson and Bennett share the philosophy that all students have the ability to learn, but not all learn in the same manner.
“As a music teacher I recognize that young children are naturally musical. Whether they are singing, playing an instrument or composing their own song, all children enjoy some aspect of music,” Wilson said. “In my classroom I take what kids are naturally good at, music, and teach concepts through music, making those concepts more understandable and enjoyable. Approaching education from the child’s point of view is what guides my philosophy that all kids can learn when information is presented in a clear, enjoyable manner.”
Bennett, a mathematics teacher at Geneva High School, said preparing students for continued success both inside and outside the classroom is key.
“School systems should provide educational opportunities that are suited to the needs, desires, careers, and motivation of students,” Bennett said. “It is my belief that school, particularly high school, should provide equal focus on preparing students to become self-sufficient adults as well as preparing students for continued success in college or technical school.”
The selection process for Alabama’s Teacher of the Year begins at the school system level, according to the Alabama State Department of Education website. Each school system can nominate an elementary and secondary teacher at the district level. One elementary teacher and one secondary teacher are selected from each of the eight state Board of Education districts. A state selection committee selects four teachers from the 16 district finalists to be interviewed for the titles Alabama Teacher of the Year and Alternate Teacher of the Year.
Davis is director of the Office of University Relations.