By GRAYSON LEE MAXWELL
Rutherford County Schools
When Jessica Pinson was told she would be the high school choice for district-level Teacher of the Year, she was surprised.
She also felt undeserving.
“Simply because if I look at my department, or the rest of the faculty, I don’t deserve it any more than they do,” explained Pinson, a teacher at Central Magnet School. “I have watched them pour countless hours into troubleshooting and adapting lessons for kids in such a challenging year. We’re all doing it.”
Pinson’s love for her content is absolute. After deciding to minor in Spanish in college, Pinson attended a study abroad where she says teaching wasn’t even on her radar. She just loved the challenge of learning a new language.
Now she shares that love with her students.
“At this point in the year you start to see things click with kids – I’m so lucky to be able to teach them,” Pinson said.
Pinson, along with 50 other Rutherford County teachers, will be honored with a reception for the 2021-2022 Teachers of the Year on April 28 at Embassy Suites in Murfreesboro. The pandemic has prevented the school district from hosting an in-person Teachers of the Year event the past two years.
Kaitlyn Benavides, of Rocky Fork Middle School, is another of the honorees.
She has been named the middle-level choice for Teacher of the Year and sees it as a chance to shine a light on what librarians do. As she works alongside many different content areas and grade levels, one of her roles is increasing classroom engagement and innovating content, she said.
“I wanted to make sure people had a clear understanding of the role and how useful we are to the school community and culture,” Benavides said.
Benavides taught eighth grade for about seven years before transitioning to the role of librarian, all while coaching multiple sports. When Rocky Fork opened, the role was one she did not want to pass up.
“It’s so fun because every single day is dynamic and I get to be creative,” Benavides said. “I love the ability to support teachers with their content area standards — finding a way to make that interactive and dynamic.”
Benavides offers this as advice to those entering the teaching profession, or who are eager to enter a career in education:
“There are going to be challenges along the way, but always go back to the WHY. When facing a trial always keep that in mind. Truly believe — you are making an impact.”
Shannon Creekmore is the RCS elementary-level winner for Teacher of the Year.
She has taught for 14 years at Wilson Elementary. Initially, she thought kindergarten was her calling, but after her first year teaching third grade, decided to stay for 13 more.
“The community and the administration and the families have kept me here,” Creekmore said. “I have had siblings upon siblings in my classes. And it has been really great to make connections with families.”
Creekmore explained how she has always wanted to be a teacher, and how she feels that is where the Lord has placed her. When nominated, she received a surprise visit from many members of administration who have supported her.
“My principal burst into the room. My mentor was there as well as the RTI coaches and (Assistant Superintendent) Dr. (Jimmy) Sullivan. I had every kind of happy emotion. It was not anything I had ever expected. It was a great honor. Being a teacher for 15 years, especially for the last three years, this was just a very big affirming moment for me,” Creekmore said.
For teachers who may just be starting out, or who are looking for advice for next year, Creekmore gives this advice:
“Being a teacher is a calling. You must love what you do. Stick with it — there will be hard days and challenging days — remember why you chose to do what you do.”
The following is a complete of the 2021-2022 RCS Teachers of the Year:
Barfield Elementary – Sheryl Evans
Blackman Elementary – Tye McCleary
Blackman High – Lauren Hutchins
Blackman Middle – Sheila Almeda Panther
Brown's Chapel Elementary – Rebecca Kuchta
Buchanan Elementary – Kortnee Carter
Cedar Grove Elementary – Kathy Mosley
Central Magnet – Jessica Pinson (Secondary-level winner)
Christiana Elementary – Lora Vetter
Christiana Middle – Carlie Littrell
Daniel McKee – Sarah Long
David Youree Elementary – Audra McLeod
Eagleville School – Mary Alice Curtis
Holloway High – Sheneka Macha Hernandez
Homer Pittard Campus – Anne S. Mayes
John Colemon Elementary – Myra Renea Elliott
Kittrell Elementary – Rebecca Lynn Speck
Lascassas Elementary Nicheala Allison
LaVergne High – Dale Hudson
LaVergne Lake – Melissa Natter
LaVergne Middle – Brayan Bunyi
McFadden – Jenny Copeland
Oakland High – Carol Keener
Oakland Middle – Elizabeth Sinor
Plainview Elementary – Katelyn Hand
RCS Virtual School – Laura L. Schlesinger
Riverdale High – Kyle Hurt
Rock Springs – Elementary Carla Derrick
Rock Springs Middle – Nathaniel Morris
Rockvale Elementary – Christy Steagall
Rockvale High – Kimberly Kay Armstrong
Rockvale Middle – Caitlyn Rae Brown
Rocky Fork Elementary – Shameeka Edwards
Rocky Fork Middle – Kaitlyn Benavides (Middle-level winner)
Roy Waldron Elementary – Emily G. Faust
Siegel High – Roger R. Alcendor
Siegel Middle – Mary Hannah Hardiman
Smyrna Elementary – Shelly Mangrum
Smyrna High – Donald A. Trumphour
Smyrna Middle – Jenny Kawano
Smyrna Primary – Jesse Rutherford
Smyrna West – Dana Renee Bennett
Stewarts Creek Elementary – KaVitaLyles
Stewarts Creek – High Emily Spears
Stewarts Creek Middle – Allison Haley Glapa
Stewartsboro Elementary – Brittany May
Thurman Francis – Mary Jennifer Reeves
Walter Hill Elementary – Molly Swann
Whitworth-Buchanan Middle – Joshua Caleb Picklesimer
Wilson Elementary – Shannon Marie Creekmore (Elementary-level winner)
Principal of the Year – April Sneed, Whitworth-Buchanan Middle
Supervisor of the Year – Mark Gullion, federal programs coordinator