GaDOE: When did you first realize you wanted to be a teacher?
Allison Kerley Townsend: If you ask my family, friends, and high school teachers, they would all tell you that I was the “last to know” that I would one day become a teacher. I was a dreamer. I wanted to be everything from a writer, to a musician, to a dolphin trainer when I was a kid. It wasn’t until my junior year of college when I was traveling the world during a study abroad program that I realized how small I was compared to this immense, beautiful world. It made me realize that in order to help change the world for the better, I had to find a way for my impact to create a ripple effect. What better way to inspire others and be inspired in return than to teach? From that moment on, I was hooked. To this day, I still believe that teachers have the most far-reaching impact of all professions. I feel honored to get to teach every day.
GaDOE: What keeps you in the classroom?
Allison: Getting to spend every day with curious, inspiring, and hilarious kids keeps me in the classroom. Because of them, every day is a unique, fun challenge. I work hard to have a positive impact on their lives because they make me a better and more hopeful person every year. My students fill my days with laughter, learning, and memories and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
GaDOE: What character qualities make great teachers?
Allison: There are several qualities of good educators: loving, risk-taking, passionate, curiosity, flexibility... the list goes on and on. Over the years, however, there is one quality I have noticed that separates the “good” from the “great.” The best teachers are the ones who truly listen. They listen to other educators share ideas and feedback. They listen to parents share concerns. And above all, they listen to their students. Not just in a “listen to respond” kind of way. They listen to understand. They listen to change. They listen to give value. By listening, these great educators are no longer teaching content, they’re teaching kids.
GaDOE: What is your favorite part of the school year? Why? [You can’t say summer or recess]
Allison: My favorite part of the school year isn’t a specific season, month, or day. Some years it happens as early as November, while other years it doesn’t quite happen until May. It all depends on the kids. My favorite part of the school year is when I notice The Shift in my students. Without warning, I look around one day and notice that they are empowered, confident, and no longer afraid to take risks. It looks messy and sounds noisy because they are no longer driven by perfection, rewards, or pleasing others. They are fueled by growth, curiosity, and genuine passion. No, the moment this happens may not be a specific day every year, but that moment forward is pure magic and is the reason I teach.
GaDOE: What is the funniest thing a child has ever said to you?
Allison: There are countless moments from my teaching career where my kids have made me laugh. The following took place on the first day of school with one of my current third-graders after I told my class I would be getting married over spring break. The misunderstanding still brings a smile to my face:
A third grade girl nervously approaches me at the end of the first day of school. She looks upset.
Student: ...Ms. Kerley?
Student: Who will our new teacher be after spring break?
Me: What do you mean? I’ll be your teacher until the end of the school year.
Student: But I thought you told us you were getting married over spring break!
Me: Yes. My last name will change, but it will still be me.
Student (with a confused expression): So who will be our teacher when the BABY comes?
Me (after collecting my jaw off the floor): Woah! There will be no baby - just a husband! People can get married and not have a baby right away!
Student: Hmmm… if you say so. (Walks off.)
GaDOE: What is your favorite technology to use for engaging students in learning?
Allison: I strongly believe that technology must be purposeful. Technology shouldn’t be used just to “engage” kids, it should be used as a tool to “empower” them. I try to help my students use technology in ways that enhance what they are learning beyond what they could accomplish without it. Because of this, my favorite purpose for using technology is to connect students with people outside the walls of our classroom. We use tools like KidBlog, Twitter, and Skype to connect with other students, teachers, and professionals all over the world.
GaDOE: Everyone likes to know the morning routine of successful people. What is yours?
Allison: When my alarm clock goes off at 5:30 a.m., I start my day by scrolling my educational Twitter account for some daily inspiration. Next, I get ready and drive to school. When I arrive in my classroom, I write a daily morning message on the board for my students to respond to as they enter. I stand at my classroom door to welcome my students as well as greet other students, teachers, and administrators passing by in the hallway. Every morning, my students and I begin our day together with a morning meeting to make sure everyone is greeted by name and to share about what is going on in our lives.
GaDOE: What do you tell students when they need encouragement?
Allison: Whenever we are learning something new and things get tough, I can see it on my students’ faces when they start to shut down (this happens every year when long division rolls around…) We take a moment together and I let them know that when things get hard, that’s just our brains growing. Our muscles are sore after working out, and our brain can get sore, too. It’s important to stop what we are doing to celebrate the struggle! That means we’re working hard and learning something new!
GaDOE: What do you tell other teachers when they need encouragement?
Allison: Teaching is a challenging profession, there is no denying it. Any time one of my teammates needs encouragement, I like to remind them that they are a true inspiration. They inspire me, other teachers, and most importantly, their students. Often times teaching is like planting a seed we will never get to see grow, but one day, a beautiful flower will bloom and we will have been a part of that success.
GaDOE: What is the best teaching advice you’ve received?
Allison: The best advice I have ever received came from another teacher at my school, Daniel Hodge. He encouraged me to join Twitter, follow as many educators as I could, and start sharing about what I was doing with my class. Why was this advice so life-changing? Before I joined, I didn’t even realize how isolating of a profession teaching could be at times. When I joined Twitter, it was like I was being welcomed into an encouraging, innovative, and inspiring family of educators from all around the world. The people I have “met” over Twitter have inspired me to be ten times the teacher I once was. With every tweet about my classroom, I am reflecting, learning, and growing alongside my students in front of an authentic audience. It also opened up opportunities for my students to share their voice beyond the four walls of our classroom. By becoming more transparent, my students and I have become more connected and empowered. Our purpose has grown from simply completing tasks in a small, closed-off classroom to having a global impact.
The 2019 Teacher of the Year will be announced on May 19, 2018. The 2019 Georgia Teacher of the Year will travel around the state and the nation, serving as an ambassador for the teaching profession in Georgia. He or she will also be entered in the National Teacher of the Year competition.
Learn more about the Georgia Teacher of the Year program.