Meet the 2017 Teacher of the Year Finalists

These educators have spent countless hours encouraging our students to grow and learn. On Sept. 22, one of them will be named Tennessee Teacher of the Year. Read more about each of the talented regional winners below.

Christy McManus supports her students during an ELA lesson.

West Tennessee Regional Winners


Mark Gray
Collierville Schools

Meet Mark Gray. Mark teaches eighth-grade science and honors physical science at Collierville Middle School in Collierville Schools.  In his application essay, Mark describes what brings him back to the classroom year after year.

“The magic that draws me back to teaching, the fire in my belly that fuels me onward, is the look in the student’s eye when they have that ‘Aha!’ moment. When they make the connection to what we are learning with real world events is my reward…As hard as teaching is, this is why I come back.”

Callie Hodge
Gibson Special School District

Meet Callie Hodge. Callie teaches sixth-grade reading and language arts at Medina Middle School in Gibson County Special School District. Callie emphasizes the importance of teaching the whole child.

“I believe that each child is a unique individual who needs a secure, caring, and stimulating atmosphere in which to grow and mature academically, emotionally, intellectually, physically, and socially.”

Christy McManus
Chester County Schools

Meet Christy McManusChristy teaches fifth-grade reading and social studies at Chester County Middle School and describes her goals for her students.

“I have three goals each day for my students: to be engaged, to learn, and to have fun while learning. I believe students deserve the best I have to offer. As a result, I give them my best.”



Cord Martin finds the beat with his students.

Middle Tennessee Regional Winners

Laurie Glover
Smith County Schools


Meet Laurie Glover. Laurie is a fifth-grade English language arts teacher at Gordonsville Elementary in Smith County.  She shares how she holds students to  high expectations within a nurturing, supportive environment.

“My heart led me to teaching many years ago, and for that one reason I will always teach with compassion for my students, along with the highest expectations for their success.”

Sandy Irwin
Metro Nashville Public Schools

Meet Sandy Irwin. Sandy teaches sixth-grade math and science at Bellevue Middle Prep in Metro Nashville Public Schools.  She describes how strong relationships are the foundation of her classroom culture.

“Building relationships is an essential component of my teaching style. I want students to feel comfortable taking risks.”

Cord Martin Maury County Schools

Cord Martin
Maury County Schools

Meet Cord Martin. Cord teaches instrumental music education and enrichment at Whitthorne Middle School in Maury County. He describes the importance of teachers being lifelong learners.

“I believe that it is my responsibility to be a continual learner, regularly seeking new teaching strategies to impact student growth and remain relevant to contemporary culture in which my students live.”



Derek Voiles congratulates a student on a job well done.

East Tennessee Regional Winners


Siema Swartzel
Cleveland City Schools

Meet Siema Swartzel.  Siema teaches K–5 music at Arnold Memorial Elementary in Cleveland City Schools. Siema describes how success in her music classroom connects to success in the regular classroom.

“Music is a very powerful force for my students because it fuels their passion for learning and gives them self-confidence. My students know if they can achieve in music, they can achieve in the regular classroom.”

Leslie Vines
Jefferson County Schools

Meet Leslie Vines. Leslie teaches K–5 English as a second language at Jefferson Elementary School in Jefferson  County Schools.  She describes the importance of collaboration among teachers.

“I am perpetually seeking the best methods, strategies, practices, tools, and resources. I am the teacher in the hallway asking the other teachers, ‘How did you do that?’”

Derek Voiles Hamblen County

Derek Voiles
Hamblen County

Meet Derek Voiles. Derek teaches seventh-grade English language arts at Lincoln Heights Middle School in Hamblen County. He reflects on the importance of the teaching profession.

“Teachers bear a great global, social responsibility in that we are charged with developing the thinkers and decision makers of tomorrow…Today, we are preparing students for jobs and roles in society that do not yet exist. Therefore, we must see learning not as a product, but as a process.”