Meet our Grades 9-12 Essay Contest Winner: Cailey Curry from Lincoln County

Nearly 3,000 essays later, the Tennessee Department of Education is proud to begin announcing the winners of our third annual essay contest: “My teacher inspired me to…” We are thrilled to introduce Cailey Curry, a twelfth-grader at Lincoln County High School and the winner of the 9-12 category. We hope you enjoy Cailey’s kind words honoring Gema Sieh from Highland Rim Elementary. Stay tuned to Classroom Chronicles as we announce the rest of the winners throughout the month.

By Cailey Curry


Cailey welcomes Ms. Sieh to the podium after reading her winning essay honoring her former math teacher.

When you meet a teacher that can actually challenge your brain and make you think independently, you know that you’ve stumbled upon someone who does exceptionally well at, not only teaching, but also helping a student grow in the process. This is the exact moment when you realize that this class, this teacher, is going to be the one you will carry with you throughout all of your educational career. Throughout school, teachers are placed on a scale of best to worst in every student’s mind. While it’s true that everyone has their own favorite teacher, it is rare that you are given the privilege to be taught by your favorite for three consecutive years.

Mrs. Gema Sieh was my sixth, seventh, and eighth grade math teacher at Highland Rim Elementary School, and is by far the greatest teacher I’ve ever had the opportunity of being taught by. I, Cailey Curry, am now a senior in high school, and I am ranked fifth in my graduating class and will attend the University of Alabama in Huntsville in the fall. Still to this day, I give credit to Ms. Sieh for inspiring all of my academic success.  Whenever I am struggling with any kind of logic-based problem, I think back on how she would have walked me through the steps of math (or life). When she spoke, she taught in a way that showed her undeniable confidence in herself as well as the material she presented. She would demonstrate how to solve an equation, and instantly the entire class could work out a similar one with confidence and ease.


Ms. Sieh cheers on Cailey as she receives her college scholarship, presented by Dr. Candice McQueen.

Not only was she an extraordinary teacher, but she had an extraordinary attitude and personality to match. She always encouraged our success inside the classroom and outside the classroom as well. She believed in our success in everything we faced in life. Ms. Sieh pushed every single student to their absolute, full potential and did not allow laziness or excuses, which inspired me to strive for all of my academic success. Not only did she want to expand our mathematical knowledge but also cultural knowledge. She would visit her family, who were originally from Cuba, in Miami, and bring back some kind of food that represented her culture. She wanted to expand our knowledge, and not just go by the standards given to her. It’s sad to know that Ms. Sieh can no longer be anyone else’s favorite math teacher and that she won’t shout, “Boom Baby!” anymore when she saw that her math students grasped the difficult concept that she just laid before us. But I am happy to see her doing what she loves as an ESL teacher. Now she connects culturally to the Spanish speaking children in the Highland Rim school system as their very own mentor. I’m glad that these young children have the opportunity to grow up with the teacher I love and am thankful for the most, Ms. Sieh.